Time Bandits: Who They Are, How to Find Them, and How to Take Charge

To work effectively and productively, it’s important to have uninterrupted time to focus. We call these uninterrupted work periods Time Locking. By Time Locking, you reclaim the time that would otherwise get taken from you by Time Bandits, or the people in your life — at work and home — that need your attention, even when you’re doing other things.

To successfully Time Lock, you need to know how to communicate the mutual benefits of your uninterrupted work time to your Time Bandits. To show you what we mean, we’ve made a list of probable Time Bandits, and we’ve laid out instructions for how to communicate with them, starting with clients.

Reinforcing Time Locking against client interruptions might be your biggest challenge because the client is the lifeblood of any firm. Conveying the perception, for any reason, that you are under-servicing a client is counterintuitive to what you and your firm stand for. However, you will probably find that your clients are not offended if you know “what to say” and “how to say what to say.”

What Are the Time Bandit Rules?

Rule 1: Client Call-in Interruption Scenario

Educate your clients about how you run your business with respect to how to maximize client service. All clients know that you have a stockpile of clients, each of whom is entitled to the same quality of service, so they’ll fully understand and appreciate the fact that you cannot and should not be on the phone with two clients at precisely the same time. Thus, the most professional approach, Time Locking notwithstanding, is to make certain that you can provide the very best service to each of your clients by setting mutually convenient telephone appointments. Time-managed appointment setting is particularly effective if the client requires more than just a few moments of your time to answer questions that require research.

The best time to explain your Time Locking desires to your client is at the time you make your initial callback to the client whom you could not speak to because you were already on the phone with another client. Let your client know your Time Locking action plan using a script, which will be of particular help if the client objects to setting a telephone appointment. You will develop an excellent first-person response that your client will understand and accept as you hone the script you use. Some examples of possible scripts follow.

Rule 2: Client Walk-in Interruption Scenario

You are speaking on the phone with one of your clients who cooperated with your Time Locking proposal (as per Rule #1) and another client comes by and sits at your desk, nervously tapping his foot waiting for you to get off the phone. Your mind is also on a report that is due within a half-hour to your boss, and he is not the most understanding chap. So what do you do?

Well, the only difference between a walk-in and a call-in interruption scenario is that you’ll be forced to allow the client who walks in on you to interrupt you at least one time. However, the same rules that apply to client call-ins also apply to walk-ins. So after you politely respond to your walk-in client by satisfying whatever need precipitated their interruption, before they leave, take that perfect time to educate your client about your Time Locking rules and gain their consensus.

If you were a walk-in client, would you be offended if, just before you left, someone said to you the following:

Nancy, although I was delighted to see you and glad to have been of service, I didn’t expect you. I have a lot more I’d like to go over with you. The reason I can’t do it now is, unfortunately, I have another client waiting. What I like to do with my best clients is to set phone or in-person appointments during which I try not to allow myself to be interrupted. This ensures we have quality time where I can give you my undivided attention to attend to your needs. Let’s pick a day and time that’s convenient for you and schedule an appointment. However, should you ever have an emergency, please don’t hesitate to call me at any time.

Most of our clients are like us — they’re mostly considerate, well-mannered, and cooperative. Unfortunately, we’ll always remember the ones that are not. Those clients might say, “Hey, I need you now and what’s more, I don’t care about your other clients. When I want you, I want you immediately.”

Frankly, those types of interactions are rare, so let’s not overreact to extreme and unusual circumstances and throw away the baby with the bath water. However a good reply for this scenario could be:

I understand. Let me tell one of my colleagues that I’m going to be working with you. Do you have an idea how much time we will need? That way, if any of my current appointments need to be rescheduled, I can let them know.

Naturally, if you have a lot of walk-ins, then you’re going to have to make this same speech a number of times. If that is the case, then:

● Over time, your client base will have learned how you work, and why you work that way.

● Clients will make appointments with you (or through your colleagues) or call you at a time you set aside for accepting calls.

● These clients are cooperating with you, therefore you should extend yourself by giving them the very best service that you can during your telephone or in-person appointment.

● Likewise, thank them for their understanding, patience, and for cooperating with your time-management needs.

● Finally, let them know how accessible you are with respect to appointment setting.

My experience has been that when you set appointments with walk-ins or call-ins, your clients will respond positively. Instead of complaining, they are likely to compliment you on the fact that you operate within a highly disciplined, professional structure and, in fact, will trust you more.

We have been told by our clients that when they begin setting appointments like this, their friendship and bond with their clients actually grow, because their clients understand just how hard they work to be of service to them.

Next, what are the colleague and manager Time Bandit rules?

Rule 3: Colleague Interruption Scenario

You’re a department head having a great day at work — making fast progress on your biggest project. At 10:00 a.m. you see an email from HR “To all employees” and you know, without glancing at the subject line, that they’re announcing the new bonus program. You will your eyes away, refusing to open the email until you finish this project. You say to yourself “focus, focus, focus.” But not two minutes later, another department head appears in your doorway. You know she wants to talk about implementing the bonus program in your group and so she says, as she always does, “Got a minute?” She is obviously expecting your usual answer: “Sure, come on in.”

Realize that your colleagues, including your bosses and subordinates, probably face the same Time Locking challenges as you do, and they, too, would very much like to gain situational control over their time by controlling their interruptions by training their respective Time Bandits as well.

For this reason, negotiating a Mutual Time Lock Agreement — an agreement between you and a Time Bandit that you will do uninterrupted work at a certain time — will be a simple matter of going over the benefits to each of you, to the point where they not only will agree to respect your Time Lock, but will be enthusiastic, provided, of course, you respect theirs.

With the Mutual Time Lock Agreement, you have a great opportunity to negotiate an arrangement with your colleagues where, for example, they may cover your calls if you cover theirs or provide some minimal, task-related service to deal with walk-in and call-in traffic. Your assistants and colleagues can explain to your clients the fact that you are in a meeting and set phone appointments on your behalf.

Rule 4: Manager Interruption Scenario

Your manager can be one of the most pervasive of all the Time Bandits, and if you are someone else’s manager, you may be the most pervasive Time Bandit for your subordinates. Therefore, consider the fact that the same rule that applies to your colleagues could likewise apply to your manager.

Hopefully, managers, more than anyone, will respect your Time Locks if they trust you and believe that respecting your Time Locks will help you meet their deadlines.

Here’s a typical scenario. Your boss travels frequently to meet with customers. It’s not unusual for him, on returning from a trip, to drop in on you unannounced to simply “catch up.” It’s always an interesting conversation — you like to hear what the customers are saying, and he often imparts essential information. But still, his visits are often sudden, so you don’t have an opportunity to rearrange anything else on your schedule. Also, the visits are lengthy, so you sometimes leave other employees hanging and sometimes end up working late. The script that we’re proposing you use is as follows:

I’m anxious to hear about your trip and equally anxious to meet your critical deadlines. However, to do a good job and meet the deadline, it will take my full uninterrupted concentration, and if it would be acceptable to you, I’d very much like to set an appointment with you later on in the day, or at another time after 3:00 p.m. In fact, what I typically do with my other colleagues that I’d love to be able to do with you, is to let them know in advance when I might have some focused Time Lock needs. Would you mind terribly if I come to see you after my Time Lock opens?

Another script that we use for managers and subordinates is this:

Between 1:00 and 3:00, I’ll be Time Locking to complete the extremely important task you have given me. I promise to get back to you at precisely 3:00 p.m. Will that work for you?

You know it would be foolish of a manager to interfere with a subordinate’s productivity. Unless, of course, what their manager needed from them is more important.

However, we’re no fools, and neither are you. If your manager doesn’t want to honor your Time Lock, then, unless you’re independently wealthy, we suggest you simply say, “Of course, how can I help?”

If, as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, these four rules are simply the first step. They are one of many ways to improve your productivity and the quality of your work, and all they require is some direct and skillful communication. Using these scripts, you can practice setting Time Locking boundaries with Time Bandits in your life to not only optimize not your work time, but to be of better service to them, as well.

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