effectiveness

Is the way you communicate holding you back? How to polish your technique. (a series)

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We all think we’re pros.

We’ve been communicating for years, decades, and we’re pretty good at it.

Except when we’re not.

Whether you’d call yourself an expert or you’re just getting started on the journey of better conversations, we all have room to grow.

This is the first in a series of posts (check back for more!) about improving your communications and I’ll cover some of the basics as well as some of the more nuanced, but conversation-saving, elements of connecting with the people around you.

Let’s get started, because where you start really matters.

Think back to your last conversation that didn’t go well.

How did it begin?

You’re probably thinking about what you said (or what they said). The words. How you said them. The background of the whole conversation.

Let me ask a different question: Did you begin already knowing the (right) answer?

We often do, even when we think we’re starting with an open mind.

Beginning with the firm belief that you don’t know the answer is the first key to successful communication.

Most of us are probably already lining up the reasons why that can’t be right. One mouse-click away from jumping to the next article, but really consider that question.

How often do you start an important conversation already knowing what the “right” answer is? Or what the field of “possible” answers looks like? Most of us do this without evening being aware of it.

Obviously, there are times when the right answer really is the right answer. How to sweep a fire extinguisher, the temperature at which water boils. Those aren’t the kinds of conversations or facts that we struggle with.

When you believe that you don’t know the right answer, you make space in the conversation for options. You widen the field. You let other people into the conversation with their perspectives, their knowledge, and their experience.

But what if I do know the right answer.

You don’t.

We are flawed decision-makers. We have a bias towards what we already know, we surround ourselves with information that supports our thinking, and we don’t challenge our opinions or question our own ideas often enough.

(There’s a large body of research on this topic, you can find some of it in the books and sites below.)

You can’t know the right answer until you’ve opened your mind enough to look around. Otherwise, you just know what you think is the right answer and you haven’t done your homework.

If you start your conversation from your answer, it may feel like you’re several steps down the road, saving time and heading toward a better decision, when you’re actually heading off in the wrong direction.

What you need in complicated situations is a deep pool of information to draw from, and you alone don’t have all the information.

Does this mean I have to hide what I know just to make people feel like they’re part of the decision?

No. That’s actually just doing the same thing we’re trying to avoid. Put what you know out there, into the pool, but invite others first, fill it up together before you make your decision.

For example,

If you bring your team together to solve systematic problems – say you’re having routine failures in your ability to deliver products on time – and you know that what’s not working is the supervisors’ oversight of the deadlines, you might focus on that part of the system.

You might argue with me that you know this, because you’ve seen communications between supervisors and their staff. It’s all pretty clear.

Ask yourself: what if you’re wrong?

The cost of beginning with your answer may be missing the critical information that helps you actually solve the problem.

You could begin by assuming that the broken link is in the supervisor-employee communications, alienating everyone in the room in the process.

If instead you begin by sharing what you’ve seen (facts only!) and asking what they know, you may unearth a series of other data points that helps you all see the full picture.

You may learn that there are problems with other parts of the system, or that an earlier production phase isn’t working, leaving your supervisor-employee team scrambling to make up time at the cost of quality.

If you don’t ask, you won’t know.

Learning to make space for new information will improve the decisions you and your team make.

Key take-aways

If you hear yourself beginning a conversation with any of these red-flag phrases, pause, reframe, and invite others into the pool of information:

“I think we should…..”

“The way to solve this problem is….”

“What if we did……”

“We’ve already done this so……” (sets you up to continue a pattern or build on past decisions)

Consider these as alternatives:

“How may ways could we…..”

“Are there ways to achieve multiple goals here…..”

“What are the options we have used before and what haven’t we used…..”

“What are we trying to achieve (not how)….”

“If someone new walked in the door, what do you think they would do……” (opens up options beyond what you’ve already done)

 

For more about the pool of information idea, read Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzier 

For better decision-making, try Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath 

For why starting with being right doesn’t work, consider Better Leaders, Better Teams by Roger Schwarz

Check back or sign up for notifications if you’d like to receive more tips to improve your communications.

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The User is Not Broken

Imagine this: You need to attend a conference, so you fill out the paperwork and send it off.

A few days later, the envelope returns, but instead of an approval, it contains your paperwork bandaged with a pre-printed post-it note with a list of mistakes you were likely to make.

Sure enough, several of those boxes are bleeding check marks.

The implicit message that official looking post-it note sends is that you and all the other people filling out forms are so broken  the accounting department had to order up those post-it notes to make it easier to send your mistakes back to you.

Are you that broken?

I don’t think so.

The post-it note is a well-intentioned effort to fix something that’s broken, but it’s not you.

If someone has to pre-print sticky notes to tell people not to do the same thing over and over, it’s not the users who are broken, it’s the system that’s broken.

User experience is a tech term that’s emerging in customer service conversations, and thank goodness.

From thinking about online experiences like going to the grocery store to redesigning library experiences based on observing patrons (bending over to find your holds? maybe we’ll move the shelves!), putting yourself in the user’s mind brings a new dynamic to your systems thinking.

What’s on your post-it note?

Think of a situation you feel you live over and over. Telling people the same thing? Trying to get them to bend to your expectations or to understand what you’re asking of them.

Instead of guessing what they need to do it right, ask them how *they* think your system works (or doesn’t)?

Do people not know what your expectations are?

Is the information you’ve put out up-to-date?

Is information easy to find or are conflicting instructions drifting around in old desk drawers, shelves, and online?

What’s getting in their way?

What will it take to fix the problem?

It’s easy to let systems linger in a state of half-brokenness because it takes time and attention to fix them and fixing is often seen as “extra” work. We’ve all got a lot to do, so we put these systems projects on the back burner.

But consider this: it takes time to print up the notes, fill them out, send the paperwork back, and you probably still have to explain the “right” way to do things because the reason they weren’t done properly in the first place is that the user doesn’t have all the information.

Plus, each negative interaction is not making your customers feel like they should do better; it’s making them mad. At you. Because they know it’s your system that’s broken, not them.

Catch yourself in that moment of thinking “why don’t they just do this right?” and you’ve found the gateway into thinking about fixing your system from the user’s perspective.

How do you find the time?

There’s no silver bullet for this one. You just have to decide it’s a priority. The funny thing is, once you identify a priority and scope it out, it becomes more manageable.

Ask for help. Do you need resources? Is there someone in your group who would love to take this one (maybe the person who was frustrated enough to order those pre-printed post-it notes?)

Free them up. Give them a deadline. Help them figure out how to work with the users.

Work your calendar.

Don’t let the perfect solution hold you back.

Try things.

It would be lovely to have an automatic online system that handles everything for you and completely meets your users’ needs. But by the time you go through that process, you’ve probably invested a year (or more) and continued to frustrate your users. And what if it’s not what your users need?

Instead of investing in the big-fix, begin with your users.

Ask them: what can you do now? Breaking mega-problems into smaller pieces (update the manual and put it online for everyone) can yield the incremental improvements that generate some energy and momentum for the longer-term projects. And you may discover that what you thought was the answer wasn’t. For some detailed examples of how this works in real-life, check out the Chapel Hill Public Library‘s user design experience page here.

Remember: it’s the system that needs to change. 

The user? They’re fine. No fixing necessary.

 

What should you have delegated today?

Before you leave your desk today, jot down one thing you should have delegated but didn’t.

No excuses, no “but I had no choice“, just think of one thing you could have asked someone else to do.

Try it again before you go to sleep. Was there a moment in your day when you could have asked for help but didn’t? Or did someone offer to help you and you turned them down without even really considering the offer?

Sometimes we don’t even realize when we’re lifting a load someone could help us with because we’re so used to getting it done.

“I’ll just put this slide presentation together myself because I know where the images are and it’ll be faster that way.”

“It’ll take me longer to explain how to do this right than to just do it myself.”

“But they won’t do it as well as I would….”

Sound familiar?

When we don’t ask for and accept assistance, we’re not only limiting ourselves, we’re limiting the people around us.

Several years ago, I wanted to teach my kids how to help in the kitchen when they were little. It was easier to make the meal myself. It was done faster, it looked better, and the kitchen didn’t get nearly as messy.  But when I was able to set aside my image of how things should be, I was able to accomplish two pretty big things: they learned a few things about cooking and, perhaps more importantly, I wasn’t resentfully working alone in the kitchen while they did something else: we spent the time together. I’d say that boost to our happiness was worth every crumb on the floor.

Work seems like higher stakes than cooking (until you’re contemplating whether to hand that kitchen knife to your kid) but remember what it was like to be new at your job? You really wanted someone to hand you that project, let you give it a try, and to coach you without micro-managing every decision you made, right?

When you can see delegation as part of the bigger picture – growth, development, expanding your team’s capacity – it becomes a positive. It’s not just handing someone else more work, it’s growing your team for the future.

Answer that question we started with for a few days and then think about what’s holding you back.

Do you need to set clear expectations so you can feel confident that you’ll get good results?

Are you setting up a system that will allow for questions and monitoring without being overbearing?

Can you start small and work your way up?

Once you begin seeing opportunities to delegate as growth moments for your team – at work or home – you may find it a little easier to entrust and encourage.

And remember: they’re not the only ones who get to grow from this experience. When you encourage your superstar team , you also create space and opportunities to push yourself to the next level.

Is it time to play Kill the Company?

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I just finished up Adam Grant’s book Originals (see his website at adamgrant.net) and really like one of the examples he shared for for generating more, original ideas with your team: Kill the Company.

In short, if you want to generate some excitement and energetic thinking, don’t ask your team to envision the future from within, ask them to imagine what your competitor would do, with unlimited funds and opportunity, to kill your company.

There are a lot of factors in play here, and it’s worth reading the book if you want a more complete understanding. It’s an interesting twist though, because it engages our imagination in a different way. It’s hard to imagine the future from what you already know. If you own a car company, and you want to do better, your default is to start with a car. If you want to kill the car company, you begin thinking differently: Driverless? Subscription service instead of ownership? Drone delivery? Bike pods?

How are you going to defeat those competitors who’re out to kill your company?

Take a moment to imagine this from within your organization.

How would someone pinpoint your weaknesses? Overcome them? Do things differently and better?

Now, counter.

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried this in your organization and whether it was successful?

Why the work-around doesn’t work

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I once had a senior manager tell me that the reason she wouldn’t confront one of her direct reports about an issue was that she wanted to “preserve his dignity.”

Instead, she worked around him, hoping he’d figure it out.

Of course, he didn’t.

We have probably all seen (or done!) this at work. It’s understandable. Most of us spend more time at work than any place else and it can seem easier to avoid, dodge, or preserve than to address a situation head-on. Especially if it’s a situation we’ve allowed to fester. The problem is this quick work-around is obvious to everyone – often even to the person who’s being avoided – and it undermines morale of entire groups. The person at the center of the problem doesn’t get a direct opportunity to address whatever’s going wrong, which is certainly not a way to preserve their dignity, and avoidance breeds cynicism and distrust.

The telltale sign of a work-around is if you’re having a conversation about a problem with someone other than who the problem is about.

When you avoid saying what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it, you’re working around the problem.

This can go from small things (not assigning a project) to organization-wide structures put in place to avoid one person’s behavior. The cost over time is much higher to work around the problem than to address it.

Next time you catch yourself having a parking-lot conversation consider these alternate approaches:

Say the unsaid.

If the manager had taken the direct report aside and told him clearly what the problem was, she could have communicated in a dignity-preserving manner what he needed to do to improve instead of leaving him wondering why people didn’t respect him or want to work with him. Nobody wants to be the kid other kids don’t like but we can’t figure out why. Say what others are afraid to say.

Say the unsaid to the person who needs to hear it.

Respect your colleagues enough to tell them what they need to hear. Feedback isn’t easy sometimes, but it’s the only way we grow. Delivered with compassion and good intent, it’s the essence of professional respect.

Listen

Hear their side of things with an open mind. They may give you fresh insights or tell you something you didn’t know. Be open, so you can design the solution with them. If they’re “the problem” they need to be part of “the solution.”

Tell others what you’re doing

If you change your behavior, people notice. In the absence of an explanation, they will make up a reason and we are a creative bunch! So tell them what’s going on. The more direct you can be about why you’re trying something different, the more likely they are to understand and, when it works, emulate your behaviors.

If you’d like a straight forward read on how to work with others around you, The Power of the Other by Dr. Henry Cloud has specific examples you can apply to many situations.

This may be the best question you can ask

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When I was traveling a few weeks ago, my husband and I were flying different airlines. When I got to baggage claim, I realized his flight wasn’t coming to my terminal. I asked the woman at the information desk where to find his airline. She told me it arrived at a terminal three miles away.

Flustered, I was about to head back up the escalators to find the shuttle when she continued, “May I ask why?”

I gave her my details.

She said, “This is just a suggestion, but since you’re renting a car, you might want to each take the shuttle to the rental place and meet there. It’ll save you a trip.”

She could have just answered my question and let me barrel off. Instead, she took the time to ask for information and to offer some clear thinking when I was frazzled from the flight.

That was a good question.

There’s a lot of discussion and research available about how to move from positions (I have to do this) to interests (what am I really after – might I get there in a way that gets you there too?).

Asking “Why?” may be your best move.

When we’re considering regulations, we might tend towards “I need this type of documentation.”

Why? Maybe because we’re after a piece of data. Or maybe we’re trying to be sure something that happened once doesn’t happen again, but we’ve put an overly complicated system to place to guard us from that possibility.

Asking “why?” makes you consider your underlying interests and your reasoning.

We had a process in place that had been unquestioned for years, until someone called me about it. “Why do you do this thing first, then the other? Why can’t they happen at the same time?”

Good question.

I asked and it turned out that our system was set up when two functions were in separate locations and one side was routinely circumvented. So the other side said “you have to get their approval first, then ours.”

Now that everyone is on the same software, both functions are tracked in the same system. There was no longer a need for the sequencing, but the process hadn’t changed.

Until someone asked “why?”

It took us 3 minutes to make that change.

That was a great question.

How good are you at spotting a choice?

Most choices are easy to spot, like elephants. They’re sometimes just as difficult to redirect, but we certainly know they’re there.

The choices we don’t see, the snipes, lurk where we feel stuck. So elusive we may not even believe they exist.

Imagine this.

Every time you talk with your best friend, she runs through her litany of complaints: They don’t appreciate her at work, her husband doesn’t listen to her, and her kids are driving her crazy. You listen, you offer a suggestion or two, but nothing changes. The same story every time.

Do you believe she has no choice?

Of course not. You grumble about how she needs to get a new job, do something about that husband, and read that book you keep telling her about – the one that helped you with your kids. She’s not stuck, she’s just not doing anything about her situation, right?

Now, jot down the answer to this question:

Where are you stuck?

  • Work isn’t challenging me but there’s no place else for me to go?
  • I’d like to exercise more but between work and the kids I have no time?
  • I want to try something new, but I’m too old to switch tracks now?

See that place where you have no choice? Congratulations, you trapped your snipe.

You really know you got one when the first thing that goes through your mind is something like, “Yeah, but I really don’t have a choice because…..”

We always have choices. Choosing not to do something, for instance. Sometimes we don’t want to see them because they’re hard choices.

Several years ago, I talked with someone who, years earlier, had set aside the beginnings of a promising creative career that was filled with uncertainty to work in a secure job that provided well for his family. I expected him to express regret, a longing for that path not taken. Instead, he said something that’s stuck with me.

“There’s a deep satisfaction in providing well for your family.”

He’d moved beyond regret because he owned that choice.

We tend to value the bold choice, the one that prefaces a rags-to-riches story. It often involves a company started in the garage, inspiration, good fortune, and a well-deserving protagonist.

We also tend to see these stories as having pivotal moments in which the main character makes the all-determining choice. They’re structured like movies or novels. Real life is a little less clear.

A friend drove this second point home for me a few weeks ago, asking, “Do you realize you tend to describe choices as polar opposites?”

Looking around, I see this model everywhere now. Reports, discussions, stories – we describe choices as black-and-white. Either-or. Pros-and-cons. Win-lose. This blocks out our ability to discern all the possibilities lingering in the middle.

With this question, she introduced me to the concept of polarity in decision-making.

If we see either-or choices, we tend to “choose” one to the detriment of the other end of the pole, which gets us out of balance.

For instance, if you focus solely on cost-cutting, and your customer service suffers, you’ll lose customers. If you focus only on customer service and your costs go way up, you’ll lose customers. It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario – it’s about balanced choices.

The promising creative path my friend didn’t follow didn’t entirely go away. He found a way to incorporate parts of it into his daily work, taking on projects on the side, and keeping his skills and abilities alive for many years. When he reached a point of feeling that the family obligations had been met, he was able to choose anew, and refocus on the creative calling. If he’d seen it as all-or-nothing, stopped everything, he wouldn’t have built up the skills and talents he did during those years of choosing to support his family first.

Imagine how this applies to the stuck situation you jotted down earlier. Are there choices lurking in the underbrush that you didn’t see before?

There’s a great feeling of liberation in embracing the ability to make a choice. Even if you know you’re making the easy choice, or not making a hard choice, at least you’ve put yourself back in the driver’s seat.

Better to ride an elephant than a snipe.

read more about polarity

Increase your power this week with the 80/20 rule

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Are you busy?

Silly question.

As the typical work week continues to expand, you probably have more things to do than you can possibly keep track of. Stressed. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. We’ve got it covered.

Last week I heard someone say they wanted to take a time-management class but they didn’t have time because they were so overwhelmed. Not funny.

Short of overhauling our national policies and changing the culture of your workplace or home tomorrow, what can you do to bring some sanity to your week?

Consider this. Your power goes where you send it and for most of us, it goes someplace like this:

Arugh, how did I get another 200 new emails? Voicemail light flashing. Yikes, I almost forgot to set up that meeting and I have a report due tomorrow. Performance reviews? Again? Didn’t we just do those. And that problem from last week is back again, why don’t those people know how to get it right. Maybe I’ll get started on that memo, oops! Time for a staff meeting already?

That’s the “I’m so busy” trap. For most of us, we don’t even realize we’re falling into it, after all, aren’t the busy, overwhelmed and frazzled the important ones? But this trap saps your power. Here’s a way to jump-start your thinking about your power, where it goes, and how to use it for maximum effect this week.

Most of the things buzzing around our mental to-do list can be broken into 80% low-impact and 20% high-impact.

Low impact: answering a simple email, reviewing a web-page for accuracy, filing your inbox, running an errand, responding to a meeting invitation, setting up a meeting.

High impact: taking that time-management course, thinking through a long-term project by breaking out the pieces and identifying resources for each of them, writing a critical report in time for others to review it well.

Usually, the attention we give to the 80% is a buzz of distraction, gnawing at our focus and leaving us feeilng like we don’t have enough time.

The 20% is what we squeeze in, or where we take shortcuts because we haven’t left ourselves enough room to complete them well. Who hasn’t dashed off something important at the last minute, promising themselves I’ll do better next time?

It’s time to power up and make the 80/20 shift – clear your calendar for next week, leaving only the most essential things.

Part one. Get a paper and pencil (or whatever note-taking tools suit you) and set your timer for 5 minutes.

  • List your 20% high-impact items
  • Put them on your calendar (use chunks – blocks of time – and ditch things that you really don’t have to do)
  • Devote 80% of your attention to these items

That’s right. 80%.

Part two. Set that timer for 5 more minutes

  • List your 80% items
  • Put a time on your calendar for them (again, chunks of time)
  • Devote 20% of your attention to them this week.

It could look like this:

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Try applying the 80/20 power rule for just one week and see if power changes.

And don’t forget to take lunch.

(Hint: you might want to do your worst task first or delegate something to someone else)

Overwhelmed by Something Big? Try this.

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The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  – Lao Tzu

We’ve all heard that one before, right? And we know it’s true but, when your journey consists of a thousand tasks, each of which require at least a thousand steps all to be taken immediately, it feels a little too vague.

Some people are natural step-by-step takers. The rest of us could use a little help.

Lately, as the trees begin to bud out and this endless winter seems like it might actually yield to warmth, I’ve found myself reading a lot about time management, habits, and mindfulness. I don’t think it’s a random association of interests, but an attempt to understand how we make sense of this busy, hectic, ever-faster world around us. After this preparation for a sort of spring-cleaning, I’ve decided to tackle the big projects first.

Why the big ones? Because those are the ones that weigh heavily on my mind. I can churn through a check-list but if I know there are long-term tasks out there on the horizon, my sense of unease is not quieted.

Some are big projects at work, some are big projects at home (kitchen cupboards – shudder!) and some are years and years past due (old home movies on Hi8 tapes).

Amid all the good advice, I’ve honed in on two steps that help, and they’re rather simple.

1. Make one list

I’m a compulsive list-maker and have been ever since I got my first day-planner in high school. Unfortunately, this habit has managed to spread itself around my life. Until recently, I tried to keep a work list, a home list, a grocery list, a weekend list, a random list – you name it. The Post-it folks and I were getting a little too cozy. I now have a single list – in one notebook – that has everything in it. There are apps for this, but for me, the act of writing it down is a lot faster than pulling out my phone in the middle of a meeting, creating the list, and then remembering to look at it later.

For you, electronic may be the way to go. For me, paper creates a sense that I’ve got it.

Now that the list is in one place (and yes, I do stick post-it notes in my list-notebook but hey, nobody’s perfect), I am learning to expand the list.

Instead of writing “clean the house” on it, I write “sort all the books” then I write “donate the books in the car” (because that’s where they’ll end up).

This works at the office too. I had a project that required several conversations, multiple written products, and communication by a certain deadline. I wrote each of those steps down on my list, which forced me to do two things:

  • acknowledge all the pieces of work that would be required
  • get a better sense of how long these pieces would take

As an incurable optimist, I tend to think I can probably accomplish things in “two minutes” or “twenty minutes” when they’re more likely to take an hour or two. Focusing on the real demands of a project helps me see the steps in a more realistic way which leads nicely to the next step:

2. Put everything from the list on the calendar

That’s right, everything. With an accurate amount of time.

That doctor’s appointment that I’ve been meaning to schedule for three weeks? Still not done. Why? Because I called once, spent twenty minutes trying to figure out if i was in the new medical records system or not, then I wasn’t and needed to get a referral. Referral? Scheduled and done. But then I just carried around my list that said “make appointment”. Of course, I always had something better/more important/more pressing to do.

Now, I have a time set next week for 20 minutes, when I will make that call. And the number for the office is in the appointment.

This has been working well for projects, broken down into realistic chunks of work, and other tasks at home.

I’ve known people to block “work time” on their calendars, but without committing to what they will spend that time on, they tend to either schedule over that time with meetings or flail about, trying to decide what to do and ultimately feeling like they didn’t use that time well after all.

By getting specific about what I need to do and committing the time to it, I find I am more likely to keep my appointments with my work and to make progress.

What about those little things that really do only take a minute or two?

Schedule a 15 minute slot of your day for “quick tasks” – or whatever you want to call it – and spend that time plugging through your list. (Beware the internet!). This is the same method I’m using to tackle my gargantuan inbox. 15 minutes a day.

The key to making this work is finding the way that fits your personality best.

If you’re a morning person, you may make your list first thing and tackle a few items before leaving the house. You probably won’t make progress if you’re trying to set aside time after everyone’s gone to bed to work on something important.

If you’re an evening person, you may carve out some time later in the day to work without interruption on a long-term project. Getting up at 5a.m. to try something new might not be best for you.

Regardless of your personality, knowing what needs to be done and when you will do it is key.

I’d love to hear from you if you have techniques you’ve used to get out from under big projects – or if you’ve tried these approaches and they didn’t work.

There’s no such thing as free time

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Last week, I left work on Friday and shoved a few things in my bag with my computer. They included information for a memo I needed to write, a publication I’ve been meaning to read for several weeks, an article from a colleague, and several half completed to-do lists that I intended to consolidate. I figured I’d get those done during some of my free time that weekend.

Monday morning, I got to my office and pulled all those things – untouched since Friday – out of my bag.

Why?

Because there’s no such thing as free time.

My weekend is just a full as my work-week, the content is just different.

This led me to think about why I was bringing things home on the weekend in the first place. They all had something in common – they weren’t preventing me from getting the essentials done, but they were all activities I planned to “get to” during the work week when I had a moment of free time. Which meant I didn’t get to them because….there’s no such thing as free time.

If you’re familiar with the Meyers-Briggs test, you’ve heard of the P-J categories. Perceiving vs. Judging. In brief (and forgive me if you’re a MBTI expert who craves greater nuance in this description) Perceivers go with the flow, Judging types tend to organize and stick to their plan. I sit right on the border between these two categories, which gives me a peek into both.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing J types over the years. Their ability to sit down, think through all their tasks, get them done in order and on time is what keeps complicated projects clocking right along. They’re the reasons we ever accomplish anything on time.

And I’ve loved working with some of my favorite P’s, too. They bring a spark of creativity – what if we tried this? – and when everyone’s in crisis mode, they’re the ones who lighten the load with humor and a helping hand at the last minute.

For a P, all time is free time, waiting to be programmed in the moment. For a J, free time is planned, down to the minute.

I’m using the ends of the spectrum to make a point:

If there’s something you intend to get done, you have to actually make a decision to do it.

Unless something you’d planned falls through, free time won’t just pop up out of nowhere, like an oasis of relaxation waiting for you to kick back and get those long-delayed tasks done. And, when you do get an unplanned moment, will you spend it reading work materials or going for a walk?

The P may decide late in the day, the J may decide three days in advance, but they’ve both decided – that’s when the magic happens.

There are several tricks borrowed from the world of time-management that can help make this happen for you, whether you’re a P, a J, or something in-between.

  1. Use a schedule for everything, including those things you’re going to “get to when there’s time”. This includes returning phone calls, sending an email, that errand to the post-office to mail the package you were going to drop off when you had time.
  2. Decide not to do something. That article you’ve been carrying around for three weeks. Will you really read it? Let’s be honest and get rid of some of the should-do’s that aren’t must-do’s.
  3. Schedule some quality time. Don’t let your to-do list become your life. Use it to manage your time, including the time you spend with family, friends, and on yourself. After all, all work and no play makes….well, you know.
  4. When something falls through, use that moment to do something meaningful with your “free time” – that could be focusing on an important work project earlier than you planned, or it could mean going for a walk and refreshing your thoughts. Either way, having a better handle on how you’re spending your time will help you make the most of it.

When we begin to master our time, we’re not dependent on that elusive prey: free time.

For a related post, with additional resources on time management, click here.