How many times have you started the day with the best of intentions — one, two or three realistic goals — and then watched your time pillaged by a dozen or more distractions? The “time bandits” — anything that prevents or delays you from effectively achieving your goals is a suspect.
Just because the telephone is ringing doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Sure, it’s loud and distracting, but most phones can be muted, intercepted by an answering device, or ignored. You do have choices.
- Use voice-mail protection. Set a limited amount of time each day to return logged messages. Remember Parkinson’s Law: “A task expands to fill the time allowed for it.” If you schedule an hour to return five phone calls, it will take an hour. If you have only thirty minutes, limit the calls to six minutes each, and take control of the conversations before you even dial the number. Be brief and to the point, and let the person know that your time is limited. If the discussion is likely to take longer than six minutes, suggest another date when more time is available.
- Be assertive about your time. If you decide to answer the phone in the middle of a project, politely let the caller know that you are busy. Explain that you will be able to devote quality time later. Then schedule a mutually convenient telephone appointment. By the same token, when placing calls make a habit of immediately asking if you have phoned at a convenient time. Respect the time of others and they might take the clue and return the favor!
- Set deadlines. If the phone rings when you are walking out the door and have only five minutes, start the conversation by setting a deadline. If you don’t inform the caller of your time constraints, who will?
- Avoid postal pileups. Set a time to attack, purge and file snail-mail daily. If you can do without a piece of mail, get rid of it. Then sort what is left into categories; e.g., bills, reading materials and correspondence. Do not leave mail in piles. File each sorted category in its assigned place immediately.
- Corral runaway email. Set a time to read, delete and file each day. The convenience and immediacy of email foster a seductive sense of urgency. Resist it. If an email message requires a response that can be formulated and sent in five minutes or less, answer it immediately. If a message is required that cannot be formulated in five minutes, set time aside and respond at your convenience. Delete or file everything else.
- Deal immediately with faxes. Purge, sort, and file if necessary. Treat faxes in the same manner as postal mail. Don’t pick up a fax and then put it back down on the top of a pile. As soon as you have it in your hand either do it, delegate it, or discard it.
An open-door policy can foster a harmonious work environment. If not managed, it can also foster frustration.
- Modify the environment. Consider removing extra chairs from your office or work area. Don’t allow drop-ins to get too comfortable.
- Meet on your feet. When a drop-in enters your space, stand, walk toward the visitor and cordially inquire as to the purpose of the visit. This welcoming gesture serves a practical purpose — discussions held while standing are generally shorter. If you don’t have time to “cut the bandit off at the pass” get out of your chair and perch on the edge of the desk.
- Be the visitor not the host. When colleagues ask to talk with you, offer to meet in their offices rather than yours. You can then excuse yourself when necessary.
- Be assertive about your time. I mentioned this in connection with telephone calls. The principle is the same here. Inform the visitor that you are busy and would like to meet later. Then schedule a mutually convenient appointment.
- Put the shoe on the other foot. Consider if you yourself are a habitual drop-in visitor. Cubicle-hopping is a popular form of procrastination — stealing your own as well as others’ time. Consolidate your questions and present them together at a single visit. Start every visit by inquiring whether or not your host is busy at the moment.
Inability to Say No
You can’t say “yes” to everything without getting in over your head. Decide what you must do – and want to do – and say no to all other requests. Perhaps because of the value we place on relationships, many of us assume that our only options are “yes” or “maybe.” Learn to protect your time. “No” is a complete sentence — no explanations required! If someone else can handle the request as well or better than you, delegate.
Scheduled Demands of Others
If you have a family, you already know that soccer practice, dental appointments, meetings and other obligations can quickly and repeatedly strip you of precious hours. The same is true if you work with or manage a team. However, with cooperation and joint planning, you do have some control.
Keep track of scheduled appointments in one place. A kitchen calendar works well at home; a chart or joint online calendar can be tremendously helpful at the office. Be realistic when reviewing your day/week. Ask yourself, “Can I fit another appointment into my schedule?” Ask others, “Do I need to be there?” “Can someone else fill in for me?”
According to Stephanie Winston, author of The Organized Executive (Warner Books, 1994), allowing the insistent demands of office (or home) to run unchecked is the surest way to negate all your planning and scheduling efforts. The solution: Defend your plan by incorporating into your daily repertoire a number of simple techniques that will help you manage the time wasters that threaten to throw you off course. You can establish greater control – without being rude or shutting yourself off to the needs of others.
Remember, be brief — be bright — be gone. Reduce interruptions. Put the Time Bandits behind bars.
About the Author
Sally Allen, a certified professional organizer, is CEO and owner of A Place for Everything©. Since founding her company in 1997, Sally has helped individuals and companies throughout the U.S. effectively arrange space and efficiently manage time. A recognized expert in the field, Sally learned her organizing skills while employed by Marriott International Hotels and Resorts, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Committee, the 1996 Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and through moving her family 19 times.
Phone: (303) 526-5367 Email:
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