Stuck in the vortex of ‘low-level interference’

It’s just lying in wait to suck you in and pull you away from the leadership work that makes great business achievements happen. And when it does get you, you’ll be oblivious to the fact that you’ve been sucked into the vortex of “low-level interference.” You’ll be working full out all day like a superhero slaying dragons. You might feel as though you’re in your performance zone.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You arrive at work ready and determined to dig into your project or task list. You’re ready to take that first sip of your morning cup of coffee. A member of your leadership team charges up to you with a frazzled look on her face and says, “Our supply order didn’t arrive yesterday and we’re slammed with work today. Without those supplies, we’re going to have a ton of upset customers. What are we going to do?” You take a deep breath, take that sip of your coffee while it’s still hot, and start making calls to find out where the shipment is and how to get your hands on it – fast. You just blew two precious hours.

OK, let’s make this simple. You begin your day at your computer to dig through the ton of e-mails that piled up while you slept. You’re an expert at identifying and deleting junk. You respond to a few of the more important ones. You’re about halfway through your e-mails when your eye is attracted to a subject line. You click on the e-mail and scan it. It intrigues you. You click on the link to the company’s website where you blow 20 minutes checking it out only to conclude that you’re not interested. I bet you find a few more enticing e-mails to check out. (Wow, I just did!) Without a disciplined approach to managing e-mail, you’ll be repeatedly sucked into the vortex of “low-level interference.”

I use the term “low-level interference” to describe all the stuff that comes at you throughout the day – every day. “Low-level interference” is on a mission to distract you, derail you, and sap your energy and time. When you finally snap out of the vortex, you realize that you accomplished nothing more than putting out fires and charging aimlessly down rabbit trails. You experience lots of action – but have little to show for it.

Here are a few no-compromise strategies to avoid getting stuck in “low-level interference”:

  • Have a daily plan: Starting your day without a plan or task list leaves you fully exposed to “low-level interference.” You’re winging it and allowing your day to unfold without you at the controls. It takes just two to five minutes to organize your day. Personally, I live by my computer calendar that’s synced to my iPhone. I’m lost without it.
  • Speaking of smart phones: Chances are you have some kind of smart phone within reach at all times. (You know, that gizmo you’re checking every 20 seconds to see if you have a new text message or e-mail.) Smart phones are powerful tools that can either keep you organized and on task – or suck you in the vortex of “low-level interference.” I set an alarm for every appointment and “to do” in my calendar. I block time for projects – which is the equivalent of making an appointment with myself. Whenever I hear the beep beep or buzzing, it saves me from “low-level interference.”
  • Monkeys on your back: Every time an employee comes to you with “low-level interference” stuff for you to “fix” – and you take the bait – you’re enabling them to put their monkeys on your back. If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly find yourself covered with monkeys. No-compromise leaders know that taking other people’s monkeys (stuff they can easily take care of if they apply themselves) is just enabling them to bring you more monkeys. Help team members to be accountable for their own monkeys and you’ll be keeping “low-level interference” at bay.
  • It just takes discipline: Avoiding “low-level interference” takes personal discipline to remain focused on your priorities. Yes, there will be times when you must deal with “low-level interference,” but the key is to deal with it expeditiously and get yourself back on task. It can be as easy as asking an employee, “How can we take care of this?” Listen, then say, “That sounds like a plan. Please take care of that and get back to me later with an update.” As for the “low-level interference” you bring on yourself, learn to recognize the signs that you’re off task and get back in the game.

“Low-level interference” comes at you all day, every day. It slows progress and feeds frustration as it pushes what you’re capable of accomplishing just beyond your reach. The more time you spend on high-value projects, the closer you get to achieving your full potential.

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Please share your thoughts with me about today’s Monday Morning Wake-Up. Click the Comment button above.

Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Pass this e-mail on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.


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