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Sticking to your plan, despite countless requests and interruptions

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Hi there, To start your week out right: I came across this old tweet and can only agree wholeheartedl
 

Work in Progress

July 20 · Issue #44 · View online
The newsletter about work

Hi there,
To start your week out right: I came across this old tweet and can only agree wholeheartedly. Slowing down and taking a look at your priorities is the key to getting anything of value done.
But how do you do that? Think about what would make this week a success. What would have to happen for you to close out Friday afternoon with the same feeling you have when you head out on vacation? The few minutes it takes to name your priorities can take this week to new heights.

Some time back, Kitty emailed me with a question that I get a lot: 
I work at a startup and in addition to my own considerable workload, I spend a lot of time fielding questions from clients who need support or want to request new features. It’s hard to make any progress when I’m the go-to person for these kinds of outside topics.  Do you have any tips for me, maybe from your early days at Blendle?
Sometimes it’s the telephone that’s the distraction, sometimes it’s coworkers, or like in Kitty’s case, the needs of clients. For tips, I don’t need to go back to when Blendle was just getting started, because outside inquiries are a constant.
As an organization grows, it gets more important to structure those incoming requests. Here are 4 things that can help:
You guessed it: Use. Your. Calendar.
If you find it difficult to get around to the work you planned because of constant interruptions, then my first question is this: What has priority? That needs to come first in your calendar. In other words: if you were hired to deal with client questions, then it makes sense you spend large chunks of time on that activity. But if that’s not the case, and other things are more important, then your calendar needs to reflect that.
Whatever the case may be, I suggest you start reserving time for requests. My experience is that – with the exception of telephone calls – they’re easy enough to schedule. Set aside several time blocks scattered throughout the day, for instance. Then the requests are no longer an interruption, but work you’ve planned to take on at certain times. And that makes a big difference. 
Share the responsibility
When it comes to telephone inquiries: If you have a number of people on your team, then it can be an idea to agree on who’s responsible for the phone on certain days or half-days.
Just knowing that you might be interrupted can make it hard to truly dive into your work, so this kind of arrangement can help limit the time when your attention’s divided.
At Blendle, one of the software engineers always had tech duty. That person was the contact point for all technical issues for one week, while also – and this is key – being excused from other work duties. That kind of deal gives the person on tech duty the space they need to address any ad hoc requests. And it grants the whole team greater focus.
Manage expectations
One misconception about questions and requests is that people expect instant results. Sometimes that’s the case, but often you have more room than you think.
What’s important is being clear about when you’ll be able to address a request. You can clarify that by email or phone. An automated reply for incoming messages can let people know when you’re available, and you can use your outgoing voicemail message to explain when (and whether) you get back to people about their voicemail requests. (That’s more valuable than explaining about that beep. We’ve all got that down.)
Automate your work
If you field a lot of questions, then some of your answers may be similar. You can save a lot of time with answers you can reuse. Gmail has a canned response plugin for this kind of thing, and iOS and Mac have a built-in feature to generate text.
You can also make use of an app like TextExpander, which has more functions. Or you can take the simplest route, and just have notes in your favorite note-taking app with answers that you copy and paste. 
And by all means, let me know if you have suggestions for dealing with outside requests. I’d love to hear them! Just reply to this email.

Thanks and have a good week!
Rick

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