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Be Aware of Time Traps and Tools

It's some managers' worst enemy, but time can easily be turned into a powerful tool

By KEVIN T. McCARNEY

Of all the influences in our lives, time seems to be the one we feel we have the least ability to manage. But actually, it is the one we have the most control over. In fact, it’s an area of opportunity.

Time is perfectly consistent. The circumstances that we put ourselves in throughout any given 24 hours are what change. When we overschedule our lives, we create the circumstances that make time seem as if it was working against us.

You need to respect time by planning for enough time to accomplish what you want to accomplish. If we pack too many activities into too little time, we get stressed. If we let time know how we want to spread out our activities, it will be there, like clockwork, to help us organize. It’s a tool when we use it to our advantage – and a major trap when we let it get the best of us.

Here are some tools and traps that you need to know about when dealing with issues where time is an opportunity:

Telegraphing Tool

We don’t send telegraphs to people anymore, but there are plenty of other ways to send advance notice. Let people know when something is coming up that will affect their lives: a job change, new policies, a major deadline, new rules of the house, etc. Telegraph anything that takes people out of what is familiar or routine and comfortable to them. This provides processing time for them to accept the circumstances and make the most of them.

Ambushing Trap

When you fall into the ambushing trap, you punish yourself and those around you by pushing immediate demands on people who are not expecting them or prepared to handle them. People have little to no processing time to understand what is happening. Ambushes are negative surprises and are not appreciated.

Time Parachutes Tool

When you receive a Little Brain message from someone else, it is always best to wait as long as you can before responding. If you’re pressured for a fast response, use time parachute phrases – like a pilot’s parachute, they’ll get you out of a bind. Here are a few:

  • Let me think about that.
  • I don’t know if I have enough time right now.
  • Can you give me some time to consider that?

If you don’t take the advantage of time parachutes, you can easily slip into “fire, ready, aim” mode.

Speed Messaging Trap

You fall into the trap of speed messaging when you send messages that have not been thought through and demand a quick response, or you react to a message without taking the time to think about your response. You can easily seem hot-headed if you make a habit of speed messaging.

Good Timing Tool

A synonym for “good timing” is “tact.” You’re tactful when you embrace the art of waiting. Ask yourself, “Is this the right time to have this discussion?” Similarly, you are prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Having the information you need and using it at the right moment makes the encounter successful.

Bad Timing Tool

You can use the right words and the correct tone and even be calm and in control, but if your timing is bad, the encounter itself will leave you wishing you had waited for a better time to deliver your comments. You fall into the trap of bad timing when you:

  • Force an issue or question on others because it fits your time schedule – without pausing to ask yourself if it’s the right time for them to address it.
  • Make even well-meaning suggestions at an insensitive time.
  • Pile on or add to others’ anxieties by burdening them with new problems at a difficult time.

Time is an opportunity, but it’s so easy to twist time into something that works against you. Time can be one of our greatest friends if we understand how to use it. Telegraph changes and stay away from ambushing.

Kevin T. McCarney is the author of “The Secrets of Successful Communication: A Simple Guide to Effective Encounters In Business.”