Time Management: Influence

I write for Time Management for iPad Magazine, an authority on Time Management. This is my article on influence, originally posted on the Time Management for iPad page in April 2013.

People who feel overloaded and who are overwhelmed by Time Management-related issues often focus solely on the tasks immediately in front of them: projects, ToDo’s, emails, memos, reminders, meetings and schedules. We perceive an insurmountable pile of activities, and then our brains freeze over  in panic – relegated to the fight-or-flight mode that all living creatures experience once the sense of control disappears and is replaced by the awareness of a real and imminent threat.

These “threats” might not appear to have claws or teeth like a bear or tiger for which the reflex was originally needed,  but they might as well, since the fear of not answering an email in a timely fashion or of declining a meeting invite, or of saying “no” to an additional task points inevitably yet silently towards the claws and teeth of any employer: the threat of termination.

Successful Time Management strategies  therefore need to take into account that the tasks and deadlines that we all struggle with are merely extensions of a person. There is someone, somewhere, who is waiting for your reply, your work or your presence. This is the true source of Time Management stress.

That is why I recommend that anyone looking to improve their productivity and feel better about themselves and their work, take some time to learn the art of influence.  People can be influenced. Everything can be negotiated. It’s all a matter of learning to speak the language of “what’s in it for them.”

A colleague may be worried that you are not working fast enough on her project. A client sends you an email and then sends a second one five minutes later that asks “did you get my email?” A co-worker drops in at your workspace and interrupts you because he needs  to talk to you now.  Someone somewhere books you into back-to-back meeting s for the entire afternoon. Your workaholic boss texts you at 8:30 p.m. while you’re out with your significant other. All of these people are looking for something. They are seeking satisfaction from you on their own terms, specifically because those are the only terms they know.

My technique is to provide alternate terms. In a word, to use influence. Influence can be defined as getting people to do what you want them to do, and making them want to do it. In other words , making them see what’s in it for them to cooperate rather than dominate.

A simple example: how often have you reached to pick up the phone or to answer a text or email simply because it’s there? Is the message that urgent that it must be answered right away,  or is it assumed to be urgent, by both you and the caller, due to social convention? Granted a small number of calls may be urgent, but what if you were to make it clear, by way of your voicemail greeting, your email autoresponder and your general communication with people that you will always get back to them within a couple of hours, or by 5:00 of the same day? What if you were to manage the expectations s of these people by giving them something tangible to hold on to? Something that addresses their needs and fears, and makes them feel “cared for?” What if you were to negotiate an early departure or an intentionally late arrival to one of your back-to-back meetings? Just enough time for you to relax, take a breath and refocus? Would this be acceptable? It would certainly increase your value to the meeting, by allowing you the opportunity to prepare, tune in and be engaged. Maybe that’s what the meeting chair is looking for, after all.

Consider establishing ground rules in advance. Be up front with colleagues or clients when you next meet face-to-face. Tell them, in a positive, friendly fashion, how you always return your calls within a certain period of time, and they can relax knowing they will be taken care of.

Similarly, lead your people. Teach them. Prompt them. If you know of one colleague who is perpetually deadline-challenged in a way that affects your own workflow, think about ways you can help him/her get their work in on time through proactive reminders (not doing the work for them, but helping them plan and execute). Develop a practice of “management by walking around” (MBWA), by visiting, talking, and identifying problems or logjams before they happen rather than waiting until it’s too late.

Consider the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 Rule. As it applies to dealing with overload and being overwhelmed, is it not better to spend a small amount of your  time (usually far less than 20%) to meet, influence and guide the people around you, so that the remainder of your time is used to its best advantage? Yes, it takes time to talk and influence, but this is time invested, and it comes with multiple dividends including increased productivity and decreased stress.

The end result of such a proactive approach to “people management” is a heightened sense of control, in effect a reversal of the fight-or-flight reflex, in which nutrients and oxygen in the brain are allowed to go whether they are needed –to  the thought processing areas of our thinking brains, and the entire body is permitted to “stand down” from a state of alert. This heightened sense of control allows for greater focus, as well as developing enhanced abilities to deal with prioritization, negotiation and clear thought, in addition to a stronger immune system and better night-time sleep.

In short, a great deal of Time Management success comes from developing a proactive resolve to manage the expectations of others. Time invested in this act yields more productivity in fewer hours, allowing us all to go home and enjoy a balanced and healthier life in which a sense of control, rather than stress, reigns.

Time Management Magazine for iPad

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