Why our most precious resource is also our greatest obstacle.
What would you do if you could go back in time?
I’m not talking about the BIG STUFF like averting a major disaster or giving yourself a heads up on a stock price. What small changes would you make in your life - what decisions would you have made differently - if you knew then what you know now?
I found myself reflecting on this question for the past few days. It could be because I’m getting older and have lots of source material to mine. It could be because I’m still struggling to overcome several past regrets. It could be because I dressed up like Marty McFly from Back to the Future multiple times over the past week.
I’m obsessed with time. I’m maniacal about managing my calendar. If a movie or TV show includes time travel, I’m automatically in. I believe the past can teach us everything we need to know to make the best possible decisions in the future. Time is an invaluable resource. Tony Stark once quoted his father as saying “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” That’s not exactly true when you consider the ways financial security can alter your life, including how you prioritize things or get access to better healthcare. That said, the sentiment is spot on.
Time is also a formidable obstacle. I’ve found myself at odds with time throughout my career.
Managers want new hires ready to go ASAP. However, it takes time to develop knowledge and skill.
We want to offer a new learning program to employees. However, managers push back by saying “We don’t have time for learning” because they’re already being asked to do more with less.
Stakeholders from across the organization come to us asking for help with their latest problems. However, we only have so much time and so many resources to address a never-ending list of challenges.
I may be an L&D pro, but I’ve never been in the business of learning. I’m in the business of change. It’s my job to make sure people have the opportunity to build the knowledge, skill and confidence needed to do their best work. Without the proper time and support, people struggle to keep pace or refuse to adopt new practices.
That means I must defeat time to achieve my goal. Easy, right? Here’s how I do it.
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Respect people’s time
There’s only so much time to go around in the workplace, and everyone wants it. Managers, stakeholders, executives, customers: they’re all pulling employees in competing directions. If you want people to spend their limited time with you - whether it’s attending a Zoom session, completing an online course or reading an email - you must respect their time.
Default to asynchronous. 📧 The only reason to put people in a room - physical or virtual - is to engage in discussion. If you don’t need people to contribute, package the information digitally so it can be consumed on their time. The onus falls on the sender, not the receiver, to put in the effort required to get the message across as quickly and effectively as possible.
Limit required attendance. 💬 Only put people in a room if they’re expected to contribute. If they just need to be aware of what’s discussed, make the information available later. This DOES NOT mean recording a three-hour class and expecting people to watch the entire thing. Instead, use AI to summarize key points from the recording transcript for quick on-demand review.
Start on time. 🕰️ If the session is scheduled to begin at 1pm, start at 1pm. Set the expectation so people manage their time accordingly. Don’t waste people’s time because others are late.
Get to the point. TikTok videos don’t begin with “In this video, you will learn how …” Modern creators know how little time they have to grab people’s attention, so they get right to it. Adopt the same approach with every course, meeting and email. If you must set context or provide backstory, do it with supporting materials.
Design for minutes. ⏰ It doesn’t matter if you support a corporate team or a frontline workforce. People don’t have time to step away from their day-to-day tasks for long-form distractions. Instead, adopt a microlearning approach by designing learning and support resources to fit into the minutes people do have available in the flow of work. Requiring people to step away from the job for hours should be a rare exception rather than an expectation that limits opportunity.
Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. 🔄 People won’t change how they’ve done their jobs for the past 15 years just because you sent them a Slack message. People get overwhelmed. People forget. People ignore. You must reinforce important messages over and over again if you expect behavior change. Take a lesson from the behavior change experts in Marketing and adopt a campaign-based approach to workplace learning and communication.
End early. ⏲️ There’s no rule that says a 60-minute meeting must last 60 minutes. If you’re done, you’re done. Let people go - without reminding them how generous you are by “giving them time back in their day.”
Protect your own time.
Unfortunately, everyone you work with doesn’t read this newsletter. I know … SHOCKING! It’s up to you to protect your own time.
Demonstrate respect. Show people what it looks like to respect others’ time by applying some of my suggested tactics. It may rub off on them … and perhaps inspire org-wide change down the road.
Prioritize. 🚨 “I didn’t have time” is a weak excuse. It’s not a question of time. It’s a question of prioritization. The more accurate statement is “I prioritized other items because …” Determine what’s most important and deserving of your time. This includes activities away from work that bring you joy and are therefore worth your time.
Be transparent with trade-offs. ↔️ The people demanding your time don’t know what else you have going on. Be transparent regarding your ability to meet their expectations. Bring in your manager if you need help determining where to focus or pushing back on those who fail to respect your time.
Balance effort and time. ⚖️ Do the least amount of work required to achieve your goal. That’s being judicious, not lazy. You can save time and tackle more problems if you limit your effort to only what’s necessary. Every solution doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to get the job done.
Block time. 🚧 Every Thursday morning, I review my schedule for the following week. I insert BIG RED BLOCKS on my calendar to reserve time for heads-down work. Otherwise, people will book me into 12 meetings per day, I won’t get anything done and I’ll be tempted to steal time from my nights and weekends to catch up.
Do the homework. 📖 Show up to every meeting ready to contribute. Review any pre-work included in the invitation. Message the organizer with questions beforehand. This will help you accelerate the conversation and wrap the session on-time. You may even find a way to avoid the meeting altogether.
Say NO. 🚫 Every calendar invitation comes with three options: yes, maybe, no. You’re not required to say YES to everything. Decline if you feel your time is best spent elsewhere. You’re the only one who can make that determination. Be sure to include a reason when you decline.
Thanks for taking the time to read ECOSYSTEM every Sunday!
Until next week, be well. JD
PS - Are you still wondering why I dressed up like Marty McFly last week? Watch the latest episode of In The Know featuring Donald Taylor to find out!