You’re frantically trying to meet a deadline when a co-worker asks if you’ve got a minute. And you think to yourself: “Really, do I look like I’m not doing anything?” How could your co-worker not notice stress oozing from every pore in your body? In all fairness, the reason you’re racing to meet a deadline may also be due to your own procrastination.
Stop the Madness
Workplace distractions happen to us all, but rather than fall victim to pleas for help from co-workers and other emergencies, Edward G. Brown, author of “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had,” provides the following tips to become the master of your time:
It is almost impossible to prevent your colleagues from interrupting you, but you can change how you respond when they do. Of course, if it were so easy to say “no,” you would be doing it already. It is difficult to change your behaviors, so in order to give yourself the incentive to do so, get proof of how much time you are losing. On a daily basis, keep track of the number of interruptions you face and how much time you’ve lost. If you realize that you could have four more hours a week by eliminating distractions, how would that motivate you?
Just Say “No”
As hard as it may be to refuse a quick question or request for help, you must. As you realize, there really is no such thing as a quick question. This simple request usually ends up requiring you to look something up, contact someone or write something. Rather than telling your co-worker you are busy and come across as selfish, respond by saying you’ll be happy to help later. “Remember, you are trying to accomplish two things: protect your time and be a great team player,” Brown says. Plus, you aren’t really saying “no” – you are saying “not now.” And perhaps by the time you circle back with your colleague, the issue will be resolved.
If the request comes from your boss, remind him or her that you are working on a priority project for him or her, and ask how much time the new request for help will require. It’s not unusual for your manager to forget about the work pipeline you’ve already been assigned. Reprioritizing should be the discretion of you superior, so be sure you lay out the conflicting projects and timeline.
Protect Your Key Projects and Time
It’s important to identify and carve out time for the small number of very important projects. “If you’re not sure whether what you’re working on is critical or not, then you’re going to be scrupulous about combating potential distractions,” Brown says. A common pitfall is to underestimate how long a project will take. The more you begin allocating and tracking your time, the more accurate you will become in estimating how long you will need to complete future projects.
Make It a Weekly Ritual, and Make It Stick
It takes time for new patterns of behavior to stick. One of the best ways to help build your new habit is by blocking chunks of your precious time every week. Brown recommends writing your plan on paper, because it will serve as “a reliable tool when distractions come up and you’re tempted to backslide.” Many successful business owners swear by this practice. Scheduling time on your calendar each week for specific deliverables enables you to plan your days and eliminate crises and stress associated from distractions and procrastination.
While you’re at it, mark off blocks of time for regular tasks as well. You may think you perform better while working simultaneously on different tasks, however, the quality of your work may suffer. In an online article for Time, Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc. recommends “clustertasking.” This tactic allows you to bunch related tasks into similar segments during the day. For example, you may decide to respond to email messages at certain times during the day. This will eliminate your urge to check every new email when it arrives.
The bottom line: In order to get a handle on how you spend your time, assess how much time you waste, prioritize tasks and put your plan in writing. You’ll begin to regain control, and – who knows – you may even end up with extra time in your day.