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4 Ways of Keeping Time Thieves at Bay

4 Ways of Keeping Time Thieves at Bay
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Consider these three scenarios:

  • You’ve had a busy day at work and you decide to take a breather. After a one minute of sitting down with a cup of coffee, your boss calls your name and says, “Hey, do you have a minute?”
  • You are ready to spend a moment with your favorite book when all of a sudden you get distracted by a phone: someone is trying to sell you a magazine subscription.
  • You are about to make finishing touches to a project at work, but you get interrupted by the constant noise in the cubicle.

These scenarios are very common and very annoying.

You are tired of distraction and of the fact that others are defining your rhythm and productivity. With constant distractions and requests, you are not getting enough time for recovery or for getting things done.

Your time usage is dictated by others. It’s no wonder that you want to change the situation and get your stolen time back!

Are you too accessible and helpful?

The main reason why people let others dictate their productivity and steal their time is being too helpful.

For instance, when someone comes to you and makes a request, you want to be help. Also, you don’t want to let down their expectations by saying “no” to them.

Another thing that “helps” time thieves to steal your time is being too accessible. You want to be reachable and open towards others as much as possible. This gives you the reputation of being a nice and trustworthy person.

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However, both of these traits have their downsides too.

In a work environment, you get bombarded with requests whenever possible, thus interrupting your productive time.

At home, you might have a problem with focusing on your own personal projects or finding time to relax in a middle of a hectic work week.

Obviously, there is one crucial thing that is missing in this picture. Do you know what it is?

The negative effects of missing boundaries

Yes, you got it right. The missing thing is boundaries.

Boundaries can be set as physical or non-physical ones and they define the rules you operate by and the way that others should operate as well.

If you haven’t defined boundaries, you are potentially jeopardizing your productivity and it makes easier for others to steal your time.

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First, boundaries define how to handle the situation when something unexpected comes up. For instance, this could be the case when your boss comes to you and gives you an extra assignment.

Second, boundaries help you to protect your time. However, when the boundaries are missing, then people think it’s OK to interrupt you with their requests. They expect that you are accessible whenever they wish.

Third, the lack of using the word “no.” Now, it’s not always easy to say “no,” but it can be done firmly, while still leaving the other person with a good impression of you.

Fourth, an important part of the boundaries is communication. This can be divided into either verbal or written communication and depending on its clearness, that’s how strong or weak your boundaries are.

With proper communication, you are able to block requests that would otherwise make your already busy schedule busier.

Finally, understand that the word “no” is essential too when it comes to defending your personal boundaries. Instead, saying the word “yes” is an open request for time thieves to grab the piece of your time.

Although the word “no” is part of the communication point #4, I wanted to mention it separately, as I think it’s the cornerstone setting your boundaries on a daily basis

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Sorry thieves, the police is here!

To catch the time thieves and give you back the stolen time, follow this plan:

First and foremost, it’s important to set your expectations straight – whether it’s at work or at your home. When people know that you are working on something important, it helps them to respect your time too.

For instance, when someone comes to you at the cubicle, let the person know that you are working on something important and cannot be disturbed. Also, let people know about your phone and e-mail answering policies.

At home, communication is the key as well. For instance, I’m building my  online business on the side (on top of my day job), so I’ll let my family know when I work and when I shouldn’t be interrupted.

When everyone is on the line, no false expectations are set and everyone knows the rules to follow.

It’s a good idea to “isolate” yourself too. By isolation, I’m not talking about disappearing for hours without telling anyone where you are. Instead, I’m talking about controlled isolation, which doesn’t make everyone else concerned.

At work, this isolation could be done by booking a meeting room and working there, at home this could be done by going to work outside (nature, coffee shop, and library) and communicating to your spouse that you’ll be away for a certain amount of time.

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There is one thing to note: You should take a phone with you, so that your spouse can contact you in case of a family emergency. Naturally, you want to be with your family if something notable happens.

Finally, reduce your commitments that aren’t necessary. The more commitments you have, the more probable it is that you will have to give up your time for something you don’t like.

For instance, I belonged to a local computer club in my town and I was asked to be a board member for the club. At first I said yes, but eventually I gave up on the position even though others wanted me to stay.

Eventually I stopped participating in the club’s activities, because I wanted to focus on other things in my life instead. This eliminated some of my commitments and my personal schedules became simpler.

Let’s define your anti-theft alarm system

Follow these four steps to defend yourself from time thieves:

  1. Set your communication policies.If you are at work and feel that you get interrupted a lot, set the auto-responder message telling others when you process your e-mails. This way others are not expecting you to get back to them as soon as possible.It’s also a good idea to mute your phone when you work and also let others know about this too (and also, when you do answer the phone).
  2. Isolate yourself.Book a meeting room at the office if you want to get work done. If possible, you can also work remotely from home if it’s quiet and peaceful there (for instance when kids are at school).At home, if you feel interrupted constantly, try to find a spot in the nature, a coffee shop or a library to do the work. Let your spouse know where you are, how long you are going to be away and at which number he/she can call you in the case of emergency.
  3. Communicate clearly.Make sure other people truly understand your rules and that they don’t assume anything.Also, have a mutual understanding with your boss when it comes to work assignments. Let him/her know that sudden assignments are weakening your working productivity.The same clear communication works with your family too. You can even create a document showing  your working schedule and put it in your refrigerator door, so that it’s easily available and other family members can see it.
  4. Learn to say no. Finally, learn to say no. Although it can be challenging, it’s doable. What matters the most is how you do it.

Conclusion

Time thieves are everywhere and in most of the cases they are not even aware that they are taking your time away.

That’s why it’s important to define boundaries and let everyone know about them. This way, you can focus on your work or for recharging your batteries.

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Over to you: Have you defined boundaries towards time thieves?

(Photo credit: hand holding stopwatch via Shutterstock)

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Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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