There’s no doubt it’s important for a good manager to be available. When you delegate a project or assign a task you probably go to great pains to ensure you receive regular reports and updates. I’m sure you make it quite clear that you are available if help or advice is needed.
Maybe you’ve even used the words:
‘My door is always open …’
Perhaps it’s part of the culture or just company policy. In some organizations an open door is more than encouraged – it’s mandatory! Sometimes it’s even institutionalized and structural: all the doors are eliminated and everyone works in an open plan area.
But does having your door always open, work? One of the most common complaints I hear from managers and executives is that they are so busy, yet they never seem to get anything done.
The problem? Constant interruptions.
If people are constantly bringing you their issues, reports and concerns all day every day, how do you ever get any of your own work done?
Some managers cope by coming in early or staying back late to get the uninterrupted time they need to do their own work. That’s clearly unfair. And typically, it’s not very long before someone starts arriving early or staying late to catch you.
Others might work with their doors open, but everyone know about the invisible barrier. That’s the one with ‘Keep out!’ splashed across it in invisible ink. Cross it at your peril! The door might be open, but they’re not really accessible.
The fact is that if your door is ALWAYS open, it’s never really open.
If your door is always open, your people don’t have any way of knowing if now is a good time for you to talk to them – without interrupting you. And once you have been interrupted, you have lost your focus and might as well handle the problem. Then it can take you ten or even twenty minutes to get back into the swing of that critical problem you almost had sorted out … In fact sometimes, we never quite manage to capture the flow again and an opportunity is lost forever.
Lots of the tasks we do are routine and an interruption doesn’t matter too much. But if you are in a senior role, some of them are not. Some of your work really deserves your focus and full concentration.
If you explain to your people that you need some quiet time when you have work to focus on and deadlines to meet, therefore you plan to close your door occasionally, they will understand.
More than that, they will appreciate that, when your door is open, you truly are available and they really are welcome to talk to you about something that’s troubling them.
More on how to close your door in the Quick Tips below:
QUOTE OF NOTE
‘When you become quiet, it just dawns on you.’
Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
QUICK TIPS FOR CLOSING YOUR DOOR
- The key to successfully closing your door occasionally is to ensure that the people who report to you, and those you report to, all know what you are doing and why it is so important you not be interrupted. Talk to them about it.
- Try setting and sticking to a regular time when you close your door to focus on your own work. If your people expect that from 11-12 each day your door is closed, they will get into the habit of speaking you before or after that time. And you will be amazed at how much you can achieve in an uninterrupted hour.
- Donâ€™t forget to divert your telephone and turn off your email while your door is closed.
- If you work in an open plan office and don’t have a door to close, agree on some other signal for your ‘no interruptions’ time. I know of one office where people display a green or red flag over their desk depending on whether they are available or not. Even a hand written sign would do, if you explain what it means and ask your people to respect it.
- Be prepared to clarify what constitutes an emergency exception to your new ‘no interruptions if my door is closed’ policy. You may need to be firm about this a couple of times before you are happy that people share your view of what can and can’t wait an hour for your door to be ‘open’ again.
- Talk to your people about whether they might benefit from introducing the same system. (And make sure you respect their ‘no interruptions’ time, if you want them to respect yours.)