Three of my coaching clients all are having the same big issue. It's an old issue and most entrepreneurs have it: how to deal with overload and better manage their time. All three have symptoms that will sound very familiar to you. Faces full of tension and fatigue, desks barely visible beneath mounds of paper, and most importantly, closed doors that never stay closed for long. Ever try to create a Powerpoint deck that should take you 20 minutes and it's now six hours later and you're only half-way done? Yeah, you know all about it.
There must be a system. Something you can buy that will make it stop.
There is! Indeed, hundreds of organizers (paper and digital) are available and operators are standing by. And exactly none of them will work because your problem isn't a lack of time.
Once we peeled it back, the real problem that all three of my clients recognized was this: boundaries. It may be your problem, too. Here are some considerations that may help you recognize and deal with boundary issues.
- Say Good-bye to the Open Door Policy: As a manager, you are committed to being available to your employees at any time so that problems can be recognized and communication is always open. This policy means well but is flawed. There's a reason the airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others with theirs. If you can't do your work, what use will you be, ultimately, to the people around you? Years ago, I worked with a chief technology officer for a startup company who was responsible for creating the first-ever Internet marketplace for mortgage loan offers. He had some heavy thinking to do. And he didn't even have an office. Just a cubicle. This brilliant guy was beset by literally hundreds of interruptions a day, in between which he was expected to write hundreds of lines of code that would mean success or failure for the company. We talked about it and decided to go from Open Cubicle Policy to Doctor's Hours. He taped a hand-written sign to the side of his cubicle listing the hours during the day when he would answer non-emergency questions. Of course, he's continue to respond to emergencies at any time. The only hard part of this system was training people on the definition of an emergency. The business equivalent of someone's hair being on fire constitutes an emergency. After a few false alarms, people will got it.
- Stop Tolerating Chaos: Ever watch one of the many reality TV shows about hoarders? Are you starting to feel like one? In the workplace, some people thrive on chaos. Disorder and lack of predictability at work has a payoff: it provides an adrenaline rush. There are people who are adrenaline junkies. The problem is: the high doesn't last and the lows are really, really low. I asked one client to try this: forget the chaos in front of him for a moment and think about your really big goals this year. Not just hitting your numbers, but beyond that. Do you really want that vision? Do you deserve it? Is your toleration of chaos in the way? What are you willing to overcome to own it? What can you do first thing tomorrow to start dealing with the chaos?
- MAN(ager) Up! Many entrepreneurs are successful because they are so capable themselves. They have very high throughput. So they've trained people to come to them with problems, and they provide quick solutions. There's no real distinction between problems that need your input and those that can be solved by someone else (hopefully the person with the problem). If you have a half dozen people on your team, and each one is coming to you to be the problem solver, try this at your next meeting: assign each one a buddy and have them work in teams to solve their problems. If some decisions blow up, the issue is not the solution they implemented, it's your choice of people on your team. Every team should have people with different, complementary skills and work styles. There's plenty of genetic diversity to overcome most issues without the boss having to make the call every time.