Today it is difficult to stay focused at work especially as a manager. Everyone wants your attention: clients, colleagues, your employees, your boss!
I mean: The day only has 24 hours, right? What should you do?
How can you stay focused and work on the most important things without distraction?
Do you work efficiently?
Do you have enough time to really work on the important things?
” I am the manager here. Everything is important to me!”
OK. How accessible are you for your employees?
“Well, I must be accessible all the time. My door is always open to all my employees.”
“Well, I’m just a good manager. Always accessible. I mean my people need me to take fast decisions. So I have to be accessible all the time, right?”
Do you think you are doing your employees a favor?
Are you sure? Do you really want to be always accessible to your employees – all the time?
Sorry, but that’s nonsense.
Yes, I know you want to demonstrate employee orientation. I understand: after all, It is important these days to be there for your people – to be accessible for them.
That is well-intentioned, but it doesn’t make any sense in this way.
Any boss who is always accessible struggles with constant interruptions. Anyone who is always available by phone, anyone who reads every “DM” message immediately and who is also proud to answer every email immediately, is not working properly.
Well-intentioned doesn´t mean well done.
Anyone who can be interrupted in this way works completely inefficiently.
At the end of the day, a lot seems to have happened, you feel stressed but you haven’t done anything really important.
I mean, you haven’t had the time to focus and to work on something deeply enough. Mostly the crucial, important work has been left behind and is postponed.
The problem: Constant interruptions!
Being constantly accessible means you frequently will be interrupted in your own work.
An employee calls and urgently needs you to make a decision. Others come in your office to ask you something. I mean in the end you have an open door policy, right?
Most of the time, these are only short distractions, but every disturbance interrupts your own work flow. This is exhausting.
When you return to your actual task again, it will take a few minutes until you can fully concentrate again on where you left off.
It just takes time to be fully refocused on the actual task. Working with constant interruptions is extremely inefficient and stressful. In addition, the more mistakes you make, the harder it is for you to focus on your work.
It’s your choice to stay focused at work!
Research has shown that office workers can only work in average for eleven minutes without getting interrupted.
Imagine what it is like for managers who are and want to be accessible all the time.
It is up to you as the boss to decide if you really want this. Most employees don’t have the freedom to decide, but you have. As a manager it is possible to isolate yourself from most interruptions – at least for a certain amount of time every day.
But you need to decide that.
You need to want this. But that means you have to ditch the always open door policy.
It it is sufficient, if you are available and open for conversations – and you are available if an employee can leave you a message at any time, for example by email or with your secretary if you have one.
The one who has reached out to you will get an answer as soon as you are available again – but not immeadately. That is not necessary.
For example, I usually read my e-mails on working days within 24 hours and in important cases also reply within 24 hours. That is a reasonable expectation, which I also generally consider reasonable for most managers.
Email is an asynchronous communication medium.
That means using e-mails allows me to be self-determined. I decide when to read emails and when to reply, not someone else or a beeping system.
Anyone who expects me to respond to emails immediately has a wrong expectation. Sorry. That is their problem, not mine. E-mails are not made for immediate reading and reply.
A phone call is synchronous!
It´s a different situation when it comes to a phone call. I refer to this type of communication as synchronous. Because as soon as someone calls you and you choose to pick up the phone, you have to communicate immediately.
If your conversational partner asks you a question on the phone, you can’t wait and just answer after 8 hours.
Before you pick up the phone, you are self-determined, after picking it up you are not self-determined any longer. Now you are other-directed because you are caught in synchronous communication.
The same also applies to personal discussions.
Of course that is also synchronous. As soon as you allow yourself to be involved in a conversation, your response times are determined by others, just like on the phone.
No of course not. But if you want to be as self-determined as possible – which you should as a manager – try to arrange and schedule phone calls and meetings and not to conduct them offhand.
Now, you may say:
“Yes, that sounds nice, but that doesn’t work for me. My employees need quick decisions from me on a lot of things daily. I have to do that quickly. They can’t wait.”
Stop! Most operational, urgent tasks should be decided by your employees anyway. This means you have to give your employees the freedom to make the decisions they need to make.
Focus on important things!
Take your time and focus on the really important things yourself and delegate the rest. Don’t solve problems that your employees are supposed to solve and don’t decide things that your employees can actually decide.
Focus on few but essential tasks!
And don’t let yourself be constantly distracted.
Ditch the open door policy!
Schedule meetings and calls and don’t screw up your schedule.
The problem quite often is – and I am guilty of this sometimes as well –
Sometimes we love to have an excuse for postponing unpleasant tasks.
Well, and then sometimes there is something else: It is that we love to hear the latest news. We want to be distracted. We are wired like this. It is inherent in all of us.
Somehow it feels nice to be distracted by a new message that pops up on the screen of your SmartPhone. While you are working on an important presentation, a new e-mail notification appears on the computer.
Believe me, important things that are also urgent will not come in an email. If your house is on fire, the fire brigade will for sure not send you an email.
How can you stay focused at work?
Don’t allow systems and others to interrupt you.
1. Turn off all notifications.
No notifications on the phone. Not from Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter, no Whats App or LinkedIn or…
2. Switch off your email program
Very important: Always switch off the email program on your computer or laptop. Only open your email program when you want to read and answer your emails – and you shouldn’t do this more than 3-4 times a day.
3. Close the door and forward calls
If you are working on an important matter, do not answer the phone and close your door. Yes, in this times you have to ditch the open door policy – and that is a good thing.
4. Turn off your smart phone during meetings
So important. When you’re in a meeting, turn off the damn smart phone – or best of all, don’t bring it to the meeting in the first place.
5. Always be available, but don´t be accessible all the time.
Of course, as a manager you are there for your employees. Your employees can send you an email at any time. This is how they can reach out to you. However, you are not always accessible. You schedule a meeting or a call, but you are in the drive r seat.
Don’t let anyone screw up your schedule.
If you do all these, you are much more self-determined. Doing this will help you to stay focused on the really important things.
How to stay focused and rejecting requests
Do you also have a tough time rigorously rejecting requests? It’s difficult to say “No” to calls for help or opportunities when these are outside of your area of focus. If you’d like to know how to deal with this, check out my post on
Focus on doing the right things instead of a bunch of things.