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