Learn about how to be responsive but still maintain healthy boundaries.
- Excuse me, I've got just a quick question. This dreaded double-Q, as I call it, is one of the biggest killers to productivity when it comes to most anyone's workday. The issue of quick questions becomes magnified when someone is working from home. While you might think that the separation of not being together in a physical office would reduce these kinds of things, I've found the opposite to be true, largely because team members don't know what their home-based counterparts are doing, and they rarely hesitate to interrupt them at all with a quick question.
We need to avoid this situation. Quick questions force you to switch away from whatever you're working on, to answer the question, and then switch back. Do this enough, and pretty soon, your whole day is just putting out small fires, but never getting any real work done. We've already talked about establishing some expectations for email and instant messages, but there are a few additional things that home-based workers can do to deal with the dreaded double-Q.
First, establish a consistent one-to-one meeting schedule. This means that you and your supervisor, or if you are the supervisor, you and those you manage, have a weekly recurring time schedule where you meet with each other. This one-on-one should largely be dedicated to responding to and asking quick questions. This meeting schedule helps people get in the habit of queuing up these questions and asking them in a focused way during the meeting, rather than peppering each other throughout the day with double-Qs.
Will this get rid of all the questions? Of course not. But what it does do is creates a stopping point in your mind and the mind of your coworkers. When a quick question comes to mind that you want to ask them, you want to think, can this wait until our scheduled one-to-one meeting? In fact, if someone interrupts you in the day with a quick question, the first thing I would suggest you ask is, can this wait until our scheduled one-to-one meeting? If the answer is no, and the question truly is an emergency, well, then you're going to need to respond to it.
But often, when we slow down for just a moment, we realize that most of the things that we think are emergencies really aren't emergencies, they're simply impatiences. Impatiences are counter-productive. Have that consistent meeting time, and you'll reduce many of them. Also, as we mentioned earlier, establish different expectations for different channels. If we ask someone a question via email, it's reasonable to expect a wait time of at least one business day until we get a response.
A channel, such as instant messaging, should be reserved for true emergencies, things that need fast, immediate responses. Also, consider response times to phone calls or video message calls. If you've seen my other courses, you'll know that I'm a big believer in, instead of the Open Door Policy, the Closed Door Open Calendar Policy. The Open Calendar Policy works well for those working from home. Rather than leaving yourself open to constantly being interrupted at any time via phone call, it's better to have a reserved, open amount of time on your calendar when your coworkers can schedule themselves in for brief conversations.
This greatly reduces interruptions, and your coworkers, rather than playing phone tag, can simply open up your shared calendar online and schedule themselves in for a quick phone call. Then, you know and they know when you're going to meet and discuss a specific issue outside of your normal one-to-one meeting schedule. This allows you both to give that conversation 100% of your attention. In the end, responding to quick questions is about respect and boundaries.
By establishing boundaries with your coworkers, you'll deal with issues in a timely manner, and be better-able to maintain focus.
- Create a productive environment by limiting distractions.
- Evaluate and choose the best technology to increase your productivity.
- Differentiate between constant effort and a healthy working rhythm.
- Define expectations around communication while remaining responsive.
- Identify the benefits of relationship building.
- Learn how to manage interruptions and emergencies at home.