Looking back, the day feels like one long series of interruptions and much of the work planned for day remains uncompleted. Does that apply to you, or to any of your team? Of course, many of the interruption will have been short and well-justified exchanges between you and colleagues, suppliers or customers. And when you are manager, people refer to you more often. Some Interruptions are urgent and important situations that you need to deal with immediately. Some will be people relying on easy access to your knowledge, too lazy to invest time in learning. Many interruptions will be downright time-wasters. Occasionally, team members will interrupt you to seek your approval before they act, rather than have the confidence to make their own decision, or take personal responsibility.
Many of us accept interruption without firs pausing to think. We often feel the rapidity of the day’s events prevent us from pausing long enough to take time to consider how we should react. It seems quicker to accept the interruption and quickly deal with it, and then we find ourselves dragged into countless minor issues, all eating up our day until we have achieved very little. We have only three potential responses to any interruption, namely the three acts:
Act NOW, Act LATER, Act NEVER
Immediately you receive an interruption, pause for a split second and ask yourself, ‘should I act now, act later or act never?’ Having decided the best of these three options, you either:
- Accept the interruption (act now)
- Schedule the task for later (act later)
- Or simply say NO (act never)
Naturally, when we say NO we do it in a considerate way, because although we may need to be ruthless about our use of time we should till aim to be polite in our dealing with others. The habit of always asking yourself should I act now, act later or act never stops your train of thought of enough for wisdom to prevail. The brain has the ability to act wisely, but only if consulted. If you decided to act now, you first put aside the papers on your desk or turn away from your computer, mentally switching from your train of thought. You deal with the emergency and then refocus yourself to pick up from where you left off.
If you decided to act later, you diarize future action or set a reminder, or add another item to your to-do list. It is important to recognize how often you need to choose the final option of act never. Many interruptions bring with them extra work for you. Consider this: would you prefer a busy colleague to admit, ‘I want to help, but I don’t have the capacity right now,’ or for them to say ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ only to let you down later when they find that they do not have the capacity to deliver on their promise?
And frequently, when you say to a team member. ‘Not now, I’ll speak with you later,’ and then alter in the day you ask them what they wanted, they reply, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I couldn’t wait, so I coped by myself.’ Saying NO wisely can teach your team members to be more independent and more productive. It can be the most effective response. Do you say NO often enough?