“Where did the time go?”
Do you sometimes drive to work in the morning with a clear intention of what you want to accomplish, only to find yourself driving back home at the end of the day, tired for having worked long hours, and somehow not having accomplished what you wanted?
When you talk about your work, do you ever say things like “I had to put out fires all day” or “I had too many interruptions” or “that 30-minute meeting turned into 2 hours”? If yes, perhaps you believe that those things are inevitable or you wish you could avoid them but don’t know how.
Here are some tips on how to regain control over your schedule.
1. Create rules
Understand that what you allow will continue.
If you allow your staff, coworkers, students, or other people on campus to interrupt you constantly, they will! They will expect you to drop everything anytime they need something. Stop complaining about their behavior and do something about it.
For example, you can block off some time to work on important projects and not accept interruptions. Tell your staff not to disturb you during that time and encourage them to problem-solve and take initiative.
If you don’t trust them to be able to work more independently, tell them when you are available to answer questions (before and after your blocked time). I understand the benefits of an open-door policy but if your office looks like the information booth at a mall or an airport, you have a problem to solve.
If you don’t trust your staff to be able to get their job done without consulting with you ten times a day, you have a problem. Maybe you are too controlling or it's time to train them and empower them. Do not be tempted to judge them as incompetent and put the blame on them. That would make you powerless.
Blame is never helpful but responsibility is. You’re in charge, so take responsibility and create rules and systems to empower people, and you’ll have quiet time for you to focus on projects that cannot be delegated.
2. Delegate, automatize, and reduce workload
If a performance improvement consultant analyzed the way your department functions, what do you think they would recommend? Take a moment to answer the following questions:
- What processes can be streamlined?
- What could you delegate?
- To whom?
- How will you train them?
- Who else could train and mentor them?
- How can you integrate more systems and technologies to reduce the workload?
- What can you stop doing?
- What can you do less often?
3. Never ignore a problem
Some administrators are so busy that they don’t make time to complete employee evaluations and counsel their staff on areas that they need to improve. They notice mistakes, delays, and things that don’t meet their expectations but they are so overwhelmed that they don’t address the problems. Once again, remember that what you allow will continue. Your avoidance can create a culture of lower standards and performance. Lack of accountability can generate resentment in high performers and negatively affect morale.
By setting high standards you will have fewer problems to solve.
Your staff should know that you are a strong and fair leader and will not ignore dysfunction or problems. Trust me, when you ignore one issue because you think you don’t have time for it, you implicitly make a statement that it is ok to lower the bar. And things spiral down from there. Don’t let that happen to you. Take care of issues as soon as you discover them.
4. Don’t give away your personal power
When someone hijacks your day, it is because you let them.
You allow them to make decisions for you. Why??? Imagine that you are preparing for an important meeting and someone walks into your office and wants to do small talk. You care about that person and don’t want to be rude, so you listen patiently, hoping that the story will be short. You were taught that it’s the polite thing to do.
Here is a different perspective: it is not rude of you to decline to have that conversation. When someone walks into your office without your consent, they are the rude ones, not you!
You can politely say something like “I want to give you my undivided attention, but I can’t do it right now. I don’t want to rush you, so please send me an email with your availability and we’ll schedule a meeting.” That way, the person feels valued and you are setting boundaries. And guess what? 99% of the time, the person will not email you but will go find someone else to talk to.
5. Create small obstacles
Many times people ask you to do something for them, but they are not willing to spend two minutes on the issue themselves. Then why should you? Don’t allow people to dump their problems or their work on you.
Create small obstacles to discourage them from taking your time for things that are not important.
For example, if someone asks you to do something and you suspect it might be a bad idea or a waste of your time, you can dodge it or at least delay it until the time is more convenient for you.
Simply put it back on them; ask them to send you an email to provide more details, such as:
- outlining their vision,
- listing potential partners,
- creating a detailed timeline,
- providing examples of successful practices that you can use as model,
- giving you the name of an employee (not you) best able to do this work, and so on.
Ask them anything. The point is to make them responsible for the next task and more often than not, they will simply drop the whole thing. Voila!
6. Learn to say no
For most of us, high achievers, service-oriented people, or caring people, it is difficult to say no when asked to do something. But be honest, sometimes you really wish you could say no. So give yourself permission to do it.
Look at the situation under a new angle. If saying yes to them means saying no to yourself, that will create inner-conflict and resentment. Don’t do it! Also, you can’t please everybody, and you can’t be all things to all people. When you say yes to one thing, you say no to all of the alternatives.
Every “yes” is a choice, and it should be in alignment with your goals, priorities and values.
Don’t do things out of obligation because denying yourself your own voice is highly destructive. Letting people control you is unhealthy and disempowering. On the other hand, when you completely embrace your identity, your voice, and your preferences, the sense of obligation disappears. Your integrity and charisma are attractive to others and they show you more respect.
If you want people to treat you with respect, you have to start by respecting yourself.
There are tactful ways to say no without lying. I never recommend creating a lie or excuse to avoid something. That’s not being empowered but avoiding reality and you will get caught in your lie sooner or later anyway. Instead, you can say “I can’t give you an answer now let me think about it”.
Before you know it, they will have found someone else and won’t bother you. Or you can suggest assigning the task to someone else and say why the other person is a better choice for the project. Another possibility is to question the task itself and help the other person realize that it does not need to be done.
If you would like to speak with me about many more appropriate ways to say no, create rules and systems, and regain control over your time, click here to schedule a free strategy session with me.
Remember, time is your most valuable resource. Once it’s spent you can’t earn it back. Spend your time on what matters to you, but don’t allow people to take it from you.