Saying No to Time Thieves

Do you plan out your day meticulously, and go to the office with the best of intentions, of making the best use of your time, only to have your time hijacked by the time thieves.

Time thieves are those people who, having nothing to do with their own time, steal yours from you. They are able to fill up their hours by wasting yours. Often these people are colleagues, clients, and sometimes even your boss. It can be difficult saying no to them, but if you don’t you will end up joining their gang and becoming a time thief yourself.

Manage Your Interruptions

One of the reasons we allow others to steal our time is our need to know what is going on. Research has shown that a majority of people’s time is spent receiving and responding to the grapevine, which is invariably made up of hearsay and rumour. We find out what is going on by letting ourselves be interrupted by others. If this describes you, you need to identify how much time you are usefully spending in this way, and how much you are wasting. In short, you need to know how to manage your interruptions.

Avoid These Gangs of Time Thieves

In order to manage your interruptions you must distinguish between those who bring you useful information and those who don’t. The latter group comprise three gangs in particular that you should avoid:

  • the moaning, whinging and complaining gang
  • the gang who constantly congregate for coffee at work
  • the watering-hole gang who congregate in the pub after work

Socialising with these gangs is fine if you control it. However you need to be careful not to be sucked into a time consuming quagmire.

Don’t just listen

If you let people talk, they will go on forever, so ask questions and summarise. Channing H Cox, who at the time was the Governor of Massachusetts, on visiting the then President Calvin Coolidge, was amazed that the president was able to see so many people and still leave the office at 5.00pm. He asked the president how he did it, “You talk back,” answered the President.

Develop the Habit of Briskness

When you learn how to be brisk with others, without being rude or offhand, you’ll have a great technique to help control your time. British Prime minister Clement Attlee, was known for his briskness at cabinet meetings. He constantly used the habit of briskness to stifle unnecessary talk.

One of Attlee’s exchanges is reported to have gone as follows:

“A good paper, minister. Do you need to add anything?” (i.e. there’s no need to say anything if it’s just a repeat of what’s in the paper)

“Has anyone any objections?” (i.e. don’t say anything if it’s already been covered).

“Right, then. Next item.”

Be Polite but Determined

Sometimes time thieves masquerade as visitors and trap you at your desk or in your office and steal your time? You want to get rid of them but don’t want to be rude. The answer is to be polite but determined. Here are some strategies:

  • ask directly how you can help and how long it will take
  • suggest a time that is more suitable for you
  • have a regular time each day, when you are free to see people
  • don’t use interruptions as a break from what you’re doing
  • meet people away from your office or desk
  • use body language that indicates the time thief is not welcome, for example, stand up, sit on the edge of the desk or move towards the door

Use these strategies to let people know that while you’re willing to help, you’re going to be ruthless with your time. Ensure that you treat your time as something that precious and valuable, if you don’t you’ll fall prey to the time thieves.

Till Next Time

The Time Doctor – Mike Gardner

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Mike Gardner - The Time Doctor

Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor helps the overworked and overwhelmed learn to say 'No' nicely, and improve their management of time, emails and meetings. He is also an avid fan of Aston Villa, a Dad of Neil & Emma, a hubby to Wendy and in his role with the reserve forces, he has completed operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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2 thoughts on “Saying No to Time Thieves

  1. My first time here Mike,

    One of the main thieves for me in the computer world was minor interruptions. It can often take as long as a half hour to get all of the pieces of a complex project sorted in you mind. A two minute interruption can cause this scaffold to crash and scatter to the point that it takes 15 to 20 minutes at get it all back in place. I few small interruptions can blow a whole afternoon. You spend the whole time getting ready. That is one of the reasons so many programmers are Night Owls.
    Dr. Hale

    • Hi Hale,

      Thanks for dropping by, it is so true about interruptions and it is not just relevant to programmers. Once interrupted research shows it will take anyone between 15 and 30 mins to regain focus.

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