At one point in my career, I became the leader of a department of 150 people, many of whom I had known prior to my appointment to the position. I like to be accessible, so I had an open door policy: you could come to my office and talk to me when you needed to.
Having at least eight direct reports who managed everyone else, I was somewhat surprised when staff members began to show up at my door asking, “Got a minute, Kim?” And not just one or two staff members, but lots of them. Regularly.
Because I knew many of them personally, at first I said, “sure!” and invited them in, but I realized pretty quickly that I needed to get a handle on this, or my days would be filled with the priorities of my visitors and my nights would be filled with what I was supposed to be getting done during the day.
But also, the fact that these employees were coming to me for solutions instead of their direct supervisors gave me a bad feeling. It was pretty clear that there was some dysfunction going on, and I needed to track it down.
You may be feeling like you’re in a similar situation, giving yourself away in little pieces, prioritizing everyone else’s priorities but your own. I figured out these time management and forensic analysis techniques to solve my problem. Perhaps they’ll help you, too.
1. Schedule the minute. When people show up at your door and ask, “Got a minute?” answer, “Yes, I do, but not right now. Can we get back together say, at three this afternoon, or ten tomorrow morning?” By letting them know that you’re engaged at the moment but still want to meet, you’ve accomplished two things: 1), you’re now meeting them when it’s convenient for you, and 2), you’ve acknowledged their importance and your willingness to listen to their issue or concern.
2. Meet at their desk, not your office. This doesn’t always work, because the issue may be sensitive in nature, but it’s worth suggesting their desk as your meeting location. I’ve also suggested the cafeteria, conference rooms and other neutral spaces. In this way, you can control how long the meeting is by getting up and leaving when you must, rather than glancing repeatedly at your watch and ending up 10 minutes late to your next meeting, or not being able to return to the work sitting on your desk that you must complete before the end of the day.
3. Set a specific amount of time for the meeting. Let your meeting partners know that you only have 15 minutes or a half hour to spend with them. By setting their expectations in advance, they will have the opportunity to crystalize their thoughts, boil it down to the essentials, and communicate concisely, versus venting or rambling on with stories demonstrating the issue. This is good communications coaching for them, and good time management for you. Compassionate and deep listening is possible in even a minute of conversation. By giving your complete and focused attention in that 15 or 30 minutes, you will clearly hear what the issue is, and be present emotionally for the other as well.
4. Keep track of the visits. Are most of your “Got a minute?” visitors coming from one particular department? If so, that’s a pretty good indicator that you have a leadership issue there. When employees feel that they’re being unheard or disrespected by their director supervisor, it eventually leaks out, up, down, sideways and into the HR department. If the leader can’t be coached to be more responsive and engaged, and in a relatively short period of time, a change in leadership will be required. The truth is you don’t “got a minute” to take up the slack for one of your direct reports.
5. Keep track of the issues. Are your “Got a minute?” visitors all complaining about the same basic thing, but coming from different departments? If so, you’re dealing with a pervasive systemic issue that will not go away without direct attention. This, I’m afraid, will become a project, but when it’s finally defined as such, there will be great relief felt by the team, who will feel heard, who will jump in to help and lead, and who will, if you give them the space, solve the problem by themselves.
6. Close the door. Sometimes, you just need to concentrate. You’re entitled to—and in fact require—some uninterrupted time to do the big things your position demands. This is true if you run a large group of people or are a solopreneur. Quit your email application, silence your phone, and close the door to interruptions. Your best and most strategic work will be done when you give yourself space for it.
Do you have a tip for how to stay focused while still respecting the requests of those around you? If so, I would love to hear them. Please comment below!