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Are You a Backsliding Time Bandit Boss?

Are you a backsliding Time Bandit boss? I don’t even know you, but I believe you are because changing ingrained behaviors is one of the hardest things we ever do.

By now you have learned that being a Time Bandit means interrupting someone and thus “stealing” their time. As a boss, you now realize that when you interrupt your employees, it usually causes them to lose time and productivity, so you have vowed not to do that anymore.

Just because you trained yourself to respect your employees’ time by not interrupting doesn’t mean you have embedded what you learned. Sticking to newly trained behaviors can take great determination. When pressure builds on you, if your old inclination was to call a meeting, or pick up the phone, or go down the hall and buttonhole somebody, it’s hard not to give in to the urge. It feels comfortable and familiar at the moment, even though you will regret it later, when you recall what you learned about the damage that interruptions cause.

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I explained the problem of embedding behaviors in a whitepaper titled Taking Root: How the Failure to Embed Trained Behaviors Wastes Time, Money, and People…and What You Can Do about It.

Sometimes we revert to old behaviors because we forget how to do the new ones. New behaviors need to be practices and cultivated outside of crisis mode. That’s why soldiers drill, musicians rehearse, and athletes practice – so that in a crisis or under pressure they get it right.

If your own boss didn’t get the memo about Time Banditry, then you probably find yourself tolerating interruptions from him or her. That doesn’t mean you have to start doing it to your team, but chances are you will. If squelching interruptive behavior is not part of the entire company culture, then interruptions will creep back in, and you will find yourself backsliding.

The most common and obvious Time Bandit offenses from a boss are calling impromptu meetings, changing priorities on a dime, replacing one critical deadline with a new one, making too-frequent phone calls to employees, or stopping by unannounced just to chat. Probably you stopped doing those. But what about these seemingly innocent practices that steal productivity and peace of mind from your team?

Email Timing
You have an idea that you want the whole team to read about, so you put it in an email and send it around to them as quickly as possible.

What on earth is wrong with that, you ask? I mean, isn’t that what I get paid for – to offer ideas and leadership to the team? Yes, but as the boss, you know that nobody leaves your email unopened until they finish what they were working on. They click it the moment they see it. Many compose an immediate reply to let you know they’ve got it and get it. They reach out to colleagues about it. It resets the conversation for the office. There’s a riot of interruptions, all because of your email.

Instead, consider timing your emails according to natural workflows. Maybe set them up to go out at day’s end, but let people know it’s not because you want them to work late, but because you don’t want your idea to interrupt their work. Reiterate that you are firmly opposed to unnecessary interruptions – and uninterested in rapid response for its own sake.

Impromptu Atta-boys

Good managers relish the chance to thank and congratulate top performers and hard workers. So when you read a good report, or get a customer letter complimenting an employee, or hear from your sales manager that the new saleswoman landed her first big account, your first impulse is a laudable one. You want to pick up the phone, and reward that employee. Why not?

Because when it comes to productive time, timing is everything. The top performer is probably going to drop what he or she is doing to take the boss’s call. (After all, you’ve all been trained not to be Time Bandits, right? So they assume your call is urgent or why would you interrupt them?)

So resist the urge to congratulate employees on the spur of the moment. Do it at the beginning of the day, or the end of the day, when you won’t throw the recipient off course. Or better yet, indulge the top performer a little more by giving him or her a little advance notice. Nobody likes being caught off guard by the boss, even with compliments. So consider sending a meeting or call invitation for a specified time. Or flowers. Or a letter with a dinner gift card.

Excuse Me Just a Sec

This is your meeting with your team. You called it, you provided a crisp agenda, and everybody arrived with phones on mute. Then your phone vibrates. Excuse me, you say, this will only take a sec, as you step into the hall to take the call. And true to your word you’re back in less than a minute, explaining apologetically. The lawyer on our contract negotiations

What’s wrong with that? Well, wherever your meeting was going, it lost that momentum and direction. And you abruptly left six people doing – well, what do you think they did while you talked on the phone. Maybe they carried on the meeting without you, but if they did, then your explanation on your return just took them off course again. Just as likely, they checked their phones for email and texts, sent a few, chatted, guessed who your call was from… All the damage that interruptions do when just one person is interrupted multiplied times six. Why? Because you indulged a Time Bandit. You paid the price in the form of a disrupted meeting, but so did your whole team.

They say eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s the price of time, too. No matter how diligently you originally deterred your Time Bandits and helped your employees deter theirs, you and they are liable to backslide the moment you stop rigorously practicing what you learned, even when it means sacrificing a little spontaneity.

Remind yourself what is at stake: nothing more than the luxury of controlling your own time and having the peace of mind that comes from having enough time to do what you must and what you wish.

Some tips if you’re having trouble self-embedding your new time-related behaviors:

1. Practice them when the pressure is off – when there is not so much at stake – the way firefighters will burn down a derelict house to practice their teamwork and hosing techniques. To practice deterring your Time Bandits, don’t start with your clients, but your vendors.

2. Shoot for perfection. Bear down and Focal Lock on having a perfect negotiation with one Time Bandit – maybe a colleague who interrupts you a lot but probably has your best interests at heart. Make it a perfect negotiation to give yourself confidence for more difficult ones.

3. Work on the skill that most eludes you. Do you have trouble staying composed when deterring a persistent Time Bandit? Practice in the mirror. Work on your facial expressions – your facial expression and body language can affect how you feel.

Eventually, the behaviors you desire will become habitual.

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About Edward G Brown

Edward G. Brown had no time to write this book, which is exactly why he wrote it. Bronx born and bred, he co-founded the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group, now in 50 countries and 12 languages. Its past and present clients include…