Time management skills: ‘Hey, got a second?’

ManagementBy working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.  — Robert Frost

Even the most accomplished managers can’t add more hours to a day.

So, the only way to do more is to either work longer days, or be more efficient.

Anyone up for longer days? No, didn’t think so.

That leaves improving time management skills, which is really the art of making conscious decisions on how to spend your time.

The first step, of course, is identifying those day-to-day activities that eat up valuable time.

Once you delve into that, you probably come to the realization that there are many black holes that suck up time in a typical busy day.

But the biggest of them all — is unanticipated interruptions!

As it turns out, the very common “Hey, got a second?” is the biggest time killer of all.

How big?

Here are some results from a study titled The Cost of Interrupted Work done at the University of California, Irvine.

  • The average length of time spent on a task BEFORE being interrupted: 12mins 40secs.
  • The average length of time spent BEFORE returning to the original task: 25m 26s.
  • The average length of time needed to regain focus after returning to task: 15m 0s.
  • The percentage of tasks interrupted when people work in open work space: 63%.
  • The percentage of tasks interrupted when people work in private offices: 49%.

You're Fired!
Now, that’s a lot of time. But according to the study authors, people do handle it, sort of.

“Our data suggests that people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort,” the study authors note in the opening abstract.

(The study is fun to browse , if you have the time. For instance, subjects were interrupted with questions not related to what they were doing at that particular moment.  For instance: “How many hot dogs do we need for 240 employees?” someone asked an HR staffer who was NOT working on the company picnic. That took a while.)

It’s true some managers embrace interruptions. They use them to connect with people and generate ideas. They go with the flow. And that’s great, if the interruption presents that opportunity, which you really can’t know beforehand.

So, what to do about all these interruptions?

Time management

There is a ton of advice available on how to handle chat messaging, email, phone calls and all the other E-communications that interrupt your day.

The real art comes with managing the face-to-face encounters.

Most drop-by visits often start with a business purpose. But work is a social creature, and so 30 minutes later, you’ve heard everything from the latest marketing ideas to their spouse’s run-in with a celebrity look-a-like at the deli.

Interesting. But not essential

Now, it’s a bit simpler to cut things short with a subordinate. But dealing with colleagues and higher-ups often requires tact.

The key is to be straightforward with everyone. Let them know from the start if you have other pressing issues. Busy people understand this.

If they ask, “Do you have a minute?” and you don’t, simply say, “Sure, how about if I come to your office at such and such a time?”

It works wonders.

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  1. Great post! We all struggle with managing time. I will often say: “give me 15 minutes (or whatever time I need to finish the task at hand) so I can finish this task and give you the attention you deserve”. Most people would rather have you 100% in the conversation than not focused because your thinking about what you need to get done versus feign focused on them. And it their question is about how many hot dogs they need for a company picnic, chances are they will find someone else to interrupt and get the answer.

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