- Prevent interruptions from walk-in visitors by isolating yourself. Close your door. Put up a sign. Work in a conference room. If you work in an office, take a day to work on important projects at home if necessary.
- Don’t feel obliged to have “an open door policy.” This allows people to manage your time on their terms, not on yours. “Open door” means you’re generally available for honest communication from any level. It doesn’t mean “always” available.
- If you have an assistant, establish clear guidelines as to what kinds of interruptions are appropriate, so they can screen visitors. The assistant should have the authority to schedule a subsequent meeting, or divert the inquiry to someone else.
- Block off your time for priorities. Handle larger, important projects early in the morning, before you read your e-mail and before interruptions are likely to occur. Schedule a quiet hour to create essential private time.
- Inform co-workers or subordinates that you generally like to come in at perhaps 8:00 am, and work on your own until 9:30 am. Only then do you accept meetings.
- Change the layout of your desk so that you’re not facing traffic. Otherwise, you encourage interruptions.
- If you’re storing materials or files that people have to access frequently, move them to another area.
When They Walk In
- When someone asks for a few minutes of your time, respond with “Sure, how about if I come by your office at 2 o’clock this afternoon?” This gives you more control.
- If they insist that it’s urgent, ask them how many minutes they need, then agree to that time (or tell them how much time you can give them).
- Stop people from telling stories. Interrupt them and say, “Can you summarize how I can help you in one sentence?” If they ramble on, say “OK, so how can you sum up what you need from me?”
- If they’re asking for help, ask them what solution they propose?
- Agree to help them with their request, but schedule a specific time to do it.
Prevent Them From Staying
- When someone walks into your office or cubicle, immediately stand up. That way, your visitor is less likely to sit down and get comfortable.
- If you must, place a binder or a briefcase on visitors’ chairs, to discourage people from sitting down if they happen to drop in. (Or remove chairs altogether.)
- Invent a meeting that you have to go to. Confess that you promised to call someone back about a confidential matter at exactly this time. Go make some photocopies. This will bring a meandering discussion to an end.
- Set a time limit. Then check the time in an obvious way, and make sure to announce the end of the allotted time when it occurs.
- Ask subordinates to “save up” items of importance and deal with them in a bunch at an appointed time.
- Be careful that your tactics aren’t counter productive to the organization. What may benefit you as an individual may be detrimental to the team. Isolating yourself might frustrate others, or cause them to waste their own time because you weren’t available for help.