Managing distractions: Three important questions
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Managing distractions: Three important questions

Quick: What’s the most important thing you own as a manager? A corner office? A reserved parking spot? The desktop plate with your name and title emblazoned on it?

Of course not. These are all material objects that have no bearing on your actual capacity to get results through people.

The answer is: your time. The eight hours (or more) you spend at work are the most valuable possession you have.

A piece of your time
Problem is, employees and other colleagues are constantly trying to get a piece of your time for this or that problem that’s just come up and is — supposedly — oh, so urgent. These distractions can rob you of your day, and keep you from accomplishing the larger, mission-critical tasks your bosses are counting on you to get done.

It’s hard to say no — after all, like most employees say, “it will only take a minute.”

Except, of course, it never does. It’s more like 10 minutes, or half an hour. And it usually results in you having to do something afterwards that eats up more of your time. What’s worse, you realize that every time you say yes, you train your people to be dependent on you.

What drives your employess to disengage and how you can win them back

Resource protection
But even so, your people are still going to demand your time. So how can you communicate YOUR priorities and protect your most valuable resource without shutting these folks out completely?

Before taking on any task, ask three basic questions:

  • Does this task serve the pressing needs of our clients?
  • Does it benefit my organization?
  • Does it help me improve as a manager and advance my career?


If the answer to all three of these questions is “no,” the task is probably something that can be handled by someone else or at the very least, can wait until more important work is done.

It’s always your call
Of course, there will be REAL emergencies that need to be dealt with NOW. But the same principles apply. It’s still YOUR decision where you invest your time, guided by your values and goals.

If you start applying the three-questions test to those “got a minute” requests — and start saying “no” where appropriate — people will get the message.

Don’t leave them thinking that you’re completely unavailable, though. Let people know that you’ll entertain these requests either at a weekly meeting, or if it’s truly urgent, during a 20-minute daily window you set aside for the “got a minute” stuff.

Eventually, people start figuring out how to solve most problems on their own instead of waiting. And when they do have a problem that needs your attention, they are a lot more focused when they sit down to talk to you.

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