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4 Ways of Keeping Time Thieves at Bay

4 Ways of Keeping Time Thieves at Bay

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.

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

(Photo credit: hand holding stopwatch via Shutterstock)

More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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