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By Darryl Stewart

Sometimes, you have to leave them alone

If you ask anyone if they would rather do great work or weak work, they will say great work. 

To do any type of creative work like composing a song, solving an accounting problem, writing a story, or writing effective computer code takes time. Time to explore different approaches; time to reflect; time to think of things differently; time to sleep on it or run a few miles with it. The more complex the issue, the less predictable the amount of time required to come up with a great solution.  

Doing great work often requires some time alone. Time to think things through uninterrupted.  

Basically, it takes focused time to do great work. Yes, we need input, inspiration, and collaboration sometimes, but in the end—even on a highly collaborative endeavour—each person needs to do their part alone and then bring it back to the team.

If we are setting clear priorities with our team, we need to give them the time and space to carry out those priorities. We need to give them time to do great work.

So what do we do if we see certain team members interrupting the others and throwing them off by demanding attention for less important issues? We coach, we run interference, we remind people of the importance of respecting each other’s time.

What should we do when it would be easier to just walk over and interrupt someone, or call, or text one of our team to get some information we want right now even though, big picture, the issue is not urgent? We should take the time to put the request in an email or on the agenda for an upcoming meeting. We need to model the respectful behaviour we want to see.

What I am talking about is developing the habit some call “asynchronous communications”. In other words, avoid demanding immediate responses from others (for non-urgent issues). Instead, allow them to answer when it makes sense for them. Don’t interrupt their flow. Leave them alone so they can do their best work.

Email is a great example of asynchronous communication. You can reply when it makes sense for you. Texting is more synchronous. Generally, people feel compelled to reply right away because, generally, people expect an answer right away. Going over to someone’s desk and demanding their attention is about as synchronous as you can get. 

The world is going more synchronous with constant interruptions like live chat being the norm. Many workplaces don’t respect people’s need for time and space to do great work and interruptions are commonplace. How often have you heard people say something like: “If I could just get out of the office, I could get some real work done!”? 

Enough already! Have the discipline to avoid interrupting people in their work and insist that the members of your team do the same. Turn off the live chats for long stretches, go to the coffee shop, close your door, put on your headphones, do great work as you help others do the same by respecting one another’s time.

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Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

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