Canadian Underwriter

Time thieves that are stealing away your workday

May 27, 2021   by Adam Malik

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Beware of seven deadly time thieves if you want to exercise more control over your workday and manage your time better, an organization expert said during a recent risk management conference.

Andrew Mellen, a professional organizer, spoke to risk managers about what gets in the way of professionals being more organized and how days typically get away from them. In order of importance, the seven time thieves are: Interruptions, multitasking, overcommitting, poor planning, email, meetings, and procrastination.

As for the deadliest of all time thieves, interruptions, Mellen pointed out during RIMS Live 2021 that it’s important to cut down on how much of your day these take up. For example, if someone comes by your desk or gives you a call while you’re working on a task, set a time limit. Tell them you have, say, 15 minutes to dedicate to the interruption and then have to get back to your core task.

“Then you must set a timer,” he stressed to the virtual audience. “If you don’t set a timer, they know two things: You can’t tell time and you don’t have good boundaries. So you have to set the timer.”

What happens if the timer goes off and the other person is still talking? Tell them you’ve given them all the time you can afford. Ask them to make an appointment and circle back on this topic at a certain date and time.

People who claim they can multitask are full of it, Mellen said. It’s a lie people tell themselves and others. “If it’s on your resume, take it off,” he advised.

He used the example of doing open-heart surgery and baking a cake. Both can’t be done at the same time, he said, just like your work tasks can’t be done simultaneously. Instead, people can control how and when they pivot between the two tasks — in other words, how and when they move between the metaphorical kitchen and the operating room.

“When you are baking a cake, I do not want you also trying to do some open-heart surgery,” Mellen said. “They cannot happen simultaneously. They can happen sequentially — and that is where we need to be shifting our attention and our focus.”

Overcommitting is another issue for workers. People generally aim to please. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “no” and leave it at that, according to Mellen. “‘No’ can be a complete sentence,” he said.

If that seems too abrupt, you can suggest a trade-off, Mellen added. For example, you can say, “I can’t do this now, but I can do it tomorrow at 3 p.m.”

In fact, it’s better to tell people you can’t do something right away, instead of leaving them hanging and hoping (or expecting) you’ll come back with a “yes” only to say “no” later on.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to get back to me in 48 hours, because [then] I think in those 48 hours [that] you’re trying to rearrange your schedule so you can accommodate me,” Mellen advised.

In fact, most people are burning through those 48 hours to make it seem like they’re trying to accommodate the request. And then, when the request is rejected, the person will be less upset because they’ll think you tried.

“Much better not to waste my time,” Mellen said. “Let me go find the ‘yes.’”

Mellen counselled his audience to think about saying ‘No’ from a different perspective. Saying “no” to one thing means saying “yes” to something else that you value more, he pointed out.

“Much better to focus on the things that we’ve already committed to that are important and perhaps urgent, but definitely important,” Mellen said.


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