I’m talking with a client of mine the other day, when I bring up an appointment on his calendar that wasn’t there before. He lets me know that someone else added it to his calendar. Not another assistant, not someone he delegated to, but a colleague who took it upon himself to schedule something for my client.
My jaw dropped. Maybe it was a mistake? Maybe he just meant to talk to him about it instead of actually scheduling it?
Nope. This guy actually scheduled a meeting (with a 3rd party) for my client without talking to him first to even see if he was really available. He just added the appointment to his calendar. Didn’t say anything. Just let us see it.
I know people say all the time that usually the biggest culprit of your loss of productivity is yourself, but a lot of the times its other people too. People constantly interrupting your work with needless questions or favors that could quite easily be put in an e-mail. Or, in this case, people scheduling your time for you. I mean, how can you expect to be productive if you can’t even decide how to spend your time?
The answer is, you can’t. That’s why if you want to be more productive this year, you have to set boundaries with those you work with.
So how do you set those boundaries without creating unnecessary conflict?
First, when you set aside time to work, make it clear you aren’t to be disturbed for any reason.
Maybe make a sign to hang outside your office door that says something like “Work in Progress, Do Not Disturb”. Don’t leave this up all the time or it will lose its affect. Put the sign up when you start working and take it down after the hour or two you set aside.
Also, don’t be afraid to shut off your phone or put it in airplane mode. 99% of “emergencies” are not emergencies but rather inpatient colleagues and customers. They will be just fine for an hour until you can return their call. If you make yourself available all of the time, you are allowing other people to dictate how you will spend your time. They get to say, “You will take my call and take care of my needs right now at this time no matter what you intended to work on.”
Second, there is a time and a place when you need to say no.
While everyone knows that delegating is essential to productivity, there is a difference between delegating and passing your work off on other people who have no business doing it. Every person in your company was hired for a reason, a purpose, based on his or her strengths, including you. While you should always be looking on how you can go above your job description, you don’t want to really go outside of it.
So, if a colleague tries to “delegate” something to you that isn’t your job or that isn’t within your strengths (meaning it might take you longer than someone else, etc.), you need to politely but sternly let them know that you are unable to do said task. Perhaps provide them with a better person to delegate it to or a different solution, or just leave it at no, but the key is that you do say “no”.
Third, make sure others you work with respect the value of your time.
If you are finding yourself spending more time in meetings than doing the actual action items resulting from those meetings, then you have a boundary problem.
Many meetings are unnecessary, almost are are poorly planned or poorly ran, and many never result in any follow ups. What does this mean? That you are just wasting all of that time.
So, when someone sends you a meeting invite, ask to see a copy of the agenda. First of all, that will make sure that there is some structure to the meeting, but it will also allow you to see if the meeting is necessary (or if the discussion could happen just as easily and successfully over e-mail) and/or if your attendance is necessary (if you’re in sales, you don’t need to be in an R&D meeting). This will eliminate time wasting meetings out of the gate.
Also, suggest that everyone leave their phones at their desks during the meeting to eliminate distractions (also its just rude) and ask who will be taking meeting notes and sending the follow ups. There’s already an agenda, this is what the meeting should be about point by point. Don’t start talking about next quarters numbers when the meeting is about next months tradeshow. That’s a different meeting (actually probably just an e-mail). This will make sure the meeting is productive…. which literally means results actually get produced from it.
Fourth, address anyone who clearly crosses a boundary immediately.
Like my client I described above, if someone does cross a line, you absolutely have to say something right away. You do not get brownie points for not wanting to hurt their feelings. You do not get an ethics trophy for waiting to say something. You don’t have to be a jerk, but you have to stop them, show them the line they crossed, and walk them back over it.
They might not have even realized they crossed a line. You may be a woman reading this and we tend to try subtle hints, but in business you can’t. Be clear. Be specific.
You cannot complain about not being able to structure your time or feeling taken advantage of if you are not willing to set boundaries and enforce them. You will never reach a high level of productivity or even success without boundaries. Don’t back down. Don’t let someone else set your boundaries. Don’t let a colleague cross your boundary over and over. Be clear. Be specific.
Any additional suggestions for boundaries you think need set with colleagues? Leave them in the comments below or submit to AMoore@VirtuallyYoursVA.com!
As someone who always made people ask, “How does she do it?”, I had to learn how to fit more into my day without completely losing my mind. Now I’m excited to share how I did that and what I’ve learned with everyone else. I just want to see people able to live the life they want, doing the things they want, without the stress they think is normal. I want everyone to experience Peace of Time.