Mark Robert Halper Photography

Do you ever feel like a one-armed paper hanger who has to paper multiple walls simultaneously, but you can’t finish even one because your employees keep throwing challenges at you?

Do you constantly have to shift your daily priorities because your employees keep asking you for the information they need to do their own jobs?

Does this cycle of repeated starts and stops cause you to lose focus of your own responsibilities, to the point where you have to spend almost as much time figuring out where you left off just to get started again?

Are these interruptions happening at random times making it difficult to predict what you will work on and when?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you’re probably suffering from what I call “management by interruption.”

Communications Breakdown

You might also recognize the residual effects. Because management by interruption eats up time you didn’t budget, you’re probably impatient, not only with the interruptors but with non-interrupting clients, prospects, and trade partners as well. To make up for lost time, you probably interrupt others — giving “answers,” making judgments, or providing instruction before they even finish verbalizing what they are trying to express. You assume you know what they’re asking, or the point they’re trying to make, but you may be missing the main point.

The problem self-perpetuates. If your answers have nothing to do with the true purpose of someone’s questions, that person may become frustrated and stop interacting with you. If frustrated employees stop asking questions, they may keep working in the wrong direction. If potential customers feel that you are shutting them down, they too may shut down. They might find another remodeler — one who will let them express their true concerns or desires without interruption.

Management by interruption is often contagious. If people are constantly interrupting you, is it possible that they learned it from you? You scramble to do your job so you can give your undivided attention to those who interrupt you. But then you interrupt them, and they fall behind, too. Do your interruptions of them give them permission to interrupt you? If you’re the leader, you’re setting the example, good or bad.

Long-Term Investment

Here are some practices that helped me reduce management by interruption at my own business:

  • Plan ahead. Schedule time to allow for these conversations, and have your employees do the same. As long as you set aside adequate time, it will feel and be productive rather than stressful and frustrating.
  • Specify your goals when assigning activities or projects. Anticipate and answer employees’ questions; give them important details in advance, so they won’t need to ask you for them later.
  • Listen to understand first, and then provide answers. If you’re in a rush, you are more likely to interrupt or mentally construct answers (most likely, the wrong answers). You should really be giving your full focus and attention to all they have to say.

Essentially, investing adequate time in the beginning can save time in the long run. Someone needs to be in control and needs to manage time use. Set a good example and coach others to do the same, and everyone will benefit.
Prospects will feel heard; they’ll gain confidence that your solutions will solve their problems. They’ll feel safer investing in your company. Employees and subs will become more productive. The additional time and attention you give them will help them now and will streamline their productivity in the future.

You’ll be happier and less stressed at home, too. Who knows, your dog might even risk greeting you at the front door again without fear of interrupting you!

—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build remodeling business. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, he frequently speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies. Click here to read more of Shawn’s REMODELING columns.