I’ve always wanted to write about this business issue. Over the last 10 years, I’ve suffered from busyness, especially as my business has grown and more and more colleagues have joined our team. In my 20s, I read a lot of business books which taught that to build a successful business, you had to find a way to always keep your door open to whoever comes to talk to you – no matter who they are and no matter what they want.
They also advised that as the final decision maker, you should always position your workstation well-centralised in the company floor plan, so as to be easily reachable by your colleagues. It took me 10 years to unlearn this, during which time I went from being a naïve and optimistic 20-year-old, to a stressed out business veteran.
My stress levels used to go up and down during the day. I was proud to be a multitasker, and even more proud to be making 15 decisions per minute. Talking to five different colleagues at the same time was common in my daily routine. Sometimes, we have the stereotype of company owners as bossy or arrogant individuals, selecting whoever they want to talk to during the day. I was quite the opposite. I wanted to be reachable to every single person that wanted to talk to me, at all times. The doors of my room were wide open, with free access to all – and I was proud of it. I also used to have a personal assistant side by side with me, in the same room, over those 10 years.
Stress can become a serious problem when working in these conditions. Stress is a silent killer. It takes years to realise that stress is attacking you, and longer still to find the cause. Numerous studies have shown that stress negatively affects your health. We all need time to think. And by that I mean thinking time done by yourself. Alone. We need time to plan. To organise our activities in the most effective way with respect to our business goals. And I’m not a scientist or a doctor but I know we need time to rest and let our brain record and organise the inflow of information.
What are the problems with keeping the doors of your office open to everybody?
You will always be interrupted no matter what you are doing. Being interrupted all the time means you will find it difficult to organise what you should do first. You might be writing a very important email for a potential customer, and then someone comes to your room and asks you to help choose the new company printer. There’s no way to prioritise your daily activities.
If you are interrupted without notice, then whatever you were doing at the time, you will end up trying to do that plus handle the interruption at the same time. Perhaps this is human nature. Sometimes, you can’t simply stop what you were doing before you were interrupted. It makes you become a multitasker naturally. But multitasking can become very dangerous. It increases your stress levels and it creates a lack of concentration which results in mistakes, especially when decisions need to be made.
3. Individual issues become group concerns:
In the beginning of this article I mentioned that quite often I had many people in my room talking at the same time, or discussing different issues with me. As business individuals, we must understand how important it is to talk individually to each person and make sure we give them the right attention. If you are talking to someone about a specific issue they’re handling, no one should simply join the conversation, especially when not invited. Make sure that you don’t share one individual’s workload with other individuals – no matter how busy you are. When you are in a group meeting, it is easy to forget to make sure each task is being performed by the right individual.
4. You’re unable to allocate your time efficiently:
You must be able to dictate how you will organize your time. Nobody else should be doing that for you. I am not saying that our colleagues are not important – they are. But we need to organise our daily tasks – replying to emails, taking calls, meeting with clients, doing admin – in the best way possible. How can you do this if you’re being interrupted all the time without notice?
5. You end up dividing your time equally among colleagues:
The issue here is that some of your colleagues won’t know how to organise their time or prioritise well. You must be careful with them or they will waste your time and mess up your schedule. Your employees should all have some opportunity to talk to you, and if some of them are abusing that privilege, you will not have time for the others. This is not fair and can even prevent certain departments from doing their work, if they need your input when taking a decision – and that’s bad for the whole company.
How to improve your working conditions if you are facing the same issue I was.
Ideally, you must learn to close your door and make sure to let people know that you have a schedule, a discipline that needs to be followed in order to finish everything that needs to be done.
• Contract a personal assistant: Your personal assistant will help you to organise your activities and organise the inflow of individuals and information on your table.
• If you have the option, avoid sharing your room with somebody else. I shared my office room with my personal assistant for almost 10 years. We helped each other a lot but we also used to interrupt each other quite often. Taking all the pros and cons into consideration, I learned that it was better for us to have separate rooms. You should do the same.
• Separate urgent and non-urgent issues. Perhaps your colleagues don’t understand what is urgent and not urgent. You need to start educating them. Once again, your personal assistant can also help you spread the information among the team. Everybody should know what is urgent and what can wait.
• Allocate specific times for specific issues. I haven’t done this one myself but I know a lot of people who do. They separate specific hours during the day when they can be interrupted. Some businesses are so extreme that it is even prohibited to talk to colleagues during certain hours of the day.
What if the problem persists?
You buy a door and close your room when necessary. Sounds like you work in a messy environment with resentful people.
What can you do if the problem persists even when you installed a door?
Lock the door.
What can you do if the problem persists even after locking the door?
Fire whoever’s at the door. They obviously don’t respect your time.