The five time thieves

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

In last week’s column, I suggested there are two types of time management challenges — people and process. The goal with people is always to build trust.

This week, I address the second type of time management challenge — processes. The goal with processes is always to reduce time.

The five process time thieves are email, phones, interruptions, procrastination and interruptions. Although there are people involved, they’re also processes. We must have effective relationship and efficient processes, when serving our colleagues, clients and vendors.

Very few employees have been trained how to manage these five time thieves. Due to space limitations here, I’ll summarize three recommended best practices for each time thief. Feel free to email me if you’d like a document summarizing best practices we’ve gathered from clients all over the globe.


  • Use the subject header by pre-fixing with “Info,” “Action” and, rarely, “Urgent Action” with the red exclamation mark. You’ll find your recipient will appreciate this.
  • Use the person’s name at the start of the email and consider opening and closing with a connective phrase such as “I trust you’re well” or “I trust this is useful”.
  • Be clear whose court the ball is now in by closing with a phrase such as, “I look forward to hearing from you.”


  • Consider standing up when making a call, as you’ll find you communicate clearer and your call time will reduce.
  • If you have to deal with someone who is verbose, summarize back what they’ve said and ask them if you’ve understood them. People who are wordy are often that way because they don’t feel understood.
  • To avoid text tag and ambiguity, use the voice recorder functionality on your cell and then send the recording as a text message.


  • If someone stops by your work area and asks: “Do you have a minute?” ask them if it really is a minute! If they need longer, schedule a mutually convenient time. Consider going to their work area to meet. Why? Well, it’s easier to walk away from someone when you’re done rather than push him or her out of your area.
  • Consider standing up when someone interrupts you. Most people will perceive this as a sign of respect and you’ll find your conversation will be more concise.
  • Consider using ear buds while working at your desk to avoid distractions and even eye contact with people who just want to stop by and “shoot the breeze.”


  • Involve others whose work you depend upon to get their input on timelines and milestones as soon as possible: People tend to support what they help create.
  • If you’re a morning person, attack work you may have a tendency to procrastinate on in the morning, and vice versa if you’re more of an afternoon person.
  • Reward yourself for getting something done, such as “I’ll do X and then I’ll make a coffee,” etc.


  • Be an influencer and respectfully challenge the status quo of meetings. Do we need to meet? Do we need this amount of time? Does everyone need to be here for the whole meeting? Can we meet standing up?
  • Be an example to others by making sure you’ve done what you said you were going to do as a result of the last meeting.
  • Be focused by having a timed agenda — even a timekeeper — and don’t allow the meeting to be sidetracked. Be on time.

By implementing best practices for our processes, we can reduce the time stolen by one or all of the five time thieves. We also need to remind ourselves the goal with people is to build trust. I believe this quote from author Mark Buchanan summarizes this tension exceptionally well:

“Generous people have more time. Contrariwise, those who guard every minute, resent every interruption, ration every moment, never have enough. They’re always late, always behind, always scrambling, always driven. There is, of course, a place for wise management of our days and weeks and years. But management can quickly turn into rigidity. We hold time so tight we crush it, like a flower closed in the fist. We thought we were protecting it, but all we did was destroy it.”

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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