Friday, March 25, 2011

Can't You See I'm Busy?!

Task lists.  Post it notes.  Legal pads.  Emails to myself (my current favorite).  Napkins.  Even the palm of my hand.  I've written notes on just about everything.  Little reminders to add to my task list for follow up.  So much to do, and so little time to accomplish it all.  Thank goodness I can go to my office and start tearing through my list. Sometimes my days fill up with work before they even get started.  In fact, most days fill up before they get started.  So that's what makes it all the more annoying when I have to stop what I'm doing and interact with people...wait...I mean....what's going on here?

Tasks Lists Are Not People
I may have missed something along the way, but the last time I checked people were a heck of a lot more important than the items on my task list.  Sure, the work I have to accomplish is important, but it pales in comparison to those that need my support.  Have you ever worked with a leader who could barely take their eyes off their computer, smart phone, or *groan* portfolio while you were trying to speak with them?  Sadly, I've been one of those leaders from time to time.  My recent feedback session with my leadership team pointed this out as an occasional issue.  

Shame on me.

Interruptions = Trust
Have you ever considered what an interruption actually represents?  Your team members have enough confidence in you that they're taking the risk of disrupting your day (trust me, they know you are busy), and ask for your help.  That's a big deal.  I once had a manager ask me what to do because when she asked her employees questions during staff meetings no one ever responded to her.  She didn't realize she had completely lost their respect.  They didn't trust her anymore.  When employees step forward to "interrupt" they are extending a hand and asking us to help pull them along.

Do you reach back to them?

But I Have A Lot of Work To Do
...and so do your employees.  So am I recommending that we toss our task list into the trash?  Of course not.  I would be lost without mine.  But I would really be lost if the people around me felt like I had thrown them in the trash in favor of my list, or my Inbox, or Droid.  I need to let go of my self-inflicted martyr status, and actually focus on those around me, when they need me.

How About You
Are all of those pieces of paper on your desk the focus of your work; or, is the line of people outside your door the real priority?  Is it time to push away that task list and lend a helping hand?

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses. 

pics courtesy of Farm5 and Visual Photos


  1. Jay:
    A great post. Early in my HR career I would get frustrated with people knocking on my door interrupting my work. I couldn't get my work done. Then one day it dawned on me that handling the interruptions "was my work."

    Managers have the same problem. They often forget that there work is to "manage" and not just the individual initiatives they have to work one.

  2. Thanks Mike. It seems to be an ongoing struggle as we try to handle our team members needs and our own projects. That's also part of the "fun" challenge of our work!

  3. A great and timely, at least for me, post.

    Working on a Prioritized Task List makes me seem important enough to have a Prioritized Task List. Trying to look important tends to be one of the leading causes of being impotent in the workplace.

    Now I must get back to prioritizinfg my task list.

  4. Thanks Gary. You're absolutely right about our lists. We do feel important, but can lose sight of those around us. It's good to connect!

  5. Jay-
    This is so important! There are days when I know I could work from home, get a lot done - maybe even more than if I went to the office. But I would then miss the various opportunities to interact with folks. To respond to their needs or take advantage of ideas and gems they drop at my door on occasion.
    Satisfaction of a completed task list is good, being more informed about your organization is better.

  6. Thanks Tim. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but one I (hopefully) haven't forgotten!

  7. This is a great reminder for all of us, Jay! I think we can all be guilty of getting too caught up in our task lists and getting cranky when others "interrupt" us to ask questions or ask for help. Absolutely: "I may have missed something along the way, but the last time I checked people were a heck of a lot more important than the items on my task list."

  8. Jay,
    Hi! Just ran across your blog from a post from Steve Browne. I love it. We teach a listening class demonstrating what you are talking about; we purposely have people get distracted while listening to see the impact on the "talker". It's amazing that even though they know it's going to happen, it's still hard for the talker to keep talking. Then they start blaming themselves for being boring, etc.
    I also love the background on this site. Just moved part-time to Sarasota and it's such a great place! I'll keep checking back on your blog.
    Jessica Selasky, Confidence Builders

  9. Gillian - Thanks Gillian!

    working girl - Love it. Thank you!

    Jessica - Welcome to the area...and thanks for the feedback. Your exercise sounds like a great tool to teach perspective on this issue.

  10. I am a list-making freak. I write them everywhere and on anything I can find. And, it has to be written, not typed, by me. There is something that clicks in my brain and I remember the color of paper, the ink color, or the way that I wrote something. It's a great exercise. But you're right, we have to stop and focus on the actual people on that list. I do think the lists come in handy to remind us of making time to connect. I even have a list of my online HR contacts and how often I've reached out to them. That way, I can see if there's someone I've not called, emailed, tweeted at lately and correct my behavior.

    Nice post.