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Stop being so darn … available

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Show others that you attach a high value to your time, and they won’t squander it. That’s the advice of productivity coach Laura Stack (www.theproductivitypro.com), author of Find More Time, who recommends using availability management.

As an admin, you can’t always say “no,” but you can ask questions. When someone asks you to do something, Stack says, don’t assume the person means “right now.” Instead, Stack recommends saying, “Do you need that today, or will Monday be OK?” Or, “I’ll be happy to stop working on (x) project and work on (y). Is that what you would like me to do?”

Phrase it that way, and you still look like a team player, but one who manages time well. On the flip side, a person who answers every request with a cheery “Sure! No problem!” sends the message that random interruptions are perfectly fine.

Four more ways to be a team player, without always being available:

1. Block out your calendar (or schedule yourself) until 9 a.m. so others can’t schedule morning appointments with you. Save early-morning hours to complete tasks that require your focus and energy. Block out your calendar after 4 p.m., leaving time to wrap up end-of-the-day tasks.

2. Use verbal and body-language cues to tell others when an interruption is verboten.

Example: When a co-worker asks, “Got a minute?” keep your pen poised over paper or your hands near your keyboard. Then respond with, “I have just one. Will that be enough?” or “I’m up against a deadline now. Can we talk in the morning?” If you’re not in the middle of a major task, you might say, “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help you?” The clues you give signal that you don’t have all the time in the world.

3. Devise a physical sign that lets others know you’re not available: hang a “Be back at …” clock sign outside your cubicle; turn the nameplate on your desk around; or design your own sign that says “Working on a big project now, please send me an e-mail message instead.” If you put out your sign only when you’re truly unavailable, most people will respect your system.

4. Signal that your time is running out by using these verbal cues toward the end of a phone call or meeting: “In summary, before we head out, I’m going to ...”; “Before we finish ...”; “Before we wrap things up ...”; or “I see that our time is almost up ... is there anything else?”

“The lesson here is really about setting healthy parameters for yourself and recognizing the reality of the consequences of ‘always available’ time,” says Stack. “Saying ‘yes’ to everything and always being available will compromise your energy level, your overall productivity, your sanity and your health.”


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