Time thieves…you know, those people, tasks, or distractions that cost us more time than we have allotted and throw our schedule – and sanity – off kilter. What’s important to keep in mind that even your friends, family, or clients you really like can be unintentional time thieves if they don’t realize what they’re doing is costing you time.
If you think about it, time is the ultimate currency. We all only get so much (though we never know “how much” that is) and you can’t make more of it. The best you can do is to be efficient with your time, and to also be intentional about how and where you spend it.
So what can you do to protect your time and ward off the time thieves that can sneak into your life every so often? Take a look at my tried and true principles for protecting yourself from time thieves, especially when it’s a delicate situation:
Help them see the situation from your perspective.
If there is someone (or maybe even a few people) in your life who seem to encroach on your time, beyond what you would like, it could be because they simply don’t see the full picture from your perspective. They may underestimate your workload or be unaware of looming deadlines. They may not realize you need your downtime, and you don’t want it stolen or disrupted. It’s your responsibility to help them understand. Be clear and direct by saying something like:
“I love helping you when I can, but this week I have a full schedule and I need to keep time for family. Is this something we can revisit next month?”
This is direct, but kind. It also isn’t saying “No, never.” It’s simply saying not right now – and if it’s really important to you, you’ll need to wait until I can get to it. This shows you respect your time – and lays the foundation for them to do the same.
Create clear boundaries.
In my experience, this is most critical for clients. Many of my clients have access to my time through a monthly retainer. However, I need to be clear that “blackout dates apply.” Every so often I’ll find myself answering texts messages, emails, or phone calls from clients during evening and weekend hours. If it’s an emergency, I’m understanding that this is part of the job. But often these are not emergencies, not even close. So, I need to create boundaries. Being a responsive person by nature, I do respond, but with something like:
“I got your message but I’m out of the office for the [evening…weekend]. I have it on my list of things to look at [tomorrow….Monday…next week].
By letting them know you received their message, and giving them an expected time frame for when you’ll address it, you establish boundaries and provide yourself with breathing room to get it done in a reasonable amount of time.
Offer alternative resources.
When you allow yourself to become someone’s main resource for advice, direction, or inspiration, you are going to be the fountain they return to again and again. The first few times may not feel so burdensome, maybe even flattering, but after a while this will begin to “dry up” your time. The best thing you can do in this situation is to offer alternative resources. “Teach them how to fish,” so to speak.
If a client is always picking your brain for pieces of social media advice, offer them your favorite blog or podcast that shares this type of information for them to consume on their own time. Or maybe you have a friend or colleague that is more available to provide advice from time to time. The more you can empower your clients, friends, and family with their ability to answer their own questions and take care of their own tasks, the less they will expect you to be the problem solver.
Don’t feel guilty.
Finally and most importantly, don’t feel guilty about being protective of your time and setting boundaries – so long as you do it kindly and with good reason. As I said before, we are all only given so much time and it is life’s ultimate currency. Time thieves, whether they know it or not, are dipping into your most valuable resource. If you continue to let this happen, a little bit here and a little bit there, it can really add up! Make it a point to set boundaries today, so tomorrow you have more time to devote to things that are truly worthy of your time.
What are the time thieves in your life right now? Are you allowing them to steal endlessly from you, or have you put up boundaries to keep them at bay?
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