The fact is, unless you are a great rarity today, you not only don’t have a minute, you have a yawning deficit of minutes. There is unfinished work on your desk. You have personal aspirations of all kinds that you never find time for and obligations for which you barely find time. Your time stretches thin already, so no; you don’t have a minute.
Yet when almost anybody asks, “Got a minute?” you automatically answer, “Sure, how can I help?”
How do you stop doing that?
NAME THE PROBLEM
Here is the name: It is not a minute—it is an interruption. A minute freely agreed upon by both parties is innocuous, but interruptions are thieving little intrusions that spoil our lives because of all the havoc and frustration they trail behind them. “Got a minute?” leads to the interruption that throws you off task. It is a loss of momentum due to work stoppage. It is a combination of time wasted reassembling your thoughts and resources paired with frustration at having to rebuild them, which dissipates the energy on which work thrives. There is the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost. All of these things can cause errors and the need to do the task over again, which of course takes even more time.
RECOGNIZE THE CAUSE
Why do you say yes when inside you are saying, “God grant me patience, how will I get everything done?” Because you are afraid—not shaking in your boots afraid, but you have fears. If it is your boss, you are afraid he or she will think you either are not responsive to any needs but your own or you cannot handle your workload. If it is a customer, you are afraid they will take their business elsewhere. If it is your colleagues, you are afraid you will not sound like a team player.
KNOW YOUR FACTS
Facts are mother’s milk to good decisions. If you have a budget with X dollars a month to spend on eating out, then there is no agonizing over should we or should we not. The dollars tell you yes or no: no argument, no drama.
You need the same facts about your time. You need to have a solid, walking awareness of your “Critical Few”—that handful of things that are so important that leaving them undone will cause serious problems. That means separating them from your “Minor Many”—that long list of things that should not, but often do, distract us from our “Critical Few.”
DON’T SAY “NO”
That seems like unnecessary advice. You have already rejected “no” because you don’t want to sound like a selfish jerk. But the opposite of “yes” does not have to be “no.”
“I would like to give you my full attention. May I let you know when I can do that?” Some version of those words needs to be custom-tailored to every got-a-minute interrupter, or “Time Bandit,” on your list—customers, the boss, colleagues, family, and friends. These words let your interrupter know that his or her best interests are not served any better than yours are by this interruption. Most of all, they keep you from sounding like that selfish jerk you dread sounding like. Scripting your negotiation and rehearsing its delivery, tailored for each of your main “Time Bandits,” will banish any remaining fear.
MAKE IT A GIFT
Even though you cannot give your time on the spot, you do have a valuable gift to offer your “Time Bandit”: your full concentration and interest at a time of mutual convenience. In this day and age, when it seems like all parties to every transaction are only about half there—the other half distracted by devices, alerts, the pressure of undone work, and the dismal prospect of ever catching up—it is no small thing to offer your would-be “Time Bandit” your full attention to his or her needs. When you say, “I want to take care of that for you, and when I do, I want to be focused so that it will have the excellent quality both you and I expect,” they will not only be mollified about your current unavailability, they will be gratified, which is what you want. And you get to keep your “minute.” ■
About The Author
Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, visit, www.timebanditsolution.com, and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.
Modern Contractor Solutions, November 2014
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