"Make use of time, let not advantage slip." ---William Shakespeare
From the unusual amount of email I received following my previous column, I realize we share a universal revulsion for the distractions that confound our days. We’ve taken the first step to taming the behemoth by trying to understand these forces and how they derail our focus and productivity.
There are a host of tactics and techniques to deal with these pesky intruders, but many of them are tourniquets to quench the flow from the death of a thousand cuts. So, how do we stop them before they get in the door?
First, we need to build a moat around our kingdom … and then a defensive perimeter … and then erect a few more barricades and lookouts. Think of a set of three concentric rings, with you in the bullseye. If each of those rings is impenetrable, we’ve got a chance.
1. Defend Your Schedule. Think of the ring furthest from you as the one that protects your schedule. Time is your most precious resource so allowing everyone to manage your calendar defeats the purpose of your control of your day. Mark off some “office hours.” Block some “do not disturb” time. Get out of the office where you can turn closed the floodgates for a while.
2. Defend Your Turf. What is your turf? It’s what only YOU can do. I’ve often referred to what only the CEO can do, but the same concept applies to every executive.
There are certain things that only you can do. You have the experience … the perspective … the expertise to accomplish certain things that you do better than anyone. More importantly, if you’re not doing them, no one else is either. Be careful to defend this ground so that you’re laser-focused on getting done those things that only you can do.
3. Defend Your Space. The closest circle is your physical space. You control who stops by your office, how much time they take, whether you can afford the time at that exact moment.
One attractive tool to manage the “drop-bys” is to take a close look at the time-honored system adopted by college professors … “office hours.”
Some of you will say, “Nah, I don’t like that. I like to have an open door, be accessible to my people whenever they need me.” What that really means is that part of you welcomes the interruption. You get a lot of satisfaction by being the “go-to” guy or gal, the firefighter that people look to when they need help. It’s a great skill and firemen are in great demand … but not if the job is building a skyscraper.
4. Defend the Bullseye. The bullseye is you in the castle keep, and your defense needs to be strongest when the enemy is breathing on the other side of the door. This is the headspace you need to actually think … to reflect … to make sure before you climb the ladder, that it’s up against the right wall.
Make time for reflection. The concept of “5% Think Time” is used at Detroit-based ePrize. Here’s what its founder Josh Linkner says: