Quit Wasting My time!

I wish people would quit taking my time!” I hear this lament frequently. However, when I look into the situation, I often find a different story. I find people are either taking their own time or encouraging others to take it. Let me explain with some examples.

Now you’d think that interruptions would be a clear example of someone taking your time. But, I would offer the observation that rather than someone taking your time, you give it away! Stop and think a minute about the nature of your interruptions. Obviously, your people ask you for information because they respect your knowledge reservoir. Often however, that information also exists elsewhere, in the code book, the job file, the materials binder, or perhaps even in the interrupter’s head — and they could find it in any of these places if they just searched hard enough. But, why should they do that when it is so easy to come to you and get an immediate response? “Why indeed!” you ponder. But by answering, you reinforce the very behaviors that drive you nuts. Stop giving your time away by reinforcing the interrupter’s behavior. Remind them that your time is valuable, and that they should try first to obtain the information on their own.

Your people may also interrupt you because they have to tell you something right now, “So they won’t forget to tell you!” By accepting information in this piecemeal fashion, you are, once again, giving away your time. Instead, insist that people make running lists of their information and questions and then either e-mail them, or arrange for a time to go over several items at once.

The drop-in caller can also soak up your time — the chatty co-worker or colleague, subcontractor, material supplier, insurance agent, or friend. Again, we need to look at how our behaviors reinforce or encourage these visitors to chat and chat. If someone shows up at your door, and you respond by sitting back in your chair with an open posture, your body language welcomes them to have a seat. Try this instead — maintain your working pose, and just look up (probably over your reading glasses). This pose, unlike the one above, does not invite them to stay. You can also prevent folks from flopping down by not having a guest chair in the first place (not as uncommon as you think) or stand up as soon as they enter the room. If you stand up, they can’t sit down. It also allows you to be on your way out for some reason.

In each of the above scenarios, you are taking control of the situation and your time.

Besides letting others take our time, we also do it to ourselves. One way this occurs has to do with the myth of multi-tasking. We think that multi-tasking increases productivity. But Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, points to research that shows multitasked activities actually take four times longer to complete than those done as a single, focused activity.

This means a 15-minute task could take an hour, and we could complete a 12-hour multitask day in eight hours. Thus, focusing on one activity and getting it done before moving on to other activities saves time.

To help you stay focused on just doing one task, you should reduce other distractions, such as e-mail and phone calls. A recent study out of King’s College London found that when test subjects were asked to carry out problem-solving activities while bombarded with e-mails and phone calls, their IQs dropped an average of 10 points even when they were told to ignore the interruptions! (Just to give you some perspective on what losing 10 IQ points means, other studies have shown those high on pot lose five IQ points.)

We take our time in many other ways — poor organization, procrastinating, not effectively delegating, and complaining about how everyone is always taking our time! Stop, take a breath, look in the mirror, and then figure out who’s the problem here, because no one can take your time unless you willingly give it up.

Linda francis, author of Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You, trains and consults in the remodeling industry. She is based in Northern California; phone: (707) 485-0162 or lfrancis@pacific.net

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