You are so busy that you are tired. Really tired. Seven-days-a-week, 12-hours-a-day tired. And you still have more to do, more than seems possible for just one person. But you are not the only one — this is how it always is for company founders. You are consistently on the edge of too much, but you will go until you cannot go anymore. And then you do it again the next day.
No one is playing any sad music though. This is how you like it — it is why you founded a company to begin with. You chose this.
But what about unexpected interruptions? The ones that are not on your to-do list. If you are like me, you do not spend precious time worrying about every “what if” and only plan for what you can plan for. So, you never leave time for things that you cannot predict. But these disturbances happen every day, regardless of your to-do list and best-laid plans.
When you are incredibly busy and an interruption pops up, it is easy and understandable to be annoyed. You see it as an intrusion. Like your dog barking at the door or a small child tugging at your sleeve, your first instinct might be to shush or shoo away. You think to yourself, “Someone else should be able to help.” Or maybe, “Dealing with this is not enough for me to stop working.” Shush, shoo, delete.
Leading a company means that you cannot cherry pick the tasks that you think are most interesting — the business determines what needs your input.
Look, no one really wants to work on a complex contract with a stubborn procurement team or quickly tackle an abstract tax-related task. Or maybe you thought the interruption was already quieted, but now it is back and more annoying than ever — tapping at your screen, fracturing your focus, demanding your attention. And you wish it would just go away.
But you know it will not. Even if you stall, it will be back later. So, you have a few options. You can ignore it, assign someone else to handle it, or add it to your “get to when I can” list. None of these are real solutions, though. The reality is that if this interruption has made its way to you, it is now yours to solve. So, what to do?
I have learned to do a few things when interruptions strike and it is clear that they are mine to wrestle:
1. Do not jump to conclusions
First, I take a moment (and a deep breath) and try to truly understand exactly what is being requested. Sometimes this means reading the message a few times and understanding the broader context for it. Often this means asking a few follow-up questions — sometimes the exact thing people are asking for is not what they actually need (or want). Or sometimes what they need is already available and they just do not know where to find it.
2. Remember someone needs help
I always try to remind myself that the person interrupting me is asking for something because they really need my help. Especially if this is someone from our team. Naturally, people do not want to interrupt founders or the CEO. It is not easy to tap your boss on the shoulder (even virtually via email or instant message) with a request. Honor the earnesty of the requester. If they are asking, they have likely already tried to solve the issue on their own without success.
3. Be grateful
Interruptions can niggle at you over time and begin to feel like a burden. But before you go there, reframe the situation positively. For me, I acknowledge to myself that I am thankful I have the skills to help. People come to me because I have proven that I can help. I am fortunate to be in the role I am, with the responsibility that I have. Interruptions are a sign that you are needed.
4. The need will only grow
If none of the above inspires you to pick your head up and provide a fast response when someone asks for help, then this one always does. Consider: If you respond quickly, it will be easier to resolve the issue now than if you wait. I know that if I try to ignore the request, the challenge or frustration will only grow. It grows for the person who needs your help and it actually consumes a bit of your energy each time you think about the request and bury it again for later.
This is what I know to be true: Interactions with urgency are what propel us forward. They change our relationships and how we grow.
It is why I strive to respond quickly to people when they reach out to me. This is also the guiding force behind The Responsive Method (TRM), the framework for personal and business growth that we pioneered at Aha! in 2014. It has been the philosophy that has powered our people-centered rapid growth.
This “too busy and interrupted all the time” paradox will only become exaggerated with your success. That is the irony. The more growth that you achieve, the more interactions you will have. And the more interactions you have, the more urgent requests will come your way.
So, when you are feeling over-subscribed (as I often am) and an interruption comes flying at you, how will you respond?
It starts immediately with how you receive the request. Your openness and understanding will allow you to move beyond any annoyance and view the need with understanding and gratitude. Whether you are a founder or not, accepting reasonable interruptions and answering them responsively with kindness is the only way.
Read more of The Founder’s Paradox.