Column: Remove the open door policy to be more efficient


If you have an “open door” policy and allow people to wander into your office without an appointment, you fall into one of three camps:

  • You don’t have enough work to do.
  • Your work is boring and you crave interruptions.
  • You are a social being and need to interact with others every 15 minutes.

You’ll notice that I didn’t include “Great leader who is always there for his team.” That’s because a leader with an open door policy is almost always being selfish.

Productivity Killer

Distractions and interruptions (aka – open door policy) probably make you feel like an effective leader. Unfortunately, every single time you allow someone to pop their head in the office and ask a “quick question” you get the following consequences:

  • Your focus on a task is interrupted. (There is a truckload of research that indicates it takes between 7 and 21 minutes to get refocused.)
  • You discourage your staff from figuring out problems on their own.
  • You add hours to your work day.
  • You struggle to prioritize because you allow every interruption to be important.

You Might As Well Apologize Now

Open door leaders (who have a lot to do) end up working late every night and on weekends because they are unable to focus throughout each day. They can’t wait for 5:30pm because it means they can actually get some work done.

If this is you, please prepare the following mass email to your family and friends. “I apologize for missing soccer games, dinner and any other evening and weekend events. I have decided that socializing with my staff throughout the day is more important than these events.  I hope you understand.” If you don’t like this, it’s because the truth hurts.

There is a Cure

Lucky for you, there is a remedy for this ailment.

But, it’s not easy. In fact, for many, shutting the door will be a little depressing in the beginning.

To be successful, you’ll need to follow these three simple concepts:

  • Connect with the reward.  You need to build a strong emotional connection with goals or you will give in to the temptation of interruptions.
  • Reset expectations. When you first shut your door you will likely have some ultrasensitive team members who think you are mad at them.  You may need to consider an office wide memo telling everyone that when the door is shut you are focusing on an important project.
  • Reflect. End each day by asking yourself the following question – “How could I have improved the way in which I managed my time?”

Don’t Panic

I am not suggesting that you lock yourself in the office from 7:30am – 5pm, only leaving for bathroom breaks. Nor am I recommending that you avoid eye contact at all costs and only speak to others when it relates to the task at hand.

Business should be fun and you should have close friends in the office. These are people that you get to know personally and invite to your home for a BBQ.

But, when an important task is at hand, you need to focus. If they really need something, they know where to find you.