How to Stop Answering After-Hours Questions – Pick Dave’s Brain

This week’s question comes from Chelsea in Clearfield, Utah. She asks:

Q: Hi Dave, I manage employees who occasionally reach out to me after business hours. How do I stop employees from encroaching on my personal time, while still being supportive of them?

Click to tweet this: Keep your office door closed, a window in your calendar open, and your time under lock and key. @DaveCrenshaw

Video transcript:

Is it possible that having more meetings will actually help you have more free time?

Recently, I received a question from Chelsea in Clearfield, Utah. She asked:

Hi Dave! I manage employees who occasionally reach out to me after business hours. How do I stop employees from encroaching on my personal time, while still being supportive of them?

Dave:

This is a wonderful question. It shows that you really care about the people you manage. Of course, you do want to help them. You want them to feel like you care about them. However, you also need to get work done during the day as well as some private time to yourself and with loved ones. How do you balance these needs?

Chelsea, this predicament is an artifact from an old business philosophy called “the open door policy.” It’s a policy that came into existence in the seventies and eighties. The theory was, in order to become a magnanimous leader, you must allow anyone to come in and interrupt you at any time. It shows that you are not above helping others.

Well, it might have worked thirty years ago. However, nowadays, we have too many avenues for interruption. It is way too easy to send an email, a text message, or just pick up the phone on your desk or in your pocket.

My suggestion? Employ a “closed door, open calendar” policy. This means focusing on people when you have scheduled meeting time to talk to them. And if they need to talk to you again outside of a regularly scheduled meeting time, simply schedule another meeting. It allows you to focus on them one hundred percent rather than being distracted by requests that come from other people.

There are two steps that will make this happen.

First, establish a recurring meeting schedule. I find what works for most people—on average—is a one-time meeting per week for twenty-five minutes.  That’s usually enough to handle all of these quick questions. If you need more or less, you can adjust that schedule. It’s just a good starting point.

This way, you can queue up all of those quick questions until that meeting. If someone asks you a question outside of that meeting, you ask “Can this wait until our scheduled one-to-one?”

Step two is you designate a chunk of time in your calendar for people to schedule themselves in for quick questions that need to be covered in between those meetings.

When someone comes to you and asks if you have time for a quick question, you can reply, “Can you schedule yourself into my calendar so we can discuss it?”

This also cuts down the number of interruptions that might happen at work and at home.

Suppose you ask someone “can this wait until our regularly scheduled meeting” or “can this wait until you scheduled something into our calendar” and they say “No.”

Well, that is a real emergency. You need to respond to it. However, understand that there are far fewer true emergencies taking place in the workplace than people imagine. This system helps separate the difference between emergency and impatience.

To sum up, having a regularly scheduled time, encourages people to get your attention when you are able to give your attention. You’ll find that you are being asked fewer questions and are able to get more done because you can be more focused both at work and at home.

Thank you for the wonderful question, Chelsea. I’m glad I had room on my calendar to answer it for you!

If you’ve got a wonderful question for me, please go to DaveCrenshaw.com/ask.

I look forward to hearing from you!


Tired of having to repeat yourself to your team? Dave will show you how to get your team to pay attention, follow through, and do things right! Improve Accountability with a free copy from Dave’s mini-book, SAM: The Leader’s Tool, by clicking here.