Why Office Hours Aren’t Just For Professors

time management office hoursOffice Hours: you know, that thing you swore you’d attend in college but never really did. Professors have office hours to give students a chance to get a hold of them outside of class. How do YOU communicate to your colleagues when you’re available for questions? Why not try this…

One of my favorite things about running time management workshops is that I always learn something in the process. This week I spoke to NHS Phoenix and had a blast meeting some truly fabulous people. One man shared that he puts his availability in his email signature. For example: “I return phone calls between the hours of 2 and 4pm” or “I return emails three times a day, at 8, 12, and 3.”

I love this concept because it gives people a reasonable expectation when they can expect to hear from you, so they don’t get upset with their communication isn’t immediately returned.

If having regular hours like this doesn’t work for you, maybe giving a broad time frame would work better. For example, “I try my best to return all communications within 24 hours.” While that might seem obvious (of course we want to be prompt with our communications) it reminds people that they can’t really be upset if they haven’t heard back from you 20 minutes later.

So what are your “office hours?” Remember, people need to get a hold of you, and if you haven’t conveyed when communication is convenient to you, people will be left to guess or assume, and you know that they say about assumptions.

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Is Poor Communication Harming Your Time Management?

Time Management CommunicationTell me if this sounds familiar: Someone asks you for a “tiny” favor that ends up taking three hours of your time. You change your whole schedule around and bend over backwards to finish the task, only to be told later that it wasn’t really that important. This leaves you feeling angry, unappreciated, and overwhelmed with the tasks that are now still left on your plate. Improving your time management communication can help avoid the wasted time and resentment that occur as a result of these misunderstandings. Try these three tips to strengthen your communication:

1. Don’t “Cry Wolf”

If you frequently ask people for help and then forget about the task and lose interest, when the time comes that you truly do need assistance with something important, you’ll find that there is no trusting person left to help you. When you delegate a task or agree to help someone, make sure you are both on the same page with the task’s level of importance. Is this an urgent priority? Is it more of an idea than a directive? Taking the time to communicate these details lessens the chance of someone feeling taken advantage of.

2. Take a Look at Someone Else’s To-Do List

Just as you gain perspective by “walking a mile in someone’s shoes,” you also learn a lot about the responsibilities on their plate by looking at a month from their calendar. When people are great at their job, they may make it all look easy. We might try to heap more tasks on their plate because we don’t realize how much work they already do. Look at other people’s to-do lists. Talk to them about what they do and what their struggles are. It’s important to understand the unique pressures of our friends’, family members’, and coworkers’ lives so we don’t expect an unreasonable amount of work from them.

3. Practice Good Time Management Karma

Treat other people’s time the way you would want your time to be treated. Do not make a habit of showing up late. If you must be late, apologize. Make time in your day to complete tasks that will help people reach their number one priority, even if it’s not also your first priority. When we make an effort to respect other people’s time, they are also likely to respect ours and everyone ends up more productive and more appreciated.

Time management is not always a solo endeavor. We rely on others to help us out, cheer us on, and hold us accountable. Clearly communicating our schedules and priorities is essential to making sure everyone is on the same productivity page.

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Fluff is for Bunnies, Not for Email

Efficient communication is an essential component of time management. However, sometimes we pad our communications with so much “fluff” that the main point is lost or hard to find.  This wastes both our time and the reader’s time. We have enough to do in our busy lives that we cannot afford to wade through extraneous information looking for the main point. With a few simple steps, we can streamline our communications and save everyone time.

Steps to Efficient Communication

1. Shorten your greeting.

When we’re typing emails or leaving voicemails, it can be tempting to start off with a flowery greeting. After all, we can’t see the person we are speaking to so we want to convey our tone with words instead of body language. However, these extra sentences just add bulk to your message. Stick to a brief, simple greeting and get on with your point!

2. Don’t Overwhelm Your Reader

When your email or memo appears cluttered and lengthy, people are far less likely to read it. They see its length and don’t want to take the time to read it all now, so they put it in the “later pile.” Before you send a business email, ask yourself: “What is the main point I want this message to convey?” If there are superfluous sentences that don’t support this main point, delete them. You wouldn’t want your reader to ignore an important email because it looked too long, especially if the main point is actually very short.

3. Organize Longer Messages

If your message truly is lengthy and necessary, then organize it into headings and bullet points so it’s easy to navigate. If you need your reader to take action from your email, make that explicit in both the greeting and the closing. Make directions simple, clear, and to the point.

4. Don’t Hit Send

Before you hit send on that email, ask yourself if you really need to send it. Email is such an easy form of communication that it can be quickly abused. Does the person you’re sending this message to really need this information? Or will it become one of countless other messages in his or her inbox that gets deleted?

Time Management Karma

Keeping your business communications short and to the point not only saves you the time of crafting an overly long and complex message, but it’s also a good way of practicing “Time Management Karma”: treating other people’s time the way you want yours to be treated. We all struggle to stay on top of our emails and phone calls. Sifting through the mountains of information we receive every day can be daunting. Don’t add to someone else’s mountain with unnecessary information.

Besides, if people know that you don’t send excess, un-needed information, they are far more likely to open your email in the first place.

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Upcoming Event!

Check out The Time Diet’s next free presentation for students at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ on Monday September 10th 2012 at 7:00pm. Time Management for Student Survival

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