People not respecting your time? Reclaim it to lead better

    People won’t respect your time, until you respect it first
   People won’t respect your time, until you respect it first

I hear this often in workplaces today: “I don’t have enough time”.

People often try to squeeze as many tasks as they can into the work week, because as we all know, time is money.

Correct, time is money, but only if you can do something valuable with your time.

People are not respecting your time, because they are trying to satisfy their own priorities

You might find that people are making increasing demands on your time. Hundreds of emails, “squeezing” in additional work around your already full day, it can be a bit much.

But the only reason that people take your time and run away with it is because they can. They do this because they wish to satisfy their own priorities — but what about your priorities?

The thing is, nobody cares about your priorities, except you. Which is why when people are not respecting your time, you need to reclaim it for yourself.

People are not respecting your time, because they don’t know how much work you have on

Often in workplaces, many leaders have the attitude that “ignorance is bliss”. In other words, if I don’t know how much you have to do already during your work day, then I can feel free to pile more tasks on.

If you don’t push back and tell me you can’t accomplish the tasks today, then that’s your fault, not mine. After all, it’s your responsibility to manage your own workload, right?

People are not respecting your time, but they will still complain when you don’t coach and mentor

Leaders who aren’t able to manage their time effectively are at risk of losing the ability to do what they were hired to do: to lead. I’ve worked for many a time-poor leader during my consulting career, and my experience was that coaching and mentoring were the first tasks to fall by the wayside when time was limited.

This makes sense, because coaching is not a direct money-making exercise. However, having a coaching culture has been shown to increase employee engagement. This means when you are skipping the coaching and mentoring, while you won’t see a dollar impact in the short term, you can bet that your listless and unmotivated employees will ensure that the bottom line will eventually be affected.

Common distractions in the workplace

I am constantly amazed at how many distractions we put up with in the modern workplace. Here’s some examples of the distractions I have at my desk during a standard day:

  • Email alerts
  • Mobile phone calls and messages
  • Desk phone calls
  • People stopping by my desk to talk
  • Slack notifications (Slack is a communication tool, if you hadn’t heard)
  • Instant messenger notifications
  • Calendar appointment reminders

You can see why it could be easy for somebody to be distracted.

Claim time back without needing to tell anyone

The problem with trying to claim time back from your day can often be that people will be upset with you. “You can’t just turn off your phone”. I get that, you often can’t be uncontactable for long periods, especially in certain jobs that require people to get in touch with you easily.

However, concentrating on the most invasive, distracting forms of communication can be a valuable exercise, and you often don’t even need to tell anybody that you’re uncontactable.

Work in offline mode for email

It’s important to develop an understanding of which communication methods are the most distracting in your day. For me and many others, it is most definitely email, because email can come from anywhere at any time, without any sense of priority. If somebody calls you, generally it’s because they need to discuss something now. But with email, it is up to you to determine it’s priority as it sits in your full inbox.

It could be a message telling everyone about the next Christmas party, an email telling people to clean the kitchen, or it could be a message from any one of your stakeholders who you’re not really thinking about right now.

In other words, emails are often unrelated to the task that you want to work on right now. A simple solution is to work in offline mode for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Given that email is an “asynchronous” form of communication (meaning the communicators are often not engaging in real time), you have tremendous leeway in being able to hold off responding to emails for a little while, at least.

Put your email into offline mode to focus on your priorities at the given moment. You’ll be amazed at the difference to your productivity.

Get away from your desk

It is amazing how easy it is to withdraw from the workplace from time to time, with little immediate impact on anybody.

You know how when somebody calls in sick or goes to a funeral, everybody leaves them alone for the day? The world still turns, and often things are reprioritised or they still get done regardless.

I’m not suggesting you say you’re at a funeral or chuck a sick day, but sometimes booking a meeting room for yourself and working privately for an hour is a great way to get things done. People can’t find you at your desk, so they often just wait until they see you again instead.

The best part is, when somebody asks where you were, you can honestly say, “I was in a meeting”. And it will probably be one of the most productive meetings you’ll have, because it’s with yourself!

Strive to set your priorities for the next day

Many people let others dictate their priorities. The problem with this approach is that most of the time, other people have no idea what your most important priorities are, because they are absorbed with their own tasks.

Recently I’ve started writing down my priorities for the next day, before I leave work in the afternoon. This means that when I arrive in the morning, often not really thinking about what happened the day before, I am immediately up to speed with what I need to address for the day.

I’ve found that failing to set priorities this way leads to reactive behaviour, where you jump from task to task, according to somebody else’s whim, because you haven’t understood your own goals.

When you combine setting priorities with working offline, this can be a powerful way to accomplish the work that really needs to get done, before turning the email back on and being bombarded with an influx of often irrelevant communication.

Remember, if people are not respecting your time, it’s because they don’t care about what is important for you to get done. They are focused on their own priorities. The only way you’ll ever get what you need done is by understanding your own priorities and carving out time to make sure you accomplish them.

Originally published at on May 9, 2016.

Author: Ben Brearley

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