Take Back Your Time

August 2, 2010

Time challenges pervade many workplaces. We feel piled up, dumped on or both as we try to swim our way to the surface. It has to do with work flow issues and unclear prioritization.

When we are in reactive mode, we allow external circumstances to inform our day. What the boss said, how the meeting went, where you’re going next…if we are clear about our goals (and the agreements to reach them), we are much better off. We place ourselves in proactive mode, which is a much more powerful place to be.

“I’m not in control of my calendar,” one HR executive told me recently. She has five administrative assistants who place meetings on her schedule, thereby leaving her with back-to-back meetings with no breaks all day long.

Not good.

Centralization is called for here. That is, having one person act as the time gatekeeper. The admin team needs to coordinate amongst themselves to avoid such inhuman demands.

It is a situation I saw happen often when working at an investment firm in Boston.

“I haven’t had a lunch in months,” my boss used to say. I tried to keep his calendar clear for breaks in between, but the hierarchy of the organization trumped those efforts frequently. He was also the one who used to say to me: “I will do this job as long as I’m having fun. The moment is turns not fun is the moment I’m out of here.”

He left the company shortly after I did.

If nothing else, Corporate America taught me a tremendous lesson about our relationship with time. We have as much of it as the next.  The question is what do we do with it and who really is in control?

It is time that we take back our time and work together as a team to reach our ultimate goals. Besides, a happy worker is a more productive one. Owning our time informs that happiness to a very large degree.

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Admittedly, I was zooming through town a tad too fast. Fueled by my excitment at landing a new PR account (based in the juicy slow land of Bullerbü ~yes, Sweden!), I almost overlooked a family of ducks walking pompously across the road. They didn’t waddle. No, no. They strutted in web-footed fashion. They weren’t eager to cross to the other side either. They walked like they owned the place.

It’s happened on that corner of the street before. I should have known they might be out for their daily country jaunt. Luckily, I slowed fast enough for them to carry out their mission undeterred.

The family of birds reminded me of a long-forgotten book I used to read to the kids when we lived in Boston: Make Way for Ducklings, a true story about a policeman who ushered a family of ducks across the street on a frequent basis. We can learn from stories and experiences such as these. Slowing our pace, despite our distraction about this or that, can bring us into present time, the only real time we have.

What will you do to make way for ducklings in our life today? Do tell!

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