Employing the Hard Stop to Stay Productive

Time management is a non sequitur. Metaphysical arguments notwithstanding, time ticks inexorably forward second-by-second, minute-by-minute, and day-by-day. There’s nothing we can do about time’s forward march. However, we can control our actions as they relate to what “time management” really means – getting things done.

Insidious Logic

The people I talk with say there’s never enough time. Most feel they are constantly running behind schedule. There are many reasons for this. Our technology delivers endless demands for our attention. Globalization populates our worlds with more and more people. But one of the biggest culprits is letting scheduled events – meetings, telephone calls, web conferences, etc. – run past their pre-established end time.

There are two primary causes for events running long:

  •  Late Start: The first cause events run long is that they regularly start late and, in so doing, end late. The twisted logic here is that it’s acceptable to let something run long if we let it start late. Of course, the end result is that everyone – including those who showed up promptly – is now forced to live with the stress of running late because some were disrespectful of other’s time.
  •  Drifting: The second cause for events running long is that there is no set agenda or it is not followed as set. Consequently, the meeting and its results drift. The end result here is that purposes and objectives of the meeting often get lost during an off-topic field trip.

Both of these factors are a product of insidious reasoning. The first functionally states that latecomers determine what’s best for the rest. The second states that pre-determined purposes are subordinate to impromptu subjects. We need to look for a better way of making our time together more productive.

 The Power of Denial

The first stop on the search for a solution is to acknowledge that we’re in denial. [pullquote]Denial is a very powerful force. It’s a force that drives intelligent people to concoct innumerable excuses to maintain the status quo.[/pullquote] In this instance, we often excuse latecomers under the theory that we need “their” or “everyone’s” input. Similarly, we excuse drifting because we want “everyone’s contribution” or because “their point was important.”

The reality is that latecomers are disrespectful and field trips are inefficient.  But changing other people’s behavior is much harder than changing our own. So let’s change our behavior by implementing a hard stop policy.


Employing a Hard Stop Policy

The hard stop is just what it sounds like. When the time set for an event to finish arrives, the event terminates. Period.  No excuses. No extensions. It’s a hard stop. This effectively puts the blame for the inefficiency where it belongs – in the late start or in the field trips taken.

Consider the hard stops that we currently take for granted: airplanes leave and arrive when scheduled (for the most part), movies start and stop when the marquee indicates, and TV shows do the same thing. If we don’t make it on time, we’re left behind. Why shouldn’t that be the rule for our scheduled events?

Here are some easy tips to make the hard stop policy most effective:

  • At the beginning of the event (call, meeting, etc.) state out loud that we will “hard stop at” the prescribed end time. Also, make a note of the actual start time and any topical field trips taken during the event, as this will come in handy later.
  • When the end time arrives, announce that the event is over, pick up your materials and walk out of the room. Note, if you’re a subordinate, plead another event that’s just starting as your reason for leaving.
  • If you receive push back for the hard stop, simply remind the participants of the actual (late) start time and/or any topical field trips taken that diverted the group from accomplishing the stated purpose of the event.

Commanding the Workday Necessitates Action

To effect any change, we must necessarily take action. Utilizing the hard stop will help make the meetings and other events you manage/attend more effective and less stressful for everyone.

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