If there’s one problem in productivity and time management that’s really tough to control, it’s other people. One writer explains how to stop others from wasting your time.
Dorie Clark, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog network, offers four tips for handling time-wasters. They include:
State your preferred method of communication. You can often limit aggravation (and harassment via multiple channels) by proactively informing colleagues about the best way to reach you, whether it’s via phone calls, texts, emails, or even tweets.
Require an agenda for meetings. Insist on seeing an agenda before you commit to attending any meeting, “to ensure I can contribute fully.”
Police guest lists. Meetings are also dangerous when their list of invitees has been wantonly constructed, filled with irrelevant people and lacking decisionmakers with the authority to get things moving.
Force others to prepare. Even when they’re requesting the meeting, they may have done very little research and waste our time with extremely basic questions they could have Googled.
This a topic near and dear to my heart. Let’s look at each of Clark’s four areas where others waste your time in more detail.
Method of Communication
There’s a right medium and a wrong medium for every style of communication. As we’ve noted here on The Methodology Blog before, there are a few times when you should use text messaging and there are times when you need a face-to-face meeting.
It’s not just about letting people know what medium you prefer, but rather having conversations about why multiple communication channels even exist. There are big advantages to each one, and reminding others that they get to choose will help to reduce how much time they waste.
Requiring an Agenda for Meetings
I love the idea of agendas so much I wrote a whole blog post for IndyAtWork explaining why I won’t take a meeting without one. But it’s not just to ensure that other people don’t waste my time. It’s also to ensure I don’t waste their time.
After all, what if I can answer what you need in the meeting by doing some advance research? Or what if we can skip the first meeting and go right to the second one? Agendas make that possible. Send one, or request one.
Police Guest Lists
Sometimes, I’ll go to a meeting and keep track of everyone in the room, and make a mark by their name each time they talk for a significant amount of time. I always ask the same question of the people who haven’t spoken:
“NAME, you’ve not had a chance to contribute. What are your thoughts?”
If they don’t say anything relevant, I wonder why they were in the meeting? Surely they could have read the written summary afterwards!
Force Others to Prepare
This is the toughest item on the list. Dorie Clark admits it can be problematic:
Will you face blow-back by toughening up and putting clear boundaries around your time? Inevitably. But you may also find that people start to respect you—and your time—a lot more.
Whenver you insist that other people have to do work before taking up your time, you push them back on their heels. You might seem self-important to them. So if you’re going to use this technique, be careful about it.
A good way to do this is just to play dumb. If someone tries to send you a big document to read, or get a meeting with you, let them know that you don’t feel prepared. Ask them if they can put together a summary, or if they can distill it down to a few bullet points.
People may not get back to you, but they can’t fault you for admitting ignorance.
So now that you’re prepared, want to meet and be productive?