I heard Engelbert Humperdink the other day. He was warbling a pitiful lament – ‘if I only had time’, he anguished, ‘only time’. When I recovered – believe me, it was the longest two minutes of my life – I realised I hear that same lament almost on a daily basis, but from ordinary folk, not singing icons. It got me thinking about common time thieves. This is my list – what else could you add?
‘It’ll only take a minute’. ‘Just while you’re sitting there, could I pick your brains about…..’. ‘I know you’re busy, but…….’. Sound familiar? Finding interruptions are stopping you from getting on with things? Finding it difficult to get dedicated chunks of time? Suggestion: Compile a list of useful phrases – ‘no, I’m not available’, ‘no, its not convenient right now, I’ll get back to you’. Use them repeatedly. Problems with the open door policy, where it’s an absolute no-no to have your door shut or even slightly ajar? Afraid it will send the wrong message to staff, but guaranteed to ensure demanding tasks take forever amid interruptions and noise? Suggestion: Shut the door when you need to. Wear earmuffs. Go off-site. And with the time you save, rewrite the open door policy.
Filing cabinets holding your lunch and nothing else? Unlabelled, yet creatively alphabetised files in the filing cabinet? Piles of papers, papers stuffed in boxes and boxes littering the floors? If you find yourself hunting for things and it’s the office joke there are numerous versions of the same system – or no system at all – then you have a time thief in your midst. Suggestion: Eliminate multiple versions. Develop one system for every known procedure. Inform the workplace what the new systems are. And with the time you save, educate others to use the new systems.
Get to the end of the day and you feel you haven’t achieved anything? Concerned that for the fifth day in a row you haven’t achieved what you wanted? Deadlines looming and taking work home because you can’t get everything done during the day? A lack of daily/weekly/monthly planning feeds this time thief so a strong stance is needed. Suggestion: Plan your day, week, month. Prioritise your work. Do the most important task first. Prepare for tomorrow at the end of today. Schedule chunks of time to think, reflect and refresh your mind. And with the time you save, identify other ways you can work smarter, not harder.
Like to constantly check to see who has sent you emails? Like sending the latest e-jokes and chain mail to your colleagues? Like to read incoming e-mails, yet put off responding or processing them? Like to catch up with everyone in the office before you really settle into your work? Know all the office gossip and pass it along the chain? These are all diversions and take your focus, energy and attention away from what really matters. Suggestion: Do a daily time log. Record what you do throughout the day and how long it takes. Keep the log for a week and count up how much of your time is unproductive. Then stop all diversionary, time wasting activities. Schedule time each day to read and respond to e-mail messages. And with the time you save, catch up on all the tasks you have been avoiding.
Find yourself calling lots of meetings to sort out minor issues? Find your meetings go on forever? Make up the agenda as you go along and end up with 60 big issues to cover in an hour? Always have issues you never get to? Have difficulty remembering what was decided and who was going to do what, after the meeting? Keep covering the same issues, every meeting? Suggestion: Set agendas. Ensure they are manageable and realistic. Set start and finish times. Facilitate the meetings. Ask participants to come prepared. Develop a system to record the issues discussed, the decisions made and who is to do what by when. Ask participants to be lazer like (to the point) in their thinking and speaking. And with the time you save, develop meeting protocols and ground rules.
Been on the time management courses? Read all the books? Know the theory yet have difficulty putting it into action? Say what you ‘should’ be doing and notice the gap between that and what you actually do? Suggestion: Stop talking and theorising. Find those course notes. Implement the strategies. Keep using them and don’t stop after a day or two weeks. Ask colleagues for their best strategies. Integrate them into your practise. And with the time you save, consolidate your own learning by coaching others to improve their time management techniques.
You needn’t sing Humperdink’s song. There are simple, yet highly effective strategies to use that will arrest time thieves in their tracks. It’s up to you really – want to be known as a lamentable singer or a person of action?
First Published in NZ Business March 2001