Product Managers: Celebrate the Interruptions

drowning product manager

You start the day off ready to cruise through your schedule and To-do list. And then… the speed bumps appear out of nowhere. Impromptu meetings. Last-minute requests. Fire drills from the sales team. If this sounds like your typical work day, I have good news for you — you are a fortunate product manager.

Interruptions are not obstacles to your work. Interruptions are opportunities to achieve your goals and solve challenges along the way. Sounds wrong, right?

Let me explain. Maybe this sounds contrary to what you have always been told, that interruptions distract from your productivity and should be tuned out. But tuning out is a mistake.

Reframe the way you think about interruptions — an interruption simply means someone needs your help. If marketing is coming to you for insight on how to position the new feature, it is because you are an expert and they need your help. If the support team is asking you about the timing of new functionality, it is because they want to help customers know what is coming and when.

When you help people who depend on you, you earn their trust and love. This is why you should cherish every question and problem that comes your way.

Do not get me wrong — I am not suggesting that you need to deeply engage with everyone who comes your way. But at a minimum, you should seek to understand what they are looking for. Maybe there is an easy answer, or you can point them to someone else. Over time, you can learn to pick out what really matters from the noise. You can spot what aligns with where you are headed.

We embrace interruptions at Aha! — we know that each one is a chance to strengthen a relationship. I write about this extensively in my bestselling new book Lovability, where I share how to build products and companies that people really love.

Here is how product managers can embrace interruptions:

Stop
When someone reaches out with a need or issue, do not just push it aside for later — take a peek. Is it something you can solve quickly or will it take major effort? If the latter, does it align with what you are trying to accomplish?

Evaluate
Now, dig a little deeper. Consider why the request has been made and whether it will bring you a new understanding. To do this, you must measure each interruption (every request, idea, and piece of feedback) against your goals. This will reveal which ones merit your immediate efforts and which ones are less urgent. And of course, it means that you need to know where you are going.

Respond
Once you have your answer, respond immediately. At Aha!, we call this “Yea or nay now.” The idea is that responses should be given quickly — even if the answer is, “I cannot do this right now.” You should also deliver the message with kindness and transparency, sharing the “why” behind your answer. This helps you and the requestor move on to the next task.

The more you practice handling interruptions and resolving issues quickly, the more efficient you will become with your time.

Sure, unexpected questions and problems can feel like nuisances, shifting your focus and spoiling your day. But I promise this is a good thing. It means you are valuable and can have a real impact on the business every day.

When you learn to cherish these interruptions, you will no longer see them as obstacles to work — but rather, a means to achieve greatness with your team and customers fast.

How do you approach interruptions?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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Comments

  1. Ned Kraft

    Great thoughts for a program manager, death for a development team or leader.
    The fragmented workday has many companies overstaffed and underperforming.

    Here are the three best ways I have found to manage interruptions while still being responsive.
    1. Have a single, limited access “urgent” contact method (text, private voxer acct, 2nd phone).
    2. Turn off all notifications from all apps except your urgent contact method.
    3. Close your email app and window on your browser to reduce the chances of neurotic email checking (I’m a neurotic checker if I don’t interrupt myself).

    Then, let people know you’re changing your process to have more focused, uninterrupted time (for developers this is coding or design time, for leaders this is planning, strategic or critical action time). You may want to change your signature file to let folks know that the “I reply now” you is gone.

    My average client gets more than one hour PER DAY of free time from taking these simple steps.

    Opinions welcomed, flames, … not so much.

    Ned

    Reply
  2. Heidi Crawford

    Solid, sincere applause for this. Product managers are leaders. They need to be to do their jobs. They need to reach and influence their colleagues, company leadership and the marketplace. The subtext here is that we need to do our jobs effectively. Recently I mentioned a time management technique to a new, senior leader at my company. She and I each adopted it and, since we worked together often, breathed a deep sigh of relief in getting a lot more done. Recognizing mornings as a great time to build and sustain concentration, I like to be meeting free until mid to late morning, the longer the better, blocking the calendar except when a customer or senior leadership needs to meet, or an exception needs to be made. Having benefitted from productivity training at Microsoft where email surfing speed was applauded, I hope others consider time management as part of the leadership they bring.

    Reply

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