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

Negotiating Needs Time

One important thing the expert hostage-negotiator, Chris Voss, teaches in his book, Never Split the Difference, is to exercise empathy with whom we negotiate with.  Mr. Voss advises we listen intently, ask questions, and mirror what the other party says as the latter cites whatever demands he or she puts on the table.

Easier said than done.  What I’ve learned is that when it comes to listening, the hard part isn’t only keeping quiet and hearing what the other side is saying but also spending time to patiently understand what the other side is trying to convey. 

Investing time to listen is hard because we don’t have much of it.  True, we waste a lot of time, but we also have lots of things to do. 

It’s not that the world is fast-paced, it’s that we demand a good deal from ourselves.  We want to work hard to get that promotion.  We want to do our hobbies.  We want to cook good food and clean the clutter out of our living spaces.  We want to fix our faces and work out our bodies to look good. 

There are so many things we want to do such that the last things we think we need include negotiating with people who stand in our way or are disrupting our plans. 

A tenant renting an office space my employer owns is two (2) months late in paying rent.  Applying Chris Voss’ negotiating principles requires I show empathy, via listening, mirroring, and asking questions to fully understand my tenant’s side (and unravel any secret that might be useful for me to gain an advantage). 

The trouble is the tenant tries to dominate the conversation by talking continuously and not letting me get a word in.  I have to let him talk and talk and listen patiently.  When the tenant pressures me for a favourable answer, I’d acknowledge what he says and attempt to state my position.  But he’d cut me off and I’d be listening to him talk and talk again.  

The tenant would try to close the conversation by asking me to agree to whatever he says, which in this case is accepting delay in his rent payment.  I’d say no, but he still tries to win over the conversation. 

In our last conversation, I lost my cool and told him I’ll lock up the office unit he’s renting.  Because he has a web server in the office, he adamantly argued I can’t do that.  I insisted angrily that I could and we ended up in a heated argument.  So much for me applying empathy and following the advice of Chris Voss in negotiating successfully.    

Investing time to listen is one thing that Chris Voss and other gurus don’t really stress in their teachings.  Not that they neglect to mention it, I think they see it as obvious we should put time to do it.  After all, any lesson we adapt and apply requires investment of some sort, right? 

But is there an alternative?  Is there a better way to save time when it comes to negotiating with people?  The following are some of my ideas:

  1. IT’S A TIME MANAGEMENT THING

Having little time to invest in any activity I dedicated myself to do is a sign that my time management strategy is in shambles.  In short, I need to schedule better.  In my last conversation with that tenant, I scheduled myself to be at my office one afternoon so that I’d have time to listen to him.  My mistake was I scheduled too little time.  When the conversation ran beyond my budgeted time, I became impatient, I stopped listening, I interrupted the tenant, and we ended up arguing heatedly.  The discussion ended with both of us feeling hostile. 

  • DO MY HOMEWORK

By scheduling the conversation with my tenant, I gave myself time to prepare.  I organised the data such as how much my tenant owes and what terms and conditions of the tenant’s contract he was violating.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use the data to my advantage because I ended up losing my cool. 

  • BE READY WITH A STAND

Going into the conversation, I had a firm position.  This would be the position I’d stick with no matter what the tenant would say.  I’d be willing to work out any innovative ideas with the tenant as long as I get what I wanted in the final outcome.  At the end of the heated argument, the tenant agreed to pay his rent by the end of the month, a deadline that I firmly set.  But because we ended the talk with some hostility, I didn’t trust my tenant to meet the deadline.    

  • GET READY TO DO IT AGAIN BUT BETTER

The tenant didn’t pay at the end of the month as he promised but showed me proof he had the funds to remit for the back rent.  Since the end of the month was a Friday, he asked if he can just please remit on Monday?  I decided to give him that grace period since I wanted to reverse some of that hostility from the last conversation.  But because the tenant has a poor track record, I’m anticipating that he will try to talk me again into giving him more leeway.  He’d again try to dominate the discussion and get me to quickly see it to his way.  I’d have to be ready with my stand (which is a flat “no” to any delay) but I’d need to schedule the conversation in which I’ll once again have to prepare my data and have ample time to listen. 

  • BE COOL

And of course, this time, I should keep my cool as well as my wits.

Negotiation, just like most subjects we learn about, is never really easy.  Many gurus don’t really tell us that but it should be obvious to us.  Investing our precious time is a price we pay when it comes to becoming good at something and that includes negotiation. 

But because negotiation is a skill that involves listening to people, I’d likely be better off if I schedule enough time for the task, be well informed with the relevant data, be ready with an unwavering stand, realise that I may have more discussions afterward, and most of all, keep my cool. 

It’s always best to negotiate than it is to fight. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Why Responsibilities are Important in Time Management

We don’t control our time. 

Every morning I wake up at 5am.  It doesn’t matter what time I sleep.  My eyes open at 5am.

Sometimes I oversleep but that’s more of the exception than the rule.  I wake up at 5am, Mondays to Sundays, and holidays.  It’s rare I don’t. 

I wake up at 5am because I have a routine.  I feed my pet cats and birds first thing in the morning.  I blog or work out afterwards.  I then eat breakfast, change, and go to work. 

Can I change my routine?  Sure.  But there’s a price to pay if I do.  Waking up later would put me on a rush to finish my routine and likely make me late for work.  Waking up earlier would deprive me of needed sleep and that would be just outright unhealthy; I’ll end up sick. 

People who say we can take control of our time say we have the freedom to choose what time we wake and what we can schedule for our day.  They are probably people who have routines that don’t have much in the way of responsibilities.  But most of us have responsibilities and because of these, we trade off control of our time to fulfilling them. 

Can we change our responsibilities?  Sure.  But again, there’ll be a price to pay. 

Part of my routine is to spend an hour every evening after dinner to play a game with my sister and 93-year-old mother.  It is an hour that I could have used for myself such as surfing social media on my smartphone.  But I don’t opt for that because my routine includes a responsibility I’ve adopted to bond with family at least for an hour a day. 

When so-called time management experts say we can take control of our time, they don’t mention that there are trade-offs when we do.  Whatever decision we make about how we spend our time will involve trade-offs.  And in many cases, they are costly. 

If I wanted to, I can find my own place, where I can sleep and wake whenever I want, and I can schedule whatever time to eat and what to do at nights.  What I have to trade off to do so would be not caring for my pet animals, not working out or blogging, not being at the office on schedule, and not spending time with my mother and sister, all of which are what I’ve defined as my responsibilities. 

Time management experts may say we have choices about what to be responsible for.  What they don’t say is we need to choose what our responsibilities are before we manage how we will plan and decide our days. 

Responsibilities are the results of knowing what truly are the more important things in our lives.  We define our values first, set standards and goals, and then plan our routines.  We decide what we want to do based on what we want within (our values). 

I didn’t make this up by the way; Stephen Covey did. 

Stephen Covey (+), creator of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, espoused the freedom to choose via proactivity, the development of a mission in life, and time management by doing things important to that mission first. 

When we manage our time relevant to our values and mission, we go on a track towards independence and fulfilment. 

The routines we set are acts of decision we freely chose.  As we get to do them, we commit ourselves to doing them habitually day in and day out. 

There would be times we’d wonder if we had lost control of our time as we do the same things over and over.  We’d wonder if we have become trapped in which it would seem our routines have taken over us.  This curiosity and eventual soul-searching become even more pronounced when we seem to be not achieving much over a period of time or when we turn down invitations to events because our routines would be in conflict.  We’d ask ourselves if we’re on the right track or if we’re doing the right thing.  We question if we had lost control of our time.

Stephen Covey would remind us that not only setting routines but also being proactive and having a mission are habits, that is, they are practices we do repeatedly.  We just don’t do routines.  We also either re-commit to them or change them as per the values which we review and the subsequent choices we make towards them. 

In short, we adopt our responsibilities because we chose to do so not just once but repeatedly over time.  When we take on responsibilities because we want to, we then edit and commit to our routines.  Our freedom does not lie in the controlling the here and now but what we commit to be responsible for. 

We don’t control our time.  We control our responsibilities. 

About Overtimers Anonymous