Gatekeepers are great. They protect us, guard our time and shield us from distractions. Some gatekeepers do their job so well, I wonder if the CIA or the Secret Service trained them. Not your run-of-the-mill assistant, these people take their job very seriously. Your appreciation for them and what they do depends greatly on which side of the gate you are on.

I’ve had the privilege to be on both sides, and I prefer to be on their side.

A love / hate relationship
Whether you love them or hate them, they have definite value — to run interference for you so you can actually get something done. But, valuable as they are, most of us don’t have the resources available to hire one. The following tips will help you look increase productivity and decrease interruptions by being your own gatekeeper.

Don’t always be available.
There’s absolutely no reason to immediately answer every call that comes in. The machine screens calls perfectly without any loss of information. Assign a designated time each day for returning calls; for example, return all missed calls between 9 and 10 a.m. or 4 and 5 p.m.  Create a voicemail message informing callers of your call-return policy; this way they’ll be anticipating your call.

What’s an emergency?
Everyone needs to understand what an emergency is and as the mom, it’s your job to tell them. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to make it perfectly clear the scale of urgency and the difference between a want, a need and a life-threatening emergency.

Bat phone.
Have a designated phone that only a hand-full of people have the number to. It is only to be used in case of an emergency. This way you won’t be listening every message that comes in wondering if it is something urgent.

Don’t be a yes-(wo)man.
When people are eying for your time, money or talents, always and without exception, say that you’ll have to think about it and get back to them. If you decide to partake, make sure you fully understand the commitment required and be sure to get it in writing, with a written document stating all pertinent details. Allowing for no gray area will prevent scope creep and sets a definite completion date.

Personal or professional
It’s wise to make a firm distinction between your professional and personal life.  Guard your private information, e-mail, home numbers, and address.

Take control!
Designate specific times of day for meetings and then schedule all your appointments within those hours. If possible, bundle appointments to save travel time and expense. When you book meetings, always book not only start times but finish times as well. Let everyone know that you have only a specific time allotted and must finish on time; you’d be surprised at how much more efficient people will work when faced with a deadline.

Plan to succeed
Make it perfectly clear from day one that the babysitter needs to have the kids out of the house when you are working. Offer a list of activities that are age appropriate and have the sitter take the kids to those.

Be on the alert…
Beware of people who are time-wasters. While they likely mean well, these are the people who needs help and ask for it on a regular basis. Being able to recognize the time-wasters is crucial; then when they call or stop by, immediately preface the conversation with the specific amount of time you are willing to give and be firm on ending the conversation when that specified amount of time is up.

As the gatekeeper of your own life, employing these tactics will help you increase productivity, avoid distraction and free up time for the fun things in life.  When you respect yourself and your valuable time, you will see quickly that others will too.