5 Ways to Decrease Interruptions and Increase Productivity
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In his book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, business coach and consultant Dan Kennedy reveals the steps behind making the most of your frantic, time-pressured days so you can turn time into money. In this edited excerpt, the author describes five ways to get people to stop wasting your time so you can get more done.
If you’re going to achieve peak personal productivity, here are five time-defense tactics you’ll have to use:
1. Get lost. Your first tactic—simple inaccessibility. Some entrepreneurs think they have to set a leadership example by being the first person there, to turn on the lights, and the last person to leave, to turn off the lights. Leadership is not about outworking everybody.
I learned by traveling that my people functioned just as well with me as an absentee leader as they did with me onsite. When I was on the road and inaccessible, they handled 80 percent of everything on their own, most of it satisfactorily. And they asked me about the other 20 percent quickly and efficiently.
Since that worked OK when it had to, I stopped going to the office. When I was in town, I worked at home largely uninterrupted. Dozens of clients have mimicked my practices and have been shocked by how much more productive they’ve become.
If you are going to be in your office with the rest of your staff, then it's important you have a closed-door policy. You need some times when everybody knows—because of the closed door, red light, stuffed purple dragon in the hallway, whatever—that you are 100 percent uninterruptible.
2. Don’t answer the phone. The phone is Peak Productivity Enemy Number One. People somehow think that they must respond to the phone when it rings and believe you should, too. But there’s nothing happening that can’t or won’t wait an hour or two.
Nobody should be wide open to inbound calls. If you take inbound calls as they come, you're constantly stopping work on a task of known priority in favor of something or someone of unknown priority. You're turning control of your day over to the unknown. And at the end of most days, you’ll be worn out, but you won’t have gotten to do most of the things you wanted to do.
If you buy into the strategy of limiting and controlling access, you'll need a good screening system. If you have a receptionist or secretary, that’s best. If not, use voice mail. Give your receptionist or secretary a continually updated VIP LIST of people from whom you'll take urgent incoming calls or be tracked down to return a call quickly. This prevents you from missing calls you really want, and it allows your assistant to screen all other calls with great confidence.
3. Get a grip on email, texts and faxes. What is the purpose of all this stuff—fax, email, texting, cell phone? You may think it’s supposed to make access to you by others easier, faster and cheaper. Not so. The only sane purpose is for this stuff to be used by you in a manner that improves your productivity and allows you to increase your income.
If you train your customers, associates, employees, vendors and others to communicate with you no more frequently than some agreed upon number of times per day or week with the expectation of a delayed response, that’s a huge productivity advantage. It ends phone tag, reduces your return call burden, gets information to you in a more organized way, and lets you deal with these in-bounds at your pace, in the priority you assign, as you see fit.
At the very least, prohibit texts. These are the worst of the hit ‘n run communications. People send texts like “Billings Corporation deal has come apart. Discuss when you can.” You come out of a meeting, arrive on the ground after a long flight, or are otherwise held back from seeing these and instantly responding in real time. You now get to worry and stew until you can get to the person.
Come to your own conclusions about it all—fax, email, text, cell phone. But be the master, not the slave.
4. Set the timer on the bomb. Almost 100 percent of my own phone calls occur by preset appointments with start and end times. But if you do take an incoming call, when you get on the phone with someone, it’s smart to set up the exit time first (I call this “setting the timer on the bomb”). For example, I would say:
Tom, I have a conference call starting in just 15 minutes, but I wanted to take your call—I hope that will be enough time for our discussion. Do you agree—or should we set up another
Tick, tick, tick.
When someone “drops in” and you decide to see them, it’s a smart idea to set up the exit time first:
Bob, it’s difficult these days for me to see drop-in visitors, but it’s good to see you. We’ll only have half an hour, though, as I have an important conference call set for 4:00 p.m. That’s OK, isn’t it?
Tick, tick, tick.
You may not win any awards for being sociable, but you’ll have shorter, more purposeful telephone conversations and meetings. Drop-ins will gradually get the message. Callers will gradually learn to call ahead and set up a phone appointment, or at least to prepare and be efficient when calling.
5. Be busy and be obvious about it. Obviously busy people are interrupted less than unbusy people. Just like burglars pass up some homes looking for the easiest, safest targets, those who steal time by interrupting others tend to cruise the office looking for the best opportunity and the easiest target. If you're sitting at your desk, appearing relaxed, you’re it. When you're visible to others, it’s best to be visibly busy.