As a freelance copywriter and editor who lives life on the clock, I’m always interested in better time management. So I paid particular attention to a recent post from Patty Azzarello (@pattyazzarello) titled “Protect your time: And don’t feel guilty.” Aha, I said to myself, I bet there’s some good stuff here that I should share with my LinkedIn network. And I was right. In fact, I recommend reading her post yourself—it will take you about three minutes—and subscribing to her weekly wisdom. It’s definitely worth your time.
Before her tips—and there are just two, but they are powerful—here’s what’s Ms. Azzarello believes is behind the trouble you may be having protecting your time.
Dealing with Interruptions
Most of us deal with interruptions. Whether we’re in a cube, an office, one of those dreadful open plan work environments, or working at home, we all get interrupted. All the time.
Ms. Azzarello talks to people who try to schedule their time but still can’t manage to get a few uninterrupted hours to think during the work week. And she says, “You need to give yourself permission to schedule this time, and then you really need to protect it.”
She notes that many of us respond to interruptions because of the pressure we put on ourselves to be always available.(This pressure may be much greater than what others place on us.) Ironically, folks who are chronically busy because they want to be perceived as super-responsive get laid off anyway. And sadly, “Your company can absorb an unlimited amount of work from you and not really care.”
Here’s what you need to do
Ms. Azzarrello recommends hiding. Yes, hiding. Making yourself “physically out of sight.” I am here to tell you that this simple, but not necessarily easy, tactic works, whether you work for yourself or for a company.
When I need to think about how to say something or simply need to stop compulsively checking email, the best thing I can do for my clients and myself is to take a 30-minute walk. Even though I’m listening to birdsong or patting my favorite neighborhood pup, my brain is still working subliminally as my Fitbit records my steps.
Hiding is great, but you also need to change people’s expectations of your behavior. Ms. Azzarrello says, “What you need to do is change those expectations with new habits. And that can be difficult…but maybe not as difficult as you think.” (I think you also need to change your expectations of yourself. If you’ve kept yourself super-busy for years and prided yourself on responding quickly to others’ requests, you need to retrain yourself, too. )
Ms. Azzarello suggests that you start small and repeat what you plan to do—working without interruption for two hours on Thursdays—so that it sinks in. As she says, “You need to train people how to treat you.”
At the heart of her post, I believe, is the message that only you can manage your time. (“Do or don’t do,” said Yoda. “There is no try.”) And time management is important because you want to be involved in activities with great value to your company and yourself.