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26 Feb

How to remain focused when you need to be available simultaneously

Datum: 2024-02-26 08:21
Four people are seated in a row with clipboards, preparing for an interview.

To with­draw, close the door behind you and make sure that you are not dis­turbed when you need to focus on a pri­or­i­tized task is only pos­si­ble to do whole­heart­ed­ly when your pri­or­i­ties are well-ground­ed and set consciously. 

If you know that what you are work­ing on is the most urgent and impor­tant task to do right now, ques­tions from col­leagues and oth­ers can wait. If you have agreed on how you will let your col­leagues know when you do not want to be dis­turbed and when it is OK to knock on the door, then the prob­a­bil­i­ty of you being able to con­cen­trate with­out inter­rup­tions increases.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

When some­one does some­thing for you

But, if some­one comes to you with a ques­tion that regards some­thing you are respon­si­ble for, but which you have del­e­gat­ed to some­one else — this is a whole oth­er mat­ter. That per­son can be an assis­tant, a con­sul­tant, a solic­i­tor or have some oth­er posi­tion that implies that they work for you, in or on your assign­ments, tasks or projects. If it only con­cerned one sin­gle per­son that you had del­e­gat­ed to, that would be one thing, but per­haps there are many peo­ple doing things for you who are basi­cal­ly stand­ing in line wait­ing for your atten­tion and help?

If they do not get an answer from you right away, they will not be able to move for­ward in their tasks and doings. But if you con­stant­ly have to answer their ques­tions, you will not get any­thing else done. How do we solve this predicament?

A faith­ful mod­el com­ing to your rescue

Let us not make this too com­pli­cat­ed, but remind our­selves of the clas­sic idea that the pri­or­i­ty of a task is deter­mined by the com­bi­na­tion of how urgent and how impor­tant it is (where the task can be con­sid­ered impor­tant if it con­tributes to the busi­ness goals you are in charge of). This sim­ple yet reli­able rule will guide us.

Since the tasks these peo­ple do are things you are respon­si­ble for doing, they can all be con­sid­ered impor­tant. Sure­ly they con­cern things that con­tribute to your goals. But, they are prob­a­bly not all urgent — at least not urgent right now. Some­one saw that you are at the office today and want to catch a moment with you” since you might be gone again tomor­row. The ques­tion does not need to be answered imme­di­ate­ly — some­time dur­ing the day will be enough. But, some­body else has got a prob­lem that is real­ly press­ing and the time is run­ning out.

Do this

The key to this is to deter­mine two things, and it would be advan­ta­geous to do it togeth­er with those you have del­e­gat­ed to.

  1. First, set up a rule for when some­thing is urgent. Could it, for instance, be that the ques­tion needs an answer with­in an hour? Less urgent tasks than this would not be con­sid­ered urgent.
  2. Sec­ond, come up with a solu­tion to how you want to be approached regard­ing the dif­fer­ent questions:
    • Urgent (and impor­tant): Do you want the per­son to ask you direct­ly, sim­ply put, regard­less if your door is closed (in case you have one) since you want to address these ques­tions imme­di­ate­ly? Or, do you wish to get a text mes­sage, and you will answer the ques­tion next time you take a break (which you take every hour)? Or, some­thing com­plete­ly different?
    • Not urgent (but impor­tant): Do you want the per­son to send you an email and write a spe­cif­ic word in the sub­ject line (so you can cre­ate a rule that makes the email extra vis­i­ble), and you will answer them when you have fin­ished doing oth­er tasks after 2 p.m.? Or, do you want them to book a 15-min-meet­ing in your cal­en­dar between 3 and 4 p.m. if they need your help with some­thing? Or, reach you in some oth­er way?

More clar­i­ty, less hesitation

If you and the peo­ple you del­e­gate to agree upon how they are going to ask for your help regard­ing tasks you have del­e­gat­ed to them, you will be able to focus on oth­er impor­tant tasks bet­ter than before. By apply­ing this rule they will get assis­tance with the non-urgent in due time and respons­es regard­ing the tru­ly urgent imme­di­ate­ly. When you clar­i­fy your work­flow there will be few­er unnec­es­sary mis­un­der­stand­ings and less hesitation.

What’s your method?

Have you solved the tricky sit­u­a­tions I have been describ­ing here when we want to focus but at the same time can not close our­selves off from oth­ers com­plete­ly? Any and all ideas are more than wel­come in the com­ment sec­tion below. 

(But, what do you do when things are urgent and impor­tant simultaneously?)

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