The Secret Power of Time Locking: How to Find Flow by Disappearing

Developed from the ProThink Learning online course Time Management: Recapturing Lost Time

ProThink Learning
7 min readJul 28, 2021

To make high-quality decisions and do high-quality work, you need uninterrupted blocks of time that allow you to fully immerse yourself in a project. Doing that will improve your performance and thus benefit your clients and colleagues — not just in your busiest seasons but all year long. We call this a Time Lock, which we define as a set period of work time that cannot be interrupted by anyone, barring any emergencies. Time Locking only works if both the Time Bandits — or interrupters — and the Time Lockers — or interruptees — agree to its successful execution. So how do you Time Lock, and more importantly, how do you get others to understand what you’re doing?

How Do I Use Time Locking?

The first predictable challenge to Time Locking lies in how you convey your unavailability to the people that are accustomed to finding you with an open door. After all, our Time Bandits aren’t strangers on the street or wrong numbers on the phone. They are our most treasured relationships: clients, colleagues, family, and friends. The solution is to artfully explain to Time Bandits that Time Locking is as good for them as it is for you, utilizing a pre-scripted and rehearsed request for the Time Bandits’ indulgence.

The Key to Quiet Time: Time Locking

So what exactly is Time Locking?

To Time Lock is to voluntarily commit yourself (and to get a commitment from your Time Bandits) to become empowered and enabled so that you may work within pre-determined blocks of uninterrupted time.

In order to implement Time Locking into our schedules consistently, we developed a series of step-by-step minimum daily action Time Locking rules. Here is what that looked like for us:

While your solution may not look exactly like this, this is the formula that has worked for us. With the time surplus we’ve gained from utilizing these steps, we have been able to set achievable, higher standards and increase goals and objectives for operations.

What we also discovered, however, is that Time Locking will not work without genuinely committed mutual agreements between the interrupters (Time Bandits) and the interrupted. This means, for Time Locking to become a solution for overcoming interruptions, both the Time Bandits and their victims must be of one mind, which is that Time Locking is in their mutual best interests.

The Mutual Time Lock Agreement

Because of this mutual value, we added another important feature to Time Locks: the Mutual Time Lock Agreement. By negotiating with your colleagues and your counterparts mutually acceptable Time Locks, you and they will be spared interruptions, and you will also be spared the difficulty or inconvenience that someone else’s Time Lock might otherwise cause you. Not only do we spare ourselves unnecessary time and expense, but we work more harmoniously with others as well.

We have used “Do-Not-Disturb”-style signs to indicate to our colleagues when we are Time Locking and are thus unavailable. Even if you don’t do the same and use an actual Time Locking sign, it’s a good attitude to have to reduce the interruptions. You can use the jargon, “I’m Time Locking.” It doesn’t have the sting of “I’m busy,” and yet it firmly tells your colleagues, assistants, or any of your other Time Bandits that what you’re doing is best done now without interruption.

So that’s Time Locking:

● Being alone

● Utilizing Quiet Time

● Uninterruptedly doing what you must do

Time Locking can bring focus and even joy, or at least serenity, to what would otherwise have felt like pressure and drudgery.

I Want to Try Time Locking. How Do I Start?

Now that you understand what Time Locking is and how it can be used — and for the moment, making the very large assumption that your Time Bandits will totally go along with your Time Locking proposal — please consider and answer the following questions:

Now that you know that Time Locking has mutual win-win benefits, you will need to accept the following challenge: how do you find the right words to articulate that benefits are mutual and not just one-sided?

Proposing Time Locking to Clients

You may be thinking, “It’s one thing to gain Time Locking cooperation from colleagues. But let’s get real, clients are a whole different ballgame. How in the world can you possibly say to a client, ‘I can’t talk to you right now, I’m in a Time Lock!’?”

Our answer to you is . . . don’t do that! That said, how do you explain to the client that they would benefit as a result of Time Locking? Would you know how to articulate those benefits in such a way that the client would embrace and, in fact, perceive you as innovative, resourceful, and ultimately desirous of providing superior service?

Would it make a difference if the client perceived you as “proposing” rather than insisting upon the Time Lock concept for him or her to consider?

In other words, you’re going to have to negotiate with your client. You will get your Time Bandits to want you to Time Lock. You aren’t just manipulating to make your Time Lock sound valuable. You are making your Time Bandit understand how your Time Lock serves their needs.

We know that may sound outlandish — how in the world can you possibly say to a client, “I can’t talk to you right now, I’m in a Time Lock!”?

Here is an example of how:

We came to learn this lesson from an investment advisor in our network, Steve Antebi. We had a colleague, Ed, that became one of Steve’s worst Time Bandits.

During a very volatile period in the stock market, when the market would fluctuate wildly, Ed would call Steve during trading hours and ping him with questions about this equity or that — why is it moving, what’s going on? Now listen to Steve’s assistant handling Ed’s interruption:

“How nice to talk to you, sir. Steve, as you might expect, is doing some very important market research and in particular, the equities in your personal portfolio. Would you like me to disturb him right now or is there anything I can do to answer any questions you may have?

“Naturally, he told me that if you called and it was anything critical, I should definitely interrupt him. If it’s not critical, then perhaps I can set a phone appointment for you both after market hours that would be mutually convenient?”

Ed was impressed. Her professionalism made him realize that he was in the hands of, well, professionals, who let him know — in words and tone — that he mattered. Ed was comforted: Steve was working on the very things that he was anxious about. And he was convinced by his assistant’s logic.

Why in the world would Ed interrupt his broker if he was working on what Ed had been fretting about? Ed did what had been suggested and set an appointment for after trading hours.

A polite, professional, logical little speech — that’s all it took to convert this Time Bandit, Ed — and to give Steve the Time Lock he desperately needed to manage Ed’s portfolio (and everybody else’s as well). They made it look easy.

But what if they had done it poorly?

What if Steve’s assistant had said, “I’m sorry, he’s busy. I’ll have him call you back later”? Not only would Ed have been offended by the brush-off, but his anxiety about his portfolio would have spiked even higher. “Later will be too late for what I’m worried about.”

What if she had put Ed through and Steve had said, “Ed, I know you’re worried but I can either talk to you or work on your portfolio, but I can’t do both.” Factual, but rude — still making a customer feel inconvenient, not valued.

What if she had not explained what Steve was doing? It was her logic that made Ed realize he was on Steve’s radar, and Steve was taking care of Ed’s business. Steve’s Time Lock was Ed’s gain.

It is just a matter of polite, direct, and clear communication in combination with a logical justification for the Time Lock. By anticipating what a worried client needs — politeness, comfort, assurance, logic — and delivering it, you can overcome the objections you would otherwise run into.

To recap, Time Locking is only effective if all parties involved agree to it and understand how it benefits them. By explaining the mutual benefits of a Time Lock in clear, validating, and logical terms to your Time Bandits, they are more likely to want for you to Time Lock so that they, too, benefit from your concentration. With a mutual agreement in place, you and your Time Bandits will not only get more high-quality work done, but you will also strengthen your working relationships.



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