Silver pocket watch

What do I miss about the 80’s and 90’s? The control of my own timetable. We didn’t have the mobile technologies, video conferencing, and social networking we do today, which are, of course, very powerful and useful. However, we did have control over our own timetable: we could think first, and then respond.

Back in the day, we went home from work, or we went out after work, but people didn’t keep pinging us with questions, problems or requests. We disengaged, did something different, and came back the next day with a fresh perspective. Granted, there are times when it’s important to get a hold of someone, but what we lost by gaining this instantaneous messaging ability is the control of our own response time.

The worst part is that most of us don’t discuss it. We just respond when we can or we respond out of pressure when we really don’t want to. Neither one is likely to serve you well in the workplace when your clients, coworkers, bosses, and families have different expectations.

In recent years, many of my clients have exhibited symptoms of this problem. I started noticing about 5 year ago that clients had more trouble focusing in a session uninterrupted because their smartphones would make a noise, and they would be distracted by people wanting things from them. In most cases, they had knee-jerk reactions. Many would apologize to me, and some would quiet their phones, but most didn’t have a strategy for dealing with their timetables.

This is different from time management, although it’s related. Timetable control is about communicating expectations to others so everyone knows what to expect.

Strategies & Suggestions:

#1: Spend time understanding your patterns.

How much time do you spend on social media? On interruptions (texts, emails, voicemails)? To what extent are you expected to respond immediately? How is this affecting your well being? Do you feel tired/panicked/rushed or are you managing well? How do others react to your response time? Do you feel pressured to respond faster than you reasonably can? Are there things in your life that you can’t accomplish because you are being drawn into technology-driven communication that is sidetracking you? How would your life be different if you weren’t “tied” to these instant messages?

#2: Know your non-negotiables.

What’s important to you? Do you need weekends free to go to your golf tournaments? Do you need Sundays with family technology-free twice monthly? Do you need evenings to meditate or specific times to exercise? Do you need a 2 hour window for a response rather than an instantaneous expectation? What works for you? What doesn’t?

#3: Accept the consequences.

If you want to make partner at an accounting firm, it may not be realistic to expect copious amounts of free time. You may rationalize that you can retire at 50 with full benefits, but your lifestyle may suffer. What’s ok with you and what isn’t? It’s better to make a conscious choice than to experience an unexpected disaster. Be honest with yourself. Can you make the timetable sacrifice or should you choose a different profession/job/boss/work culture? And if you opt to go for the “gold” in a high pressure job with expectations that you will respond 24/7, what can you do to support yourself to insure your well being?

#4: Communicate your timetable to all parties clearly.

This is the biggest mistake people make around timetables in the workplace: they don’t talk about it. How long do you have to respond to your boss before s/he loses confidence in you? What’s realistic? Is it negotiable? Will you lose respect if you don’t? Will you get passed over for a promotion?  Are there other options in how you respond that you haven’t explored that would make your life easier? Could you communicate this to others without serious consequences?  Can you have different rules for personal and professional? Can you set specific expectations with customers, for example, and different ones with your coworkers or boss? Can you get help/coverage from others? How can you tell people what your timetables are in a way that supports you and them?

What’s important here?

Take control of your timetable, and you will get your life back! In the 80’s and 90’s, we didn’t have all the technology expediencies we have today, but we had peace of mind. Is it possible to have both?