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The Door Can’t Always Be Open

May 7, 2010

In order to be productive and less stressed, there must be some time when you’re unavailable to others.

Makes sense, right? Well, this is where we run up against many organizations’ open door policies.

I’m going to share an effective, in fact I believe indispensable, way of honoring the open door policy (if you have one) and still ensuring you have uninterrupted productivity when you need it.

Seemingly, we’re expected to accomplish all of our work, manage shifting priorities, manage the impact to us of shifting priorities from our bosses, and if that isn’t enough, also have time available to meet with direct reports outside of pre-scheduled meetings.

It’s enough to make most people throw up their hands in frustration and toss the increasingly useless calendar. Why, though, is the calendar so useless? I believe it is because we use it incorrectly. Most people seem to rely on their calendars only to tell them when they have to be in a meeting with someone else, or to flag when they will be out of the office. The unblocked time becomes the target of whoever needs it, and it isn’t free anyway: you’re likely already working on something at those times, or you probably need to be.

So, why an open door policy in the first place? It was an outgrowth of several things: reducing the perceived status gap between managers and employees that pervaded business for decades, enabling employees to take a more active role in tackling workplace challenges, and communicating to managers that employees often need only a few minutes to update status, pass on important information, or verify agreement on something.

Scheduling appointments for each of these very-short-duration items communicates the wrong message and needlessly clutters a calendar.

My recommended solution, which you will need to customize by adjusting the times to your environment:

Schedule time (an hour to three) when you are not interruptible except for emergencies, and close the door. Communicate the need for this time to your staff (if you have one you work with), and your boss (if the relationship will support it).

Schedule 30-minute blocks of “Staff Time” throughout your day which is useable by your direct reports for drop-in appointments. Make use of this time to walk around and check in with your direct reports if they don’t need to see you about something. If these times must yield to other issues, reschedule them.

Don’t ever discourage interruptions for emergencies, but you will benefit from imposing structure on the rest of the situations that arise. See more about this in an upcoming piece.

As a preview, take a look at the following calendar slice for some examples of inviolable reserved time and integration of blocked-off “free scheduling” for staff.

NEXT FRIDAY: Schedule Mercilessly

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