Do you all too often experience that you are bothered or disturbed by your colleagues? Do you feel that you can’t go through the hallway without getting called in to someone’s office when you have the least time for it? Do you repeatedly get interrupted just when you are at a critical stage in the task you really need to focus on?
Sure, occasionally you want to tell them off for interfering, but at the same time you are after all working together to bring the business forward.
And it is hardly that your colleagues address you with the explicit intention to ruin your focus, but they most probably feel that they need you, your knowledge or your skills. They might even be your subordinate staff, and as a manager, you need to be accessible and helpful to your staff at all times.
So, you need to take them seriously. But at the same time, you’ve got a tight schedule, your time is short and there are a lot of fires to quench. You will be in a conflict of interest. What to do?
When we are faced with complex situations, it usually helps to bring structure to the whole situation, and thus get an overview, after which you can make decisions more easily.
Let’s say that there are three reasons why a colleague insists on getting your attention: because she wants you to do something, because he wants to discuss something with you (or ask something), or simply talk to you about something that has happened. If you have time left to do what is being requested, discuss or listen, then you obviously will, so what we’re going to focus on now are the situations when you don’t have the time to spare, the times when you’re busy doing other things.
The colleague wants you to do something
First, ask yourself if it really has to be you who should carry out this specific task. Can you teach your colleague how to do whatever thing he needs you help with? Can you spread your knowledge by giving her a general description of the steps you go through when doing the task?
Sure, you might not have time to conjure a tutorial or description right now, but you can do it for next time it’s needed. It is probably neither the first nor the last time the colleague asks you for help with this specific task. Or maybe you can give your colleague the power or authority to carry out the tasks he needs to help you with?
Well, perhaps it really is you who should do the task at hand.
First, ask yourself if it needs to be done right away. Is it urgent? If so, then you’ll do it right away. If you have other things that have got a higher priority, then the task is not urgent.
If it is not urgent, ask yourself if it’s possible to perform the task very quickly, in less than two minutes? If so, and if you have two minutes to spare, do it right a way, then it’ll be out of your mind and you can continue to carry out the things you need to do today.
If you really don’t have the time to do the task right away, it’s a typical bullet-point for your to-do list. You will answer your colleague that “I will definitely fix this, but right now I need to focus on a couple of other things. I take note of this and will get back to you. When do you need it?” Write it down as a task on your to-do list and view it as a to-do task like any other.
If you’re on the move and don’t have your to-do list available, write the task on your portable list or collecting point for new tasks, such as a note pad you always carry in you inside pocket. As soon as you have your to-do list available, transfer the data from the note to the to-do list.
The colleague wants to discuss something with you
Once again, consider if the issue is urgent or not, meaning if it strongly effects the business’ path towards achieving the vision. If that’s the case, deal with the discussion immediately. Urgent things naturally have the highest priority amongst the things you have to do. If something else is more important, then that simply is more imperative (and should be dealt with first).
Is it about a non-emergency, but still just a brief discussion? Talk the issue through right away, then both of you can take it from there. If the discussion demands more time (which you do not have now), ask your colleague if it’s possible for him to write down the issue in an email instead. When you receive the email, you handle it like any other e‑mail (you can add it as a to-do task to complete (or respond to) before your colleague at the very latest needs a reply).
If your colleague really wants to discuss this one-on-one, decide that you are going to make an appointment for it (because as you recall, you’ve got no spare time to do it right now). If it takes less than two minutes to arrange a meeting, do it right away. If it’s more complicated, ask your colleague to schedule an appointment with you when you’ve got free space in your agenda. Since you share your agendas, your colleague will be able to see when you’re free and when you’re not.
The colleague just wants to talk about something that’s happened
When your colleagues come to you and want to “talk things off their minds”, see it as a compliment and feel happy they do. They probably think you’re a good listener and it’s relieving for them to “think out loud” in your company.
If you don’t have time to listen right now, suggest that you take a cup of coffee around eleven (or have lunch, by all means), then you can talk about the urgent topic in peace and quiet, because right now you have to prioritize other things.
How do you usually handle these situations?
How do you handle the conflict of interest between that your colleagues need your help and that you need to focus on other tasks?
You are welcome to leave a comment below.