Many leaders I coach pride themselves on their approachability and having an “open-door policy.” We often want to be available to others to answer questions and support their needs.
What you might not be considering is how not setting or honoring boundaries is creating extra stress that affects your energy and productivity.
My office is in the upstairs of our house. I have two kids, ages 10 and 8. About a year ago, I had an important coaching session with the CEO of a prominent IT company (unluckily, my kids happened to be home from school because of an early dismissal).
I told my kids about the important phone call and that I couldn’t be interrupted unless it was an EMERGENCY.
Knowing how kids are, I used all my best coaching skills to help them identify what constituted an emergency and they had some great answers so I felt confident.
Within 10 minutes, I heard a knock at the door! I opened the door to find BOTH children (intact, no blood!) and muted the phone long enough to silence their protests and send them back downstairs.
I finished the call and marched downstairs to confront the offenders. I asked them WHY they interrupted me when we had just talked about what an emergency meant (and clearly there wasn’t one). Their response was priceless…
They claimed a squirrel was in the kitchen—and the emergency was that it might have been rabid and therefore dangerous!
Seriously—a rabid squirrel in the kitchen?! I had to give them points for creativity.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson that has helped me coach many leaders when it comes to setting boundaries and being clear in their communication about when (and why) they can be interrupted if they’re trying to work.
Saying no and being inaccessible to drop-ins and requests by employees is often difficult for the leaders I coach.
I’ve had more than one person tell me that with their “open door policy” workplace even shutting the door for brief periods of time can be anxiety-provoking because they feel like they’re ignoring people’s needs or that all hell is breaking loose on the other side. Additionally, when you feel pressed for time, your frustration is often evident and impacts the quality of your conversation.
What about the leader’s needs?
Leaders have projects and deadlines they need to meet, too. Their solution is often coming in early, staying late, and working on nights and weekends to get things done, leaving them feeling depleted and stressed.
When someone walks by and sees an open door, they’re often tempted to just pop in (whether it appears you’re working or not). Similarly, if they’re upset or stuck on something it becomes a CRISIS that needs IMMEDIATE attention, just like my kids with the “rabid squirrel.”
The truth is that it’s okay to take time to work on things and not be available immediately. When you take time to focus on your work tasks without interruption you can accomplish them more efficiently. That means less time at work and more balance in your life!
Your employees won’t hate you for closing your door to work (as long as it’s not all day, every day). They won’t even think badly of you. They’ll understand and respect you for setting these boundaries because it empowers them to do the same: accomplish work in a reasonable amount of time while they’re AT WORK!
Additionally, by having employees schedule dedicated time to talk with you, you’ll likely find that they discover their own solutions and/or are more focused and clear when they come to talk with you.
Here are 3 easy ways to set clearer boundaries and protect your time and energy:
1) Shut your office door when you need to focus and work uninterrupted.
NO EXCEPTIONS. A leader I coached recently recognized that it can send mixed signals when you wave an employee in while you’re on the phone or typing. If you invite them in, be ready to give them your full attention.
2) Clearly communicate your availability to others and explain what it means when your door is closed.
Being honest and transparent about why you need time to work will be welcomed. Your employees will also know that when your door is open, you’ll be prepared to listen and help.
3) Use your assistant as your time/energy shield.
Educate your assistant about the reasons you can be interrupted while working. You can also enlist his or her help to screen phone calls, filter emails in your inbox that might be a time suck, and defer conversations to a time when you can be fully present and listen.
Setting clear boundaries and giving yourself the time and space to work will positively impact both you and those you lead. Consider the ways that you might create this type of environment at work. Which of the three items above could you implement right away?
If you find yourself struggling to be unavailable, close your door, or get work done in a reasonable amount of time consider the tips above or schedule a Complimentary Discovery Call with me to discuss your current challenges and to get clear on your next steps.
You can also download my FREE e-book, “The Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Managing Your Energy at Work” to begin taking back control of your energy and success!