Being accessible is usually considered an excellent characteristic of a good manager. Most of us want to be viewed as someone who is available, eager to listen, willing to be helpful, likeable and approachable and insightful in our counsel of others.
There is often a flip side to the “open door” policy that seeks to encourage frequent and open dialogue within organizations. That is, the failure to set boundaries or limits regarding our availability encourages a non-stop parade of visitors who, if allowed, will seriously drain our time and energy and erode our effectiveness on the job.
I once knew an outstanding sales person who was promoted (as it turned out, mistakenly) into a sales management position. The new manager immediately announced that he was instituting an “open door policy.” The manager quickly found out that he hated the idea, because he entertained a steady stream of employees who, in his words, were constantly whining. The manager (who has since returned to being a sales person), told me tongue-in-cheek that he was going to write a book, and the first chapter was going to be titled:
“Don’t Have an Open Door.”
I wouldn’t go quite that far. However, the fact is that having a reputation of being accessible is a double-edged sword. It is important to set boundaries that help you maintain a proper balance between being available and letting others understand that there is a time that you need for yourself to get some work done.
There are two major areas around which you can institute reasonable and effective boundaries to help you gain greater control of your time. They revolve around people and technology.
Set limits on people. It’s good that you want to be accessible. People need to understand there is a time and a place. It’s ok to require appointments. A comment to someone who drops in to discuss something at an inconvenient time might be, “I really want to talk with you about this, however now isn’t a really good time. Could we set an appointment?” The same approach should be used with vendors and other outside business contacts that stop by unannounced. Once your colleagues and outside business contacts understand the appointment system is required, life can get a whole lot more manageable.
Another approach that is needed and sends a very clear message that you need some private time is to close your door. Some people fear this sends a negative message. I would agree if the door is closed all the time. But, there are times when closing that open door is necessary. I am a writer. I need quiet when I write. Closing the door is essential for me to write effectively. It’s ok to close the door once in a while. And, most people get it. When the door is closed, the boundaries have been established. If you are uncomfortable closing the door, leave it slightly ajar.
Set limits on technology. Most of us are bombarded with e-mails. Consider utilizing one of several excellent e-mail management systems. Set certain times of the day (usually at the beginning or end of the day) when you will open and respond to most e-mails. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked by opening e-mails every time they come into your in box. If you are in a position to do so, delegate responsibility for managing your e-mail. Let that person filter out the junk and the rest of the e-mail that you don’t need to answer personally, and send the rest on to you for review and response. Handle your phone calls in much the same way. Spend a few minutes at the end of the day returning calls and/or take a few minutes in-between meetings to catch up on phone messages.
People and technology are wonderful to have in our lives. Setting simple boundaries will help you avoid being trapped in a draining existence where you feel controlled by your environment, and instead enjoy a more productive and fulfilling existence.