Just a quick question

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Photo courtesy of Wee Sen Goh (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Wee Sen Goh (Creative Commons)

Can I just ask a quick question?

It seems simple enough, but usually that quick question is more involved than either party expects.

Plus it is an interruption to a train of thought that derails me from what I was doing.

How many times have you stopped to answer that “quick question” and then sat there totally lost as to what you were doing before?

I’m struggling with too many moving parts at my job right now, and feel like I’m treading water most days with only my nose stuck out of the water. One thing I have discovered is that any time I get up from my desk, I take a pen and pad of paper because no matter where I am going, someone will catch me along the way to ask or tell me something, or I will notice something that I need to take care of. Forget me remembering it if I haven’t written it down (and actually, I still may not deal with it right away, but at least it’s captured).

I am learning that I need to have that pen and paper handy even when I’m at my desk to avoid the problem of losing my thought process when someone asks that quick question. I can jot down what I was working on, or where I stopped, and then have a better chance of picking that project or idea back up and running with it.

I know that people mean well when they interrupt with that “quick question” but it does make me think twice when I step to another office to do the same thing. My priority may not be their priority, and sometimes email or waiting can be better for things that need an answer but not this minute.

How can you be more effective in getting the information you need without interrupting others?

What is really next?

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Photo courtesy of Erik Schepers (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Erik Schepers (Creative Commons)

Something I fight constantly is the trap of “loudest and most recent” when I’m getting things done.

It seems no matter how much I plan, I get sent off track when someone interrupts me with their “urgent” need. I think it will only take a minute and will be better than adding it to a list or asking someone to do it, and before I know it the day is over, or my energy is flagging, and I have done a lot of busy-work but not the real work that I had intended.

Often that busy work could have either waited or been delegated, and here I was, wasting precious time and energy taking care of it. Ugh.

What’s really next?

That’s the question I need to be asking myself frequently throughout the day. Secondary questions include: Is this part of my role? Does this action move me toward my mission and my critical goals? Am I the best person to do this?

If the answer to any of the secondary questions is “no,” then I need to stop and consider why that potential action is even on my list. Granted, there will be times when I do things that aren’t related to my mission or role, but that needs to be after I have spent good focused time on activities related to my mission and my primary responsibilities and goals.

Even more than adding things to my list to deal with later, I need to get better at saying, “You can contact (insert name here) and they can help you with this,” or “Here is where you can find that information.” Then I can get right back to what I am meant to be doing.

I work extensively with an organization called I Run 4 (read more here), in which runners/athletes are paired with adults and children with special needs and dedicate their workouts to their buddies. The support and encouragement that develops out of these new relationships is incredible. However, there is a long waiting list of runners to be matched, and also not all the matches work out.

My role is to coordinate the new matches, and make sure buddies and runners get connected initially. As of this writing, we have nearly 30,000 members in the closed Facebook group, almost 9,700 buddy/runner matches, and over 3,000 runners on the wait list, so you can imagine the numbers of emails and messages I field daily. It keeps me busy!

When I get a message from a runner wanting to know what number they are on the waiting list, or that someone is having issues with their buddy/runner and wants a rematch, I have to be diligent about referring those kinds of communications to the person or place where they can get help. I have learned the hard way, if I am not good at deflecting, then I end up bogged down in a lot of “stuff” that keeps me from doing what I need to.

At first, I would stop and look up the runner to let them know where they were on the list, but we post that list in the group every week, and I have learned to simply let them know where they can find it so they can look it up on their own.

Another volunteer manages any HR issues that arise between buddies and runners, and works with both parties to remind them of guidelines, work out issues, or make the decision to rematch or remove members. She is compassionate and kind, and really good at what she does.

When someone messages me with issues, it only adds to the frustration of everyone involved if I do anything other than refer them right away to our HR director. I have learned to not even get involved but to let them know immediately who they need to contact, her email, and that she can help them.

These actions help me stay focused on my true role of processing the new buddies and runners and announcing those life-changing matches.

What things come into your life that you should deflect? How can you stay focused on saying, “What’s really next?”

Leaving a trail

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Photo courtesy of Kat Selvocki (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kat Selvocki (Creative Commons)

I get interrupted a lot at work. No I mean constantly. It is challenging some days to stay focused and get things done because each interruption invites a shift to a new task or project, and by the end of the day, my desk ends up literally stacked with all the things I started and didn’t finish. I find email drafts the next day that I thought I had sent (no wonder I didn’t get a response since I never finished hitting send!). I have little notes all over the place, and people often have to ask more than once to get something from me.

I don’t like working that way, so I’m figuring out a way to leave myself markers – kind of like a trail of breadcrumbs, to the work I need to be doing.

To counteract all the interruptions, I’m learning some ways to trigger a reminder that gets me back on track. One thing is to leave a blank pad of paper by my computer so that I can write things down. When someone comes in to say we need to order this, or can I print out that, or they need these figures, I write it down for later and continue with what I was doing.

I’m learning to say, “I’m in the middle of something now, but I will get that in a little while.” That way I can finish what I’m working on, or at least get to a stopping point, and then get other things done.

I’m also learning to finish a thought or an entry when the phone rings. Instead of picking up on the first ring, I get to a logical stopping point and then answer – and sometimes I let it go to voice mail (gasp). That action alone has helped tremendously in staying on track, and eliminating a lot of the mistakes I was making.

How do you stay focused in spite of interruptions?

Follow through is key

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Photo courtesy of Flic Pics (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Flic Pics (Creative Commons)

In baseball, golf or tennis, a key part of a swing at the ball is the follow through – without it, the ball will not go where you want it to.

I’m finding that I often miss that step in a lot of the work I do, making life more difficult than it needs to be.

Have you ever gotten an email that involved going to a website to do something, you go do it, but then you forget to delete the email? Later, you go through the steps again because you aren’t sure that you finished?

Or what about when you are going through a list, checking off things as you finish, and then you forget to check something off? Makes for a lot of extra work to go back later only to realize you took care of it originally.

Sometimes the final step is to communicate to your team or boss where you are on a project.

I have discovered that part of my problem with having too much to do is because I don’t always follow through like I should. Whether it’s at work, my volunteer work or just personal things, I need to take the extra moment to finish it up before I move on.

I actually practiced it at work last week. Someone interrupted me in the middle of working on something on the computer. Normally, I would have stopped to take care of their issue and then gone back to what I was doing – discovered I wasn’t sure where I stopped, and waste time going back over it until I figured it out.

But this time, I said, “I’ll be there in a minute, let me finish what I’m doing.”

The world didn’t end. They didn’t freak out. In fact, they apologized for interrupting me and said that was fine whenever I got to it.

I finished up, closed the file, and went to take care of the other matter, knowing that when I came back, I would just start the next file.

Beautiful. I got a whole lot more done that day because I approached each interruption that way and was able to follow through on what I was doing to get to a good stopping point.

What tasks or projects would be more efficient for you if you had better follow through?