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FLASHBACK ARTICLE FROM FERUARY 2010
This past year, I heard from many regarding the detractors to living in the moment. The top hindrance, drum roll please unplanned contact with colleagues and clients taking up time, space, and concentration.
Studies show that it takes at least twenty minutes to return to the same level of concentration before someone pulls you away to focus on their immediate challenge or “simple” question. Some say they spend entire days returning to the original task after such disruptions.
Was this person’s intention to create havoc with your day and purposely remove you from your task for longer than the “quick” question? Likely not. They focus more on their individual needs than considering or respecting your time. Before you know it, a ‘quick question’ becomes a twenty-minute discussion that transitions to many other topics. Nobody can afford many of these incidental dialogues in a day that is already overloaded with tasks and projects.
By now, most of us have mastered the art of setting time boundaries with clients and co-workers. These introductions to respectful boundaries may look like this: “I have five minutes to spare. Can we cover your question in this time frame?” “Is this a three-minute or thirty-minute conversation?” “Can you please give me the bottom line of your request?” “I’m sorry, but I truly do not have a minute available for you right now; can we schedule a time to have a meaningful meeting?”
The challenge comes when someone of more authority or a potential client demands unscheduled time you do not have. For example:
•An industry comrade has too much time to focus on your actions and business or personal life. He calls to discuss his clients and interact with them to bounce it off you and privately get advice from you. You know these calls are typically 40 minutes long, yet you cannot even spare ten.
Your partner calls you twenty times a day to check in, and you feel obligated to take the call irrespective of where you are or with whom. You feel trapped.
We often overlook these “little” interruptions daily in the name of being polite, maintaining relationships, or it’s just part of the job; yet they create havoc with our productivity and add to our stress level. In ‘You Staying Young,’ authors Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz call these stressors ‘major agers’ (meaning that the stress of these types of intrusions or interruptions ages you prematurely), but what do you do? The following four keys have proven to be winners.
•Be honest with yourself. You are a highly productive, busy individual with an important job. Do unscheduled, distracting conversations benefit your business organization, or do they keep you from doing your job to the best of your ability? Sure, some of these interruptions are necessary, but it’s far more likely that 80% are not and can wait until it’s convenient for you and allows you to focus on the person you are talking to. Look back at your day to see where the time stressors occurred and what results they produced. Take small yet immediate steps to set boundaries that will shift the actions of others and allow you to provide time for them without disrupting your day.
•Be honest with the other person. I’ve spent hours strategizing with other industry professionals and corporate executives on how to set comfortable boundaries with individuals they respect. It all boils down to the simple truth. It may look like this: “I respect and value you and your opinion. Wouldn’t you agree that our discussions are too important to have to happen spur-of-the-moment like this? Let’s set up a series of scheduled 20-30 minute meetings to cover these important topics.” Or “I respect you and realize how important it is for us to discuss these important issues; However, I simply have important tasks at hand that need my attention right now. Let’s schedule a time to talk when we can be more focused.” With some individuals, it takes just one time to get the point across; often, it takes consistency of your message and repetition. The foremost aspect here is honesty and respect.
Follow-up: Check back with the person you had to put off later in the day or in a day to gauge their response to your request for a designated time of communication. Were they offended or a little embarrassed by your request for their act of intrusion? Did they understand your position and even gain additional respect for you? Did you follow through on your scheduling proposal? Your relationship is important, so they need to know how much you care and that you’re thinking of their needs along with your own. Who knows, you may have started a trend. They may now be encouraged to set boundaries with individuals who unexpectedly take their time. Soon your entire circle of friends and professionals will be more respectful of one another’s time, and everyone’s productivity will drastically improve.
Are you the distraction, the person that has the quick question? Be honest with yourself. Do you consume unnecessary time from your colleagues? Do you take too long to get to your point or delve into many points of interest during your conversation? Are you respectful of others’ time? If you are unsure, pay close attention as you begin the conversation. Do they seem to squirm, say they are getting another call, or sound stressed, distant, or distracted? Do they seem to avoid you when you call because you always get the voice mail, and then they return your call later? Such obvious cues may not be available, yet YOU could be their time management challenge. If in doubt, ask. When you call someone cold, ask, “Is now a good time for you, or should we make an appointment or set a time to converse?”
While amazon.com contains over 200,000 matches to a search for ‘time management,’ it may all boil down to us simply being more respectful of each other’s time. Just ask first! It is that simple.
Think – Creatively
Act – Responsibly
Feel – Passionately