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Take back stolen time

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Time. If only we had more of it. Unfor­tunately, we don’t, and all too often what little we do have is wasted on people who seemingly have no respect for it.

In the workplace, when being a team player is valued, if not expected, how do you deal with the people who abuse your time? Start here:

Be realistic. In a perfect world, no one would interrupt you for anything, and you’d breeze through your work without a problem. In the real world, people must and should interrupt you. Think about the people who you feel most abuse your time. Then consider your last five encounters with them. Did they truly abuse your time or were their interruptions appropriate for work? Ensure that you aren’t just being testy or unrealistic.

Determine if you are sending the right message. Do you drop everything you are doing to help another person? When they come to you, do you willingly dive into a conversation? Do you ignore inefficient or time-draining behavior because you don’t want to confront people about it? It’s possible that you are encouraging the behavior and inviting them to infringe on your time.

Confront the issue head on. At some point, you’re going to have to directly—but politely—set some boundaries.

For example, for the person who will only use email to communicate, respond with “This isn’t something we can hash out over email. If you want to discuss it further, I’m free at 10:00.” Or for the person who never seems to meet their deadlines, causing you to jump through hoops to finish a task, say “I understand that you are busy, but I need you to get this to me by your deadline going forward.”

— Adapted from “Beware the Time Suckers: How to Deal With People,” Karen Meager and John McLachlan, www.businesszone.co.uk.

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