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Time Management

6 Tips to Manage Your Availability

Have you ever felt that you would hurl something at the sight of the next smiling face asking for a moment of your time? Do you have those days when it seems as though you will never finish anything because of questions, interruptions, unsolicited comments and run-of-the-mill chitchat? Working with tight time schedules, combined with increasing amounts of paperwork, e-mail, faxes and special projects thrown at you, managing your available time and reducing interruptions is no longer an option. Your work product, not to mention your sanity, is at stake.

1. Set the Tone of the Conversation

Subtle cues often carry more weight than the spoken word. When people come to your desk do you sit back, push your chair away, turn to face them, smile and basically do the equivalent of put your feet up? Do you ask the fatal question, "What's up?" Resting your head on your hand, leaning against a desk or a doorway, and rocking back and forth are all behaviors that say, "I'm relaxed, I have time, let's shoot the breeze."
Instead of "Hi, how are things?" or "What's new?", try these friendly yet professional openings: "How may I help you?", "What can I do for you?" or "Is there something you need?" Initially, keep your pen poised, fingers on the keyboard or phone in hand. A pleasant yet crisp tone of voice goes a long way to relaying a subtle message of business first, socializing later.

2. State Your Time Constraints

If you only have a few minutes or if you are busy, say so. "I am very busy at this time, can we talk later, or may I refer you to someone who may be able to help you immediately?" Let them make the choice of you later, or someone else now.

3. Steer the Conversation

Beware of visitors with compound agendas. They ostensibly come to discuss a purchase order problem, but once that has been taken care of, you discover that the mailroom is still mixing up deliveries and the new retrieval system is not working as well as expected. Just when you think the issue has been handled, suddenly a new problem is introduced.
Try a list-making strategy with multipurpose talkers: Taking brief notes forces them to be clear and specific while it allows you to get agreement on which issues will be discussed. If writing does not match your style or seems forbidding, ask them to choose the most critical issue and work that one to conclusion. Table the others for later.

4. Beware the Leaping Monkey

When approached with a seeming problem, be sure you are clear about who has the responsibility for tackling it. In your zeal to get back to your interrupted work, be cautious about accepting extra duties. For example, your offer to "look into it," get a list together, call someone else, help make the plan, may make your visitors quite happy—but it does produce a new task for you. Was it appropriate for you to take on this extra work? Turn the conversation around and offer to approve the list or sign off on the plan. Recognize the difference between a request for you to oversee work and requests for you to actually do the work. Beware of the upward delegator.

5. Take Charge

Just because you are in the office does not automatically mean that you are available. Schedule appointments as much as possible, and that includes telephone appointments. Setting a specific time for call backs allows you and the caller to be prepared and cuts down on the number of missed calls or "tag you are it" messages. Allowing voice mail to pickup calls for an occasional hour here and there will help.

6. Happy Endings

It is helpful to signal that your conversation is at an end. Closing statements should not be abrupt, annoying, condescending or patronizing. Use a firm but courteous ending statement: "If that is all, I will get started on this right away"; or "If there is nothing more, let's end here and we'll get back together tomorrow afternoon."

Cueing the person that time is running out is a graceful way to signal the end. For example, "Before we finish...", "Before we wrap it up...", "I see that our time is almost up, is there anything else?"—all of these let the person feel at ease, that your attention is still with them, but that stopping would be appreciated. Your time as well as theirs is a valuable resource. Help them to manage it better while also respecting yours.



Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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