We all have them, people and situations that knock us off course and stop us from focusing on the stuff that is a priority.
Time robbers aren't the same as the unexpected things that come along that we have to manage and absorb (or not depending upon our stress levels).
No, time robbers as far as I'm concerned are people who want to sit around and schmooze right when you're in the middle of trying to finish something; annoying phone calls that take a few minutes to realise you don't want to speak to them; problems that other people have created that you now have to sort out; colleagues asking you far too many questions when they could get the information elsewhere; endless interruptions by people whose needs appear (only appear mind you, not necessarily true) to be greater than yours.
Time management isn't simply about knowing how to juggle the many events in your day or being more scrupulous about scheduling and being more organised.
An essential part of good time management is managing the time robbers.
"How do I do that?" I hear you ask. "I can't control what other people do."
Actually, you can do more than you think to 'control' what other people do.
And this brings us to the heart of really good time management: the ability to set boundaries and say 'no' when it's necessary. Without good boundaries or the skill in saying 'no' then those time robbers will know - even on a subconscious level - that you are easy prey to have your time stolen.
The best way I know to identify your time robbers is if your heart sinks when they sail into view or their names comes up on your phone or you see an email from them. You know for certain that whatever time management plans you had are about to go out the window. You may even like these people a lot- could be a family member or a colleague you normally get along with - but when it comes to your time, they wreak havoc.
What can you do about it?
I said a few sentences ago that good time management means managing those time robbers. Here are a few things you can begin to practise. I'm always cautious about promising transformation when you may have spent a life-time letting other people steal your time; look on these suggestions as the start of building your robber-proof persona.
Buy Time. Since there are some people who are adept at time-thieving, you can start to become adept at time-buying. This is one of my all time favourite things to do and it's easy. You don't have to say 'no', you don't have to refuse to help; you just need to give yourself some breathing space.
The next time someone rings and wants you to do something, say, "I'm just in the middle of something, I'll ring you back in fifteen minutes." That's nice and polite and even if you aren't in the middle of something and could easily take the call you're doing two things. You're setting a very gentle boundary and giving yourself a little breathing space so you can get your thoughts in order. You're also sending out a gentle signal that you aren't always available whenever that other person wants you to be. Be sure to return the call.
Offer a different solution. If you are an easy target, other people get used to you saying yes and being accommodating. The more accommodating you are the more your time management goes down the tubes. At the same time you don't want to appear recalcitrant or difficult. This is where making a few alternative suggestions could really help you: you are still being co-operative, you are still taking an interest in their problem; the difference is you don't have to take their problem on.
Pre-empt. If you know that there are certain people who will always interrupt or come along to your desk expecting you to give them your time, anticipate them and head them off at the pass. What most people do who get their time stolen is to hunker down and hope that today, the same thing won't happen. Fat chance.
By pre-empting you take charge by going up to them and 'outing' them by saying, "I know at some point today you're going to want to chat or ask me to help you with something, so I thought I'd let you know up front what my schedule is and when would be a good time for us to get together. I'm really busy today so it might not be till tomorrow."
These are all good examples of boundary setting and will not make you look like a grumpy, unhelpful colleague or friend. What they will help you do is get some defences to manage those time robbers and get your time management back on a smooth and even track…..till the unexpected happens!
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory