How to Stop Your Co-workers From Slowing You Down

We’ve all had those days.

The days when you get to the office at 9 AM, primed for productivity. You have an airtight plan to complete everything on your to-do list.

The next thing you know, it’s 6:30 PM, and you’ve only knocked one thing of your ever-growing list. At that point you’re too tired to do anything else, so you’re left spending your journey home wondering where all the time went.

After I’d experienced this more times than I’d like to admit, I finally stopped to think about what was going on.

I realized that the best intentions fall by the wayside because, well, no one’s an island: We’ve all got colleagues vying for our attention, emails that never stop coming, and meetings that suck up all our time.

In a culture where time is at a premium, the most valuable employees are the ones who not only manage their own time but who also manage other people’s time effectively—essentially allowing themselves more real estate in the day to get their own stuff done.

So, the way to get better at time management is to problem-solve for others. It’s all about helping people help you.

To break it down in a way that feels actionable, I’ve created three broad buckets of people you interact with regularly: your new hire, your teammate, and your boss.

1. Your New Hire: Help Them Prioritize

Joining a new company is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. Most people desire to make a big impact early on to prove that the company made the right choice in hiring them.

But, in my experience—both as the new kid on the block and as the veteran co-worker—it’s all too easy to get bogged down with information, names, and systems. What every new employee needs is not more information, but a way to prioritize it. That way, they can home in on the most important aspects of the job and start to attribute with the understanding that everything else comes with time.

It might sound time consuming but it’s easier than you think and can be accomplished with a brief 30-minute joint exercise.

Try this: Write out every task they’ll be asked to do. Indicate the tasks’ level of importance (high, medium, low), best person to ask questions (POC), and how much of their time they should spend on it (e.g., 10% percent of your week).

It’s important to caution that the levels and time things should take may change or evolve. The idea is to lay out everything the person needs, which’ll enable you not to have to drop everything every hour to explain and answer questions.

2. Your Teammate: Communicate Clearly and Consistently

Whether it’s attending meetings without a purpose, redoing work because of poor communication, or knocking out tasks without a clear direction, the bottom line is that time is being wasted. If you want to feel accomplished when you head out the door each day, you need to find a way to cut down on these issues.

To manage a colleague in a way that boosts your time management, you’re going to have to get very good at communicating.

One idea is to send out deck pre-reads. When you share a presentation, you don’t often have an opportunity to have a productive conversation on next steps or takeaways as people are still processing the information. This results in multiple meetings down the line.

Sending out the presentation early alleviates the endless string of meetings and never-ending email chains. It also encouraged people to come to the meeting prepared, leading to a better, more focused discussion. Sometimes, I’ve even found that I can eliminate the meeting altogether if everyone’s aligned.

3. Your Manager: Own Your Work Streams

The more senior a person becomes, the more stretched they feel. In reality though, it’s not the fresh workload that is overwhelming for your boss—it’s the weight of feeling responsible for “everything” at all times. What anyone in this situation craves is someone who can help them offset their mental stress.
As a direct report, there’s an easy way you can manage up in this instance: Own your work streams.

Your boss should be able to hand something off to you and not have to worry about it until it’s at the sign off or final approval stage. If they can give you a task and essentially consider it checked off their to-do list, you’ve made yourself invaluable. Not only are you saving them time but you’re also giving them much needed mental space and relief to focus elsewhere.

This requires trust, which is key to getting the freedom to set your own schedule and boundaries. If your manager can count on you to get the job done, they’ll be less concerned with the tactics of how you do your job: when you come in, your working hours, etc.

Not sure how well your time management skills stack up? Take this quiz to see how far you’ll need to go to improve. And don’t forget the benefit of taking advantage of your golden hours. This article, on that very topic, explains how planning certain work items around that period will make you insanely productive.

If you approach time management from the perspective of helping your colleagues be more effective, it will save you much more time in the long run. Feel like giving these a try? Let me know what you think on Twitter.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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