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Now Stop Wasting People

I am writing this piece in late August, as leaves on one of my maples are starting to turn yellow and red. The tree may be panicking prematurely, fooled by the unusually cool August, but you cannot argue with the calendar. The summer is almost over.

Time is the only critical resource that cannot be replenished or substituted, and we all have only a finite supply of it. In fact, it may be the most precious resource of them all. Yet in business life, don’t you find that too often, you just want to exclaim: “people, stop wasting my time!”

Here are five small and simple habits we all should adopt to respect others’ time.

  1. Out-of-office notices. First of all, thank you for at least setting one up. But listen to this: provide the name of a person who should be contacted if the matter is urgent and provide his or her contact information. Sounds trivial? Approximately half of out-of-office notices I receive lack this information.
  2. Meetings #1. I know of a number of mid-level managers whose calendar is booked tighter than that of a presidential candidate. This is usually due to two reasons, neither of them acceptable: some feel that they have to grace every business meeting with their presence, while others believe that in order to achieve results, every breathing soul should be present in their boardroom. Stop it right now, whichever of the two sins you are committing! Spend time, and allow others to do so, on thinking and implementing.
  3. Meetings #2. Always have a clear agenda for the meeting, don’t just drag people in to “brainstorm” or “be in the loop”. Once the decisions are made, you can apprise the rest of the world of them. On projects, always have a communication plan in place and follow it religiously.
  4. Mode of communication. If you need something urgently, call. However, do not leave voice messages that are 10 minutes long, explaining the issue at hand and all minute details pertaining to it. In the beginning of my career, I worked for an earlier riser. By the time my colleagues and I made it to the office, usually around 8 a.m., our phone sets would be flashing with new messages, each being a long and windy walk through our leader’s thinking process. Some of them ended with something like “Actually, forget it.” Without fail, every single member of the team detested this habit, but why we never said anything is a mystery to me now.
  5. Maintain Focus. Minute, trivial things always get in the way of more important tasks. It takes me 30 minutes to write a short article, like this one, if I focus on the task at hand. It may take a whole day if I choose to take phone calls immediately, reply to emails as soon as my mail application chimes, or browse the Internet. Learn to prioritize, maintain to-do lists and work on things that really matter, now.

I could list another five, ten or fifty time-savings tips, but I would like to practice what I preach and not take precious time from you and me.

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