In Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix, Quadrant 3 (Q3) describes tasks that are urgent but unimportant. It’s the quadrant of “Other Peoples’ Priorities.” The tasks that fit into this quadrant are important to someone, but they don’t have to be important to us.
It may seem crazy that we would spend any time working on things that are unimportant, but we often confuse urgency with importance. When a phone rings, we feel we have to pick it up. When there’s a knock on the door, we feel we have to answer it. When someone drops by, we feel like we have to stop what we’re doing to talk to them.
But what if we could make it so that they rarely dropped by anymore? We can…by getting rid of our Q3 magnets: the things that attract and invite the interruptions in the first place. Try these strategies:
- Get rid of the candy dish on your desk. It’s an invitation to stop by for a sugar fix, and they will feel obligated to stop and talk if they are going to take your candy.
- Remove chairs from around your work space. A standing interruption won’t last nearly as long as a sitting one will, and it may not happen at all.
- Stay busy. If someone peaks in and sees you staring into space, he/she won’t feel bad interrupting you.
- Take home the conversation piece. If you have something near your desk that invites questions or discussion, take it away.
- Relocate out of high-traffic areas. If your desk is on the way to the restroom or the breakroom, you can be sure that a percentage of the people going that way will drop in to chat.
- Get out of the line of sight. If people can’t see if you are at your desk when they pass by, they are less likely to stop in.
- Put your inbox as far away from you as you can. Make it easy for people to drop things in your inbox without having to engage you.
- Move popular resources elsewhere. If people have to come to you (or near you) for files, supplies or other materials, you’re inviting interruptions.
- Kill the grapevine. It may be that people are frequently interrupting you because you’ve got the best gossip. It may be painful, but if you stop passing along information, people will stop coming to you.
- Close the “open door.” The open door policy is widely misunderstood. It’s was originally intended to allow an outlet for employees who needed to air issues or unload burdens – not for unproductive interruptions. Close your door (if you have one) when you need to concentrate, and let everyone know that they can come by and see you during a particular hour of the day. Schedule your “interruption time.”
A word of caution:
These strategies are not meant to completely eliminate time that you use to interact with your coworkers. Building relationships is important, even when it’s not urgent. It’s a Q2 activity that requires a time investment but pays off in the long run. Be careful that as you eliminate your Q3 magnets, you don’t send the wrong message to those you need to be building relationships with.