What's Flowing Out Your Open Door?

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I was working with a management team a while back helping them find ways to be more productive. I asked them what wastes their time. One of the time wasters they raised was frequent interruptions from staff and peers.

I asked them if this happened even when their office doors were shut. They said, “Yes, people just knock and walk right in.”  I figured the solution was simple, tell people that when your door is shut that you are busy and not to be interrupted except in true emergencies. The shocked and uncomfortable looks on their faces told me that my “simple” solution was not so simple.

They said, “You don’t understand. We have an open door policy in our organization. It is expected that we are all available to everybody at all times.”

I have seen this before and have a strong opinion about it. An open door policy seems great in concept. It conjures images of the free flow of information, ideas and collaboration. But, applying it in your real executive world hurts your productivity and the productivity of your team.

One of the best CEOs I have worked with was famously frugal with his time. You knew not to knock on his closed door or call his direct phone line unless there was an absolute emergency.

Instead of a flow of random interruptions, he proactively blocked time to meet with selected people on the most important issues facing his organization. He blocked time to respond to emails and voice mails.

If you bumped into him in the hallway and ran an idea past him instead of taking the time to discuss it right then he would say, “That’s interesting. Let’s both think some more about it and schedule a time to discuss it in more depth. Please call my assistant and she will put some time on my calendar.”

In short, he was the master of his time. His discipline and focus allowed him to accomplish a lot within a reasonable number of hours. He required this discipline and focus from his people. They were all highly productive executives. The organization grew exponentially and thrived through some difficult times in their industry and market.

If you currently have an open door policy or if you simply allow yourself to be interrupted too often I advise that you begin to rethink how you view your value as an executive. Your value is greater than your ability to be constantly available to all those around you. Instead, set your value on the level of your productivity and your organization’s productivity on the issues that are most critical to your organization’s success.

I encourage you to take control of your time. Turn off any email alerts. Respond to the most important emails on your time frame not when they “ping” you. Let calls go to voice mail, return them when you are ready. Schedule the majority of your meetings and phone calls. Keep extemporaneous meetings to a minimum.

I do not mean that you insulate yourself from others. As a senior executive it is critical that you have a lot of interaction with others. What I advocate is maximizing your control of what you do and when you do it.

So, what is flowing out your open door? A lot of productivity! Time is the ultimate commodity. Do not give any of it away.

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