A Lesson in Availability Management
Date updated: April 10, 2007
By Laura Stack
Content provided by Revolution Health Group
What are you, the airlines?
Why do you book yourself solid?
Think of your time as a commodity. Just as there are a limited number of flights, you have a limited amount of time. You must figure out where to spend it.
It's a simple math equation
- an issue of supply & demand. What do you do when you're "sold out"? Add another flight?
That's basically what you're
doing right now - if you're willing to dole more time out to anyone who wants to fly free. If you don't value your time highly
enough, people will constantly demand it.
To reduce demand (interruptions), you must increase the cost (value) of your
supply (time). If the cost is too high, people will think twice about buying some.
Simply put, when people try
to spend too much of your time, you must stop being so darn AVAILABLE.
Yes, you need to be available sometimes, but where's the line between a team player & a sucker? Perhaps you could use a lesson
in availability management.
One woman asked me, "I'm an
admin, so I'm essentially in a customer support role & my job is to give people the information they request. How can
I not be available?"
You aren't necessarily going
to say "no," but you must ask questions. When someone asks you to do something, when do you assume they mean it?
Usually, we think "right now" when others ask for things.
- "Do you need that today, or will Monday be okay?"
- "Here's a list of the things I'm working on today. Does this
- "I'll be happy to stop working on X project & work on Y.
Is that what you would like me to do?"
Have your boss or colleagues
help you prioritize the order, rather than always being immediately available to the non-important
tasks & staying late to complete the important tasks.
However, sometimes not being available does mean saying "no." Interestingly, the more I say "no" to prospective customers, the
more they want me.
Many offer me a stipend below
my usual fee, which of course I politely decline. If they really want me to speak at their meeting, they miraculously find
the extra funds.
Many ask me to come in &
meet with them in person before they hire me. With 120-plus speaking engagements each year, I simply don't have the time to
do that (& have a life & a family).
I explain to prospective customers
I'd be delighted to have a conference call with them. I've actually had people tell me, "We aren't going to hire you if you
don't come out to meet us first."
I tell them I'm disappointed
to hear that & I wish them the best in finding another speaker. It's amazing how many of them come back, tail between
their legs, saying "OK, never mind, we'll arrange a conference call."
The fact that I was NOT available & turned down their request actually made me more valuable in their eyes. My actions
communicate, "I'm a successful person with or without you & here are the conditions under which I'll be available to you."
I'm polite & respectful,
but I don't allow other people to dictate my calendar to me.
Do you have any conditions?
Over the years, you have trained people how to treat you. Every time a colleague pops his head in your office & says,
"Do you have a minute?" you're giving that person a lesson in your availability.
If your behavior says, "I'm
available any time you need me, so bother me randomly!" you'll never have a moment's peace;
everything & everyone will be vying for your attention.
By managing your availability, you will gain the space of time & mind to complete your most important tasks & still be
perceived as a valuable member of the team.
Need some more ways to reduce
your availability? Try these:
- Block out your calendar (or schedule yourself) until 9 a.m., so others
can't schedule morning appointments with you. Make sure you're not "free." Check the "private"
box in the appointment window - all anyone needs to know if you're not available. Save these
early morning hours for your high-energy periods when you can knock out your high-importance tasks. Similarly, block out your
calendar starting at 4 p.m., so you don't get roped into a meeting that drags on past your departure time.
- Avoid saying the words "I'll look
into it." These words are the kiss of death. If you're trying to concentrate on a task & say
this phrase to get the intruder out of your office, that person is laughing all the way down the hall, since a task was successfully
off-loaded to you. Refuse to take it on: "I'll be happy to review your project outline once you've it planned out & I'll
be available as an advisor if you run into trouble. Good luck."
- When a co-worker pop his heads in
your office & says, "Hi, gotta minute?" you can reply, "I have just one. Will that be enough?" And
DO NOT smile. Look at them with eyebrows raised, as if you're truly expecting an answer to your question. You'll get a stammering,
"Oh, uh, well, actually I probably need 15." Then you can say, "In that case, please send me a meeting request." Or "I have
my back up against the wall on a priority project (or a meeting in 30 minutes, or whatever);
can I call you tomorrow at 9:00?"
- Be very careful with your body language
& words. If you're interrupted right in the middle of a task with "Can
I ask you a quick question?" & you say, "Sure, what's up?" & lean back & rock in your chair, you're done working
on that task. Instead, try "What can I do for you?" or "How may I help you?" or "Is there something you need?" while holding
your pen poised above the paper. Other times, when you're not focused, you can certainly take the question. Just don't be available all the time.
- Cue others of your non-availability
before you're interrupted. Agree upon a signal with your team to leave you alone
unless it's an emergency. I worked with a group at Coca-Cola that wore red baseball hats during periods of unavailable time.
What might work? Installing curtains across the cubicle door? Turning your nameplate around? Wearing orange armbands? Putting
yellow police crime scene tape across a cubicle entrance? Using retail "be back at" clocks? One group I worked with found
that co-workers respected the signal about 80% of the time. When I questioned the people who said others weren't respecting
their signals, it turns out they never took down their signals. They were never available
to their co-workers, so their co-workers simply ignored their signals. If you use this system, make sure you don't abuse it.
- The majority of incoming email is
unimportant, so don't check it as it comes in. If someone needs you in an emergency,
teach them to call your cell phone instead of emailing you. If you check email messages as they're coming in, you'll distract
yourself with less-important tasks than the one you're working on. If you want to ramp up into a state of intense focus, you
must turn off your incoming email alerts (Tools, Options, Email options, Advanced)
& discipline yourself to only check, process & respond to email every 2 hours at a minimum (4
hours is better).
- Question the wisdom in attending certain meetings. Push back. Can someone attend a meeting in your
place? Do you even need to be there? Can you be placed first on the agenda & then leave? Perhaps the information can be
exchanged via email & the meeting canceled? Would a team member tape the meeting & you can listen to it in the car?
Question a face-to-face meeting, if you think a conference call will suffice. Focus not only on the time spent in the meeting but what you could have accomplished if you
- When a phone call or face-to-face
meeting is wrapping up, cue the person that time is running out. "It was nice having talked
with you." "In summary, before we head out, I'm going to ... " or "Before we finish ..." or "Before we wrap things up ..."
"If that is all, I'll get started on this ..." or "I see that our time is almost up ... is there anything else?"
The lesson here is really
about setting healthy parameters for yourself & recognizing the reality of the consequences of "always
Saying "yes" to everything
& always being available will compromise your energy level, your overall productivity,
your sanity & your health. Accept your limitations & focus on what's most important by decreasing your availability.
Make it a productive day! ™
Laura Stack is a professional speaker & the president of
The Productivity Pro®, Inc. She's the bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier & Find More Time. Laura
presents keynotes & seminars on time management, information overload & personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401
©2007 Laura Stack
source: revolution health