We are all busy people and we all have things to do, yet no matter how many technological solutions we gain access to, the in-box never empties, and the pressure never stops. Few professionals ever feel in control of their schedule, and the result is reduced productivity at work, reduced work-life-balance, and diminished quality of sleep, all of which form an ever-tightening downward spiral that results in error and burnout.
A primary reason for this counter-productivity is that people have generally come to depend on their machinery, but in so doing have lost the capacity to communicate with, and influence other human beings. It is influence – and most precisely the management of expectations – that will actually help win back more time, and improve productivity.
With that in mind, here are two suggestions to help get things in order and to get a little more out of each day, rather than the day taking a little more out of you:
1. Make travel time a top priority: Travel time is not just about getting into a cab or boarding a plane. Travel time is a unit of work that requires realistic scheduling. For example if you have an appointment at 2:00, calculate the number of minutes you think it will take to travel from your office to the meeting. Then double that and add it to your calendar. For example, if you figure it takes 7 minutes to get to the meeting room for a 2:00 start, calculate your travel time as 14 or 15 minutes. Schedule this 15-minute travel time into your calendar so that nothing else occupies that space. Make that a top priority. Now, 1:45 becomes an event in which you stop working and leave for the meeting. By arriving a few minutes before 2:00 you can arrive physically and mentally cool and at top of your game, un-stressed, focused, and at your best.
The same applies, by the way, to teleconferences and web conferences. If a conference is called for 2:00, then travel time might not involve leaving your desk, but it does involve looking up the number and access code and dialing in. This might take only 2 minutes or so to do, but when people do it at 2:00 or after, it becomes a serious auditory intrusion on the meeting in progress. Instead, set a “travel time” of 5 minutes. At 1:55, dial in, log on, collect your notes, mute your mic, and then get back to returning emails until the chair calls the meeting to order. Be sure to ask that all other invitees do the same.
Remember the old adage: Those who plan to be on time actually plan to be late. Stuff happens. Instead, plan to arrive early. It sets a great standard and helps make meetings more efficient.
2. Think about your dentist. Do you take work with you when you are in the dentist’s chair? Do your colleagues come with you and work next to you while the dentist works on you? Probably not. Most colleagues and clients will accept your dental appointment as a legitimate absence, meaning they will arrange their schedules to accommodate.
The point here is a simple one. Many people’s time management problems stem from a self-imposed obligation to deal with every phone call, every e-mail, and every request as it arrives. These constant interruptions leave no time to focus on actual work. If you were in the dentist’s chair, what would these “distractors” do? They would have to wait! You’re not there! The world will not come to an end due to your temporary absence.
Time management success comes from being able to address and finish your number one priority with as little distraction as possible. Whenever guilt or curiosity compel you to answer a call, remind yourself, “if I was at the dentist right now, that call would have to wait.” So make it wait. Get some work done, and then return your calls and e-mails afterwards.
People are generally friendly, and they need to interact. Yet this is a great source of interruption. Each five or ten minute chat eats up valuable time, which must often be made up after work hours, at the expense of family and home-life. When a colleague visits you in your office or cubicle and says, “Have you got a minute?” resist the urge to say “sure” or “yes”. Instead, let them know that “at the moment I’m in the middle of this task, and I’ve really got to get it finished,” and then, immediately offer that colleague a follow-up time, at which point you promise to give your undivided attention. This should help eliminate any feelings of rejection or humiliation, by creating a suitable alternative to “now.” It is all about managing expectations. Providing that you follow up on your promise, by visiting this colleague, you will create a reputation for being “available,” even though it is on your own terms.