I assume that you spend time in your business. Probably a lot of time, and maybe more time than you’d like. When I say “keep office hours” I don’t mean you should “go to work regularly”. I mean that you should impose a simple structure that will give you more time.
Flash back for a second to the first day of a college class. After the professor announces the grading scale, hands out the syllabus and suggests that you drop her course she announced her “office hours”. Those were the few hours during the week when the professor was guaranteed to be in her office so you could drop by and ask questions, curry favor or whine about your grade. Naturally you were free to drop by any time, but one thing was almost certain…if you dropped outside of office hours, you would be greeted by the locked door to an empty office and a sign that reminded you of the professor’s office hours. Want to talk? Come back then.
The process makes perfect sense. Professors deal with hundreds of students at a time. If they don’t enforce office hours they’re subject to a continuous parade of students wanting all sorts of things and chewing up time right and left. Dealing with students outside the classroom would become a full-time job. And professors don’t need another full-time job. They already teach 10 hours a week.
Now think about your day. You know that employees are going to have questions, problems and issues. That’s just the way it is. Good managers schedule regular meetings dedicated to resolving lots of issues at one time, but sometimes things just come up. In fact, they come up a lot. And when an employee wants your approval, insight, agreement or air support, they can get into the habit of just dropping by to discuss it with you. String several of these together over the course of a day and you’ve endured multiple interruptions dealing with other peoples’ agendas. Your work goes undone, or pushed into the evening or weekend. Not good.
But what would happen if you announced – and then enforced – the concept of office hours? I can tell you what would happen…you’ll deal with the same issues in a more organized manner and get your own work done better and faster.
Try this. Announce to your team the time of day and length of time that you will DEDICATE to questions and challenges that have just “come up”. During this time, you won’t schedule meetings, you won’t take phone calls, you won’t read email…you will simply be available to anyone who wants your help or input. Then do it. Consistently.
So what happens if interrupts you outside of your office hours? Then they had better have a Damn Good Reason for it. “Damn Good Reasons” include things like:
- Someone is bleeding a lot. Not a little. A lot.
- Something is burning. Fast.
- The IRS is at the front door and they want to talk to you.
At first it takes time for people to get used to your office hours. They will forget. They will inadvertently drop by and you’ll think “what the heck, they’re here, it’s easier to just deal with it and be done with it.”
Wrong. You can expect to be tested and you can expect for people to ignore your office hours with things other than Damn Good Reasons. Let them get away with it and you will have no one but yourself to blame. Instead, remind uninvited guests of your office hours and let them know you’ll be glad to visit with them then. Then put your head down and go back to work.
And hope that the IRS is not at the front door.
Meet the Founder
Jeff Whittle founded and launched Whittle & Partners in 2011. Before that, Jeff practiced law in Dallas for 15 years and has an additional 20 years of executive business experience. He has run businesses ranging from startups to 300-employee operations.