Allocating an Hour a Day For Oneself is a Fantasy

There are those who recommend we set an hour a day to step back from our busy schedules.

I would really wish that could be true.  We all could use an hour a day to reflect on what we’ve achieved, organise our thoughts, develop ideas, and plan. 

Experience, however, shows it can’t happen for most of us. Many who commute to work already spend so much time going to and from their jobs.  If so-called time management experts suggest that the time while commuting is an opportunity for reflection, it is likely they haven’t undergone the daily hustle of riding public transport or the necessity of attention while driving through traffic.  

We wake to immediately get ready for our day and we sleep at the latest hour possible so we can maximise time with our families or to do that very last task we want to finish.

There is really not much we could allocate in terms of time to retreat and regroup. 

If we want to get a handle on things, a daily allocation of an hour for ourselves is not the answer.  It is right we should assess and plan our tasks but we need not a continuous full hour to do it.  Instead, we should dynamically assess and plan in short intervals throughout our day. 

We won’t need more than five (5) minutes when we wake up at the start of our day to see what we will do in the next one hour or so.  One to two hours later, we would have another five to maybe at most ten (10) minutes to see what comes next for our day.  We can arrive at our workplace at the start of our daily work shift and do a quick mental review of the one or two tasks we will do.  

We should only look at most three (3) tasks at a time.  Not more.  Else we overwhelm ourselves. 

We can do these 5- to-10-minute intervals of planning every two to three hours during the day. 

We should be ready for interruptions and disruptions.  Interruptions are those things that vie for our attention.  It’s the bosses asking (which is really telling) us to do another task they deem urgent.  It’s our spouses who call us and ask us to pass by the supermarket after work to buy a dozen eggs.  It’s the friends who text asking us to chat with them for a few minutes online. 

Interruptions may deserve an initial response:  No.  But it’s nice to include a reason.

No, boss, but I’m finishing the other tasks you assigned me the other day

No, dearest spouse, but you can make a full list of grocery items so that I can schedule going to the supermarket later in the week and buy all what we need in one go. 

No, friend, I’m not available for an online chat today, how about we text and meet next weekend? 

Unfortunately, many who interrupt us won’t take No for an answer.  When this happens, we may cede but we can still work our schedule to minimise the interruption. 

Okay, boss, I’ll get on your request right away.  But in reality, I’ll do it later. 

Yes, dear, I’ll pass by the supermarket after work.  But I’ll pass by the convenience store instead which is on the way and get in and out fast.   

Okay, pal, let’s talk now online if it’s really urgent.  But I’ll end the conversation after 15 minutes.

Disruptions are those things that force us to stop what we’re doing and demand our attention before we can resume what we were doing. 

We either challenge the source of a disruption or sidestep it.  In most cases it is wise to do the latter as disruptions can be just too difficult to overcome (e.g., natural disasters, traffic, angry boss). 

We end up not doing as we planned when we encounter disruption and the best way to get back on track is to re-evaluate and re-schedule what we couldn’t finish.  It would be best to take a short break to collect our thoughts and plan what we’re going to do for the rest of the day.  

Disruptions are products of adversities.  And because adversities are hard to anticipate, the disruptions they bring are practically unavoidable.  We get hit, we roll with the punches, we pick ourselves up, and we get back on track. 

We can never get the hour we want in a day because we will get our share of  interruptions and disruptions.  We can say No to interruptions or negotiate with the ones who are doing the interrupting.  Disruptions, however, are unavoidable and they wreck our schedules.  The bright side to any setback from interruptions or disruptions is we can always bounce back.

When we set our minds to what we want to do, we can get it done whatever life throws at us. 

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

– Vince Lombardi

About Overtimers Anonymous

Two Tactics That are Better than “No”

Most managers (and white-collar workers) face barrages of requests, if not directives, just about every day. 

Executives and peers ask managers to do many things such as write reports, attend meetings, do feasibility studies, pay suppliers, or test new products. 

Many managers would find themselves busy responding to these requests.  So much so that they’d not have any time left in a day to do what they should be doing, which is, managing. 

So-called time management experts would tell managers to just say no to requests that aren’t relevant to their jobs.  Saying no would demonstrate proactivity, the power to choose from one’s own perspective of priorities.

Unfortunately, saying no doesn’t work outright in the real world.

When I was a manager of a shipping department, I and my team were asked to work through a holiday weekend.  I and several of my subordinates had plans to for that weekend, but executives “asked” us to shelve those plans and work because the they wanted us to deliver pending orders to meet the company’s monthly sales target.  Executives wouldn’t accept a “no” and didn’t want to listen to our reasons (which generally was to take a break from work).  We ended up working through the weekend, met the monthly sales target, but didn’t get any praise or reward (except for some free pizza which the executives sent while we worked over the weekend). 

Executives don’t like no’s especially from subordinates.  This is because executives perceive any “no” as an affront to their agenda.  Executives see “no” as defiance and therefore will not take “no” for an answer. 

When a boss makes a request to a manager, it’s really a command done politely.  A request from a boss can be translated as “I’m asking you nicely to respond but if you don’t, I’ll tell you to do it.”   Executives don’t allow much room for compromise when it comes to their directions, everyone in the supply chain must march to the same beat. 

The impracticality to say “No”, however, isn’t the end to a manager’s hopes.    Managers still have two (2) ways to push back.  They can procrastinate and negotiate

Procrastinate

In the various management positions I held, I always had plenty of work to do.  Memo requests I received were often marked urgent or rush and whoever wrote them asked for immediate responses.

When I received such requests, I would categorise either as Will do or Will Not DoWill Do requests were those I’d be willing to do because I judged them as consistent with the needs of the workplace I was managing.  Will Not Do requests were judged the opposite, as in not helpful or relevant to my job description.  I’d place the memos on their respective piles but I didn’t throw them away.  (This was in the 1980’s so there weren’t any e-mails or chat groups yet.  But I do the same categorisation today via my computer and devices). 

I wouldn’t tell the sources of the Will Not Do tasks that I won’t be doing what they asked me to do.  I’d wait to see if they would follow up.  If they didn’t, I’d just leave the request sitting in that pile of Will Not Do.  If they did follow up, I’d still not do the task.  I would procrastinate. If the source comes back and follows up repeatedly and frequently, only then would I consider moving the task to the Will Do group, otherwise it stays in the Will Not Do pile.  I figure a request would be important only when the source spends significant time asking (or telling) me to respond.   

Negotiate

But even if I consider converting a Will Not Do to a Will Do, I would still push back.  I would ask the source why the request is important and why I should do it.  Maybe the source can delegate the request to someone else?  Or the source can review whether the request is worth the work?  I’d negotiate.  I would finally agree to responding to a request after I’d be satisfied with the argument of the sources and their justification. 

Or I’d finally agree to respond if the source is a superior who stops asking and starts commanding me to do it.   And even if it comes down to a command, I’d still ask the superior source politely to put it in writing. 

I learned not to commit immediately to requests.  I’d acknowledge them but I wouldn’t make promises.  I would if the sources press me to but only after I’d do some procrastinating and negotiating. 

By experience, I have found both tactics to be simple but effective means to filter the urgent and important from those that aren’t.  Many requests have turned out to be trash or withdrawn after procrastination and negotiation.  And it has saved me time. 

For managers, doing these two tactics can make a difference in how their time are spent and getting to meet goals that they fully feel are more important. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

The boss was angry.  She just had an argument with a board member.  She then told me not to sign documents the board member forwarded me for my signature.  But I had already signed the documents.  When she asked if I did, I said, “no.”  Meanwhile, I put away the documents in my desk drawer. 

My boss would have gone ballistic if I told her I had signed the documents.  Rather than let her high blood pressure go up, I decided to mislead her. 

Did I lie? 

Roman Catholic doctrine dictates it is “never allowable to tell a lie, not even to save human life.”  Lying is evil and because nothing good ever comes from evil, “we are never allowed to tell a lie.” 

On the other hand: 

However, we are also under an obligation to keep secrets faithfully, and sometimes the easiest way of fulfilling that duty is to say what is false, or to tell a lie. Writers of all creeds and of none, both ancient and modern, have frankly accepted this position. They admit the doctrine of the lie of necessity, and maintain that when there is a conflict between justice and veracity it is justice that should prevail. The common Catholic teaching has formulated the theory of mental reservation as a means by which the claims of both justice and veracity can be satisfied.

Slater, T. (1911). Mental Reservation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 25, 2021 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10195b.htm

We can lie but only if it’s absolutely necessary such that it is for good (“justice”).

The Catholic Church calls it mental reservation.  My Jesuit English teacher from high school called it equivocation.  The more common term is the white lie

An example is a homeowner who gave sanctuary to Jews in his house as Nazi soldiers during the Second World War searched for them to ship to concentration camps.  When the Nazi soldiers asked the homeowner if there were Jews in the church, he said “there was no one here.”  The Nazis left. 

The homeowner did not lie.  He said the Jews were not here which to him meant they were not available.  But the Nazi soldiers took it to mean the Jews were not there physically so they left.  The priest deliberately misled the soldiers.  But he did it to save the lives of the Jews and that was enough to justify the white lie.  The homeowner did not sin. 

But in my case of not telling the boss I signed the documents; the Catholic Church would say I had no compelling justification to equivocate.  No life was at stake, only my career.  My boss would have just gotten madder and I would have had to suffer a long scolding. 

The Catholic Church would say I lied when I shouldn’t have.

In this complicated world we live in, people lie a lot.  The people who lie would say it’s for good reasons.  We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.  We don’t want to aggravate a crisis.  We want to avoid conflict. 

When my boss cooled off and finally said I could sign the documents, I then took them out of the drawer and sent them, already with my signature, on their way. 

Since the issue was resolved, I did not bother to tell the boss what happened. I rationalised that it would just be for naught if the boss found out, got mad again, and subjected me to a scolding.  The case was closed, that was it. 

The Catholic Church would warn that my behaviour can lead to abuse.  It was already lying, first of all.  Doing it as a habit and excusing it as mental reservation, equivocation, or white lying, and saying it’s for good reason may result in more long-term harm than any perceived benefit whatsoever.

It’s like the motorist who is driving home in the middle of the night and decides to run a red traffic light.  There’s no other vehicle around at the intersection so the motorist rationalises that there’s no harm to disobey the red light. 

Over time, however, the motorist does this more often.  He runs red lights every night and even during the day whenever he sees no other vehicle around.  It becomes a habit that one day, he doesn’t notice an oncoming vehicle and he gets into an accident.  

To many of us, honesty is not always a best policy.  Being too honest can get us into trouble, so we bend the truth.  We spin our speeches, avoid addressing questions, or just plain lie.  We see many people doing it (e.g. politicians, executives) so we believe we can do it too. 

It is true that religions like the Catholic Church give us some leeway to lie.  But it’s more of the exception than the rule.  We should realise the more we bend the truth, the more likely it will break.  And more harm will come than good as a result. 

Honesty is still a best policy, exceptions notwithstanding.

About Overtimers Anonymous

Being Proactive Requires Reviewing Our Values

My boss asked me to finish a report by Monday morning.  I was planning to submit it by Wednesday next week but my boss wanted it earlier.  Because he asked me on Friday, I had to cancel my weekend plans. 

Some bosses pile on work on their employees.  The bosses would believe there is good reason but they also would believe they aren’t beholden to explain deadlines to their subordinates.  Bosses dictate, employees follow, after all. 

Employees, however, are people too and it can be demoralising when the boss deems work more important than the quality time of employees after work hours. 

So, what can employees do? 

Either the employees just do what the bosses say or they don’t.  If they do, they can count on some praising like a pat-on-the-back assuming they did a good job.  If they don’t, they’ll risk getting on the bad side of the boss who would put a bad mark on an employee’s performance record which may lead to career stagnation. 

Not really much of a choice.  But that’s reality. 

Never mind what some consultants or so-called gurus may say, people who work for other people don’t own their time.   When we have bosses, the bosses own us and sometimes if not often, they own even our time after work hours.

This is because work for many people, like middle managers and office workers, as we know it no longer is limited to a fixed schedule.  With email, SMS texting, and Internet-enabled voice & chat technologies, the boss can communicate with her employees wherever they may be and at anytime.  (I had a boss who’d call me when I was halfway around the world on vacation and that was even before the Internet). 

But thanks also to the Internet, we have more access to more information.  We can find out if there are other jobs waiting for us in other companies.  We can submit our curricula vitae (CV) with a few clicks of a mouse.  And we can get interviewed long distances from the comforts of our own home (or office desk when the boss isn’t around). 

The hard part, of course, is writing the CV and preparing for the interview.  The harder part is deciding whether we’d want to change careers in the first place. 

The hardest part, however, is making the choice itself.  We’d wrack our brains thinking if we should stay in our jobs or move on to greener pastures. 

It isn’t just about the risks of what we choose but it’s also what we believe in. 

This is what being proactive is really about.  Proactive is choosing based on what we value.  Note it isn’t what we want, it is what we value.  Stephen Covey of Seven (7) Habits fame identifies being proactive as the freedom to choose one’s response.  But to choose what we believe is right, we should choose based on what’s important for us, which is in a nutshell are our values

Employees would opt to stick with a job with a slave-driver boss that deprives weekends off because the employees would value the job security and income needed for their families. 

An employee, however, may choose to quit because she values her time with her children more than anything else. 

But as much as it may be clear to some, it can be a lengthy exercise for many who haven’t really defined what they value or are in self-conflict with changes in what are important to them. 

As the PlanPlus Online website puts it, values “may change as demands or needs change.” 

“If a given belief or opinion is something that might be altered if the conditions are right, then it’s a value.”

-PlanPlus Online, The Difference Between Principles and Values, https://www.planplusonline.com/difference-principles-values/

When values become moving targets, we can become confused and that can make it difficult to decide things.  We therefore sometimes become dependent on others to make our minds up, like just doing what the boss tells us to do. 

Values are based on beliefs, opinions, causes, and/or the very stuff we put the highest importance on, such as our families, relationships, careers, and religions.  We often try to rank them and doing so can be a difficult process, not to mention frustrating.  The bottom line is we always are evaluating what our priorities are. 

Is there a best way to define our values?  No.  But the question maybe should be:  how often should we define our values?  Not everybody knows what he or she wants.  Lucky for those who do but there are many who constantly need to review what’s important.  Actually, it may be those who do it often are the luckier ones because they would always be updated to their versions of their value systems. 

When we know surely what we think or feel what’s important, we’d know how to choose confidently.  We end up knowing how to answer when a boss asks us to work on weekends. 

About Overtimers Anonymous