How to deal with others drain your time

Time management will be much easier if everyone else leaves you alone to do your work. But they drag you into the meeting, ask questions, want to check in or ask you to do something else. Some of these barriers are welcome. Either way, manage the rest, do things well enough, or reduce deliberate thinking and deliberation.

Some obstacles are welcome

A big part of why many people have become more skilled at working from home is the reduction of unplanned barriers. They do not clash with the colleagues in the hall. They do not engage in small talk before and after the meeting.

At the same time, unplanned barriers are a big part of why many people who work from home feel lonely and isolated. They do not clash with the colleagues in the hall. They do not engage in small chats before and after the meeting.

Some obstacles are good things. The best time managers give time for them. For example, when Michael Eisner was Disney’s CEO, he set aside two hours a day for unplanned interruptions – although in his case, most people involved him in interrupting others.

Don’t just tell others what to do

You can’t focus on the most important things without reducing your focus on the less important things. The CEO of a company asked one of his plant managers to step into the role of part-time, interim project management office (PMO). The plant manager was going to help get a seat at the table and coordinate some of the most exciting initiatives in the enterprise.

He said, “Thanks. But no thanks.” He is already managing his plant, advising another, more junior plant manager, and leading an important operation reconstruction. He thought the role of the PMO would put him above his power, reduce his efforts and prevent him from doing as much as possible.

The CEO praised and supported his choice.

Do some things just fine enough

Sometimes you have to comply with a request, but you don’t have to do more than comply

Imagine a client inviting you on a trip. You go. After the trip they tell you that they want to pay your airfare and send you an expense report to pay. It is in everyone’s best interest for you to comply with their report exactly as they wish – well enough. It is not good for anyone to spend any time redesigning the color scheme of their expense report.

Deliberate thinking and the need for brief

“Measure twice. Cut once.”

“Work efficiently. Not difficult.”

“Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first four axes sharpening.”

This is not a new idea. Do it yourself. And before you say yes to their request, ask them to do something for you. It can take the form of a strategy, a creative brief, or a basic representation: direction, resources, bound authority, and accountability.

One couple built a house from scratch. They literally started with a piece of blank paper and sketched the houses they wanted. They then hire an architect to plan. After a few repetitions, they said, “We want to be able to go straight from the dining room to the living room.”

The architect pointed to the plan and said that all they had to do was go through the front hall which opens into the dining and living room.

“No,” they said. “Directly.”

They suggested sliding four feet to the left behind the entire back of the house.

“But it will screw on the second floor.”

“We can live with it.”

“This will screw the roof line.”

“You are an architect. Design a new roof line. “

He did.

This would be a completely different problem if the couple wanted to move out of the house after the walls had been removed and the plumbing and electrical had been installed.


Manage your time to give you more time for more important things – like building relationships.

“No thanks” saves the most time.

Compliance efficiently sometimes works.

Reduce re-work by changing strategy at the strategy level, design changes at the design stage, and implementation changes at the implementation stage.

Click here For a list of my Forbes articles (including # 760) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The new leader’s 100-day action plan.

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