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« Final Date for Competition | Main | SF Tips - #8: Dismissal »

Competition Time

I think it’s time for another competition. So let’s see who can give the best answer to the following question:

How can you avoid being let down by other people’s poor time management?

Answers please in the Comments below. As usual, all comments will be deleted on an ongoing basis except the five best answers to the question in my opinion.  Do not refer to other people’s answers in your reply as their answer may get deleted.

All comments that are not answers to the question will be deleted immediately.

Once the supply of new answers seems to be drying up I will set a deadline for last entries.

The judge’s decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.

The first prize will be for your entry to be featured as a guest post on this blog. Previous winners were Mike Brown and Seraphim.

Reader Comments (5)

I'll prime the idea pump:

You could tell people to use SuperFocus, but most people will resist that notion, and since they aren't using a good time management system, the idea may never percolate enough to come into fruition. ;-(

You could be isolationist, and not involve other people. Then they'll never let you down. That doesn't seem like the best idea.

It helps to set a deadline, so people know when it should be done. The next question is how to help them meet that deadline. The person has poor time management skills. The answer depends in part on your relation to the other. As a parent or teacher you can take a proactive role to mentor good skills. As a boss, you can discuss, plan, follow up, guide. As a friend or colleague, periodic reminders, queries can help.

Okay, now somebody else give a better answer.
April 5, 2011 at 17:19 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Assume the person you are dealing with is NOT organized, while treating them with respect.

All verbal promises should be recorded in a short not form in the left column. In the right column, "confirm details John email"

This places the responsibility on you to guarantee less misunderstandings.

Add to the left hand column: create follow-up template for meetings/deadlines/projects.

Using the same language for similar situations saves you time while making them know you don't tolerate "lip-flapping" without responsibility. With that in mind, you will need to add to the e-mail something like: "This follow-up is to confirm what we discussed about _________ at (list time) (list date or "today"). If I am incorrect in my understanding, please email immediately."

Before leaving the person say you will send an email TODAY about what was discussed to verify understanding and you will only need a one word reply if it is fine: "good" or "Okay" or "Yes."

They won't reply. So in the left hand column, after sending the email, write "reply from _____?" to indicate awaiting reply. Every few days, create a new subject line with the original email "This is correct, right?"

In contract negotiations over a long term this is actually very useful as people tend to forget what they promised. This way you don't have to "renegotiate" every time you see them. "Based on previous discussions and emails, we have already agreed to the following: "

And guess what? Send an email about exactly what was agreed to be done after that meeting too!

This works for contracts, projects, volunteers, and any person who you notice does NOT write down what they said they will or would do.


April 6, 2011 at 20:41 | Unregistered CommenterDoc
There are a host of ideas that will help you cope with other people's poor time management.

In broad terms, ensure that the tasks you ask for have visible reminders, the people who are working on know exactly what's required, how to complete the task, and where to start (essentially making your work easier than their other commitments).

If individuals are consistently late, there's a strategy in one of Mark's books. People are ususally late by a consistent amount of time, so you can plan around them. Resist the temptation to break into their house whilst they're at work and change all their clocks. The police will not believe you.

You can increase the likelyhood that someone will complete a task by getting them to make an active, public commitment. In addition when asking a number of people for help, you can ask them individually, rather than as a group by email - avoiding the bystander effect. Both tips from a book by Robert Cialdini.

You can use Mark's 'I'll just get the folder out' technique with other people. If you're waiting for a specific chunk of work to be completed, you can ask for a tiny piece - 'would you mind just sending me the outline?', etc. This is hard to refuse and can get the ball rolling.

The Four Hour Work Week contains some aggressive strategies to restrict communication to hours of your choosing - the key one is to only answer emails at set times duing the day and effectively communicate it.

Keep a list of tasks that you can do in short windows of time (GTD) - Superfocus actually does this automatically.

Shout louder! People with poor time management skills are always prioritising by urgency. Persistent follow up seems to work as well as anything else. With Superfocus, you can just make this a repeating task. I use a project list with notes about what I'm waiting for and why.

The hardest situation is when the culprit is your boss, and they neglect projects until they become urgent, at which point they pass them off to you. You don't want to end up trying to take responsibility for all their projects, so the best option is to repeatedly, specifically and publicly reward any good time management you see (Bringing out the best in people - Aubrey Daniels). I would also celebrate any project completion or signs of follow through.

If your work is being affected by your peers, make your requests visible to your manager. Additionally send them weekly reports of everything that you're working on and what you're waiting for. Their performance is judged by your ability to finish projects, so it's in their interest to chase work for you. As mentioned before, if you can get the culprit to make a commitment to a deadline in an email, with management cc'd in, this will help a lot.
April 6, 2011 at 22:09 | Unregistered CommenterJohn
The only way to avoid being let down by other people’s poor time management, is to make sure that their time management problem doesn’t become *your* problem. That’s easy to say, but it can a bit difficult to actually achieve.

The way to avoid making other people’s poor time management your own problem will be different depending on the relationship you have with that person. When you’re dealing with a boss with poor time management skills, you can’t just say “It’s your problem, you solve it.” For example, your boss may come in with an urgent question that he needs you to answer for him today, but you’re still busy working on the urgent project that he assigned you last week and that’s due tomorrow. The only way to solve this is to let your boss make the call on what can wait. Point out what your workload is, what you can deliver in what timeframe, and let him decide on what’s most important. This way, you’ll make it clear that you’re willing to do your part, but that you can’t do the impossible, so if he keeps asking the impossible it will be his problem, not yours.

Sometimes you’ll have to deal with poor time management of co-workers. If you know this beforehand, make sure to agree with the person you’re both reporting to where the boundaries of your mutual responsibilities are, and point out where you are dependent on work by others. This is actually not different from common project management techniques: try to figure out beforehand where the risks are, factor in enough time to deal with the risks, or have a plan B in place. Don’t fall into the trap of doing it yourself when work promised by others is not delivered. Apart from making you a very popular co-worker, this will only signal to your co-workers and to your boss that they can get away with it, because any problems they’re causing will be solved by you. When a project is very important you may do this once, but do this repeatedly and you’ll burn out very quickly.

A third situation is when you’re dealing with poor time management in subordinates. In this case, you need to give them just enough assistance to get them going, but not so much that you’re doing significant portions of the work yourself. Coach them into creating a schedule for what they committed to doing, and make sure it’s their own schedule. Ask them if they think it’s a reasonable schedule, and what they will do if something turns out to be more work than they expected. If they agree to a reasonable schedule but still fail to stick to it, let them explain why. If there was an emergency, could they have foreseen it, or factor in additional time to compensate? This way, you keep them accountable for what they committed to, instead of making their time management problem your own problem.

In all these cases, it’s very important to be clear about your own commitments. If you promise to deliver, make sure you deliver. You have to make sure that you take your own commitments seriously, because that’s the only way you can expect the people around you to do the same for their own commitments. Also make sure to remind people about their commitments. If a co-worker promised to deliver a report by Monday morning, remind him by noon if it’s not there. If you wait till Tuesday you’ll give the impression that it could have waited anyway, so next time he will not take your deadlines seriously. If for some reason it’s not possible to set a crisp deadline, you still want to remind them periodically about it. Putting a task for this in SuperFocus, for example “Remind J about policy document?” has proved very effective for me. When this task stands out, it means it’s bugging me enough to start bugging J about it. If it doesn’t stand out, apparently it’s not important enough yet to bother with it. This way, my own time management system helps me clarify my own priorities to the people I work with.

Usually you don’t need to evangelize about your time management system to your co-workers. People will notice that you’re reliable to work with, and they will want to work with you. As a result, you can be picky about who you agree to work with and of course you’ll choose to work only with the reliable ones. In the last job where I had a direct boss, it took him only a few months and one project with an unreliable co-worker to realise that I would be far more effective working with the people I chose to work with instead of the people he assigned me to work with. Problem solved!
April 6, 2011 at 22:13 | Registered CommenterNicole
SET BOUNDARIES. I.e. let people know that you mean business.

For example:

Meetings - make it clear that meetings will start on time without fail
When arranging meetings with people 1 to 1, agree a time/date then make clear that unless I hear from you will assume meeting going ahead (and tell them to phone/text you if can't make it emergency etc) ALWAYS bring some work to do when out of the office so you are not waiting aimlessly (unless of course you need a break!)

Decide which times of the week you are NOT to be disturbed (unless emergency) and include this information in your email signature - you can use this time to get focused work done, etc

Make a sign that says 'do not disturb' - your secretary/pa can field anything - you can then allocate time to decide what to do with those.

Underline what is expected of other people at the beginning of projects so that everyone is clear.

When you say you will do something DO IT (or think before you say you will do it) so that you get a reputation for being reliable and that you will not be messed about. Also - set up systems so that you get back to people if they have forgotten e.g. 'pending'.
April 7, 2011 at 10:57 | Unregistered CommenterNick
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