The Steve Harvey Effect: How To Be Ruthless With Your Time Without Being Ruthless With Your Team

Your time is a precious commodity. It’s your one non-renewable resource. As linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have noted, the metaphors we use around time reflect that. We say time is money. We invest, save, protect, spend, audit, give, squander, waste, and budget time. Time-management, in fact, ranks as one of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace.

To maximize efficiency at work, you need to be hard-nosed with your time. And there are a host of productivity tools designed to help you do just that: The Pomodoro technique, Kanban board, Eisenhower matrix, time audits, and so on. Unless you’re a one-person operation, however, using these tools effectively isn’t enough. You also need to communicate your time-management approaches to your colleagues. The key is to be ruthless with your time without being ruthless with your team. Unfortunately, these two imperatives don’t always cohere together.

Enter Steve Harvey. Last month a memo that the talk-show host wrote was leaked. In it, he listed a set of rules requiring his staff to steer clear of him. Harvey wrote:

“There will be no meetings in my dressing room. No stopping by or popping in. NO ONE. Do not come to my dressing room unless invited. Do not open my dressing room door. IF YOU OPEN MY DOOR, EXPECT TO BE REMOVED.

I have been taken advantage of by my lenient policy in the past. This ends now. NO MORE. Do not approach me while I’m in the makeup chair unless I ask to speak with you directly. Either knock or use the doorbell.

I am seeking more free time for me throughout the day. Do not wait in any hallway to speak to me. I hate being ambushed. Please make an appointment.

I promise you I will not entertain you in the hallway, and do not attempt to walk with me.

If you’re reading this, yes, I mean you. Everyone, do not take offense to the new way of doing business. It is for the good of my personal life and enjoyment.”

Now, despite how this memo makes Harvey look, the T.V. personality isn’t necessarily a caricature of the snobby, elitist celebrity. Separating the person from the problem, the memo is most-likely a consequence of a severe imbalance between the need to protect time while still supporting team. When that imbalance is unaddressed, it often emerges as destructive forms of communication and behavior. Harvey himself, while defending the intent of his words, admitted that they could have been expressed differently.

To avoid this, you must communicate preemptively. Here’s how we do that at LifeLabs Learning, a training and development company that specializes in helping individuals from innovative orgs master life’s most useful skills.

1. Let people know: Tell people that you’re trying something new. Explain the reasoning for your new time-habit approach. In sharing information, it’s also important to be empathic towards others: “I understand that this may impact you and would love to set up a time for us to problem solve together around this.”

2. Have trade-off conversations: If someone asks of you to do something that interferes with your current workflow, let them know what that entails and make them part of the conversation: ‘I can do X, but it means I can’t do Y. I’m not sure which one I should focus on. I am thinking I should stick to Y because it is really important to the company at the moment. What are your thoughts? What are your preferences?”

3. Share your to-do list: Similar to the trade-off conversation, but less participatory. Share a quick summary of what’s on your plate with people who are asking for your time. That way, people understand why things take longer and they get the context of their request within the larger set of tasks.

4. Create a set of if-then rules: This is a set of rules that automate actions. For example, if you’re the manager who constantly gets bombarded with questions, request of your team to get in the habit of coming up with at least one solution before asking you for help. On the other hand, if your manager asks something of you, instead of reprioritizing your whole day, politely ask how urgent it is and/or share trade-offs.

5. Create consistent dark time: “Dark time” is a term used at LifeLabs to describe a time in which employees are not expected to work (after 6 p.m. or on weekends). Consistence is important. If it’s flexible, people will no longer be sure if dark time applies. Dark time is useful both internally and with clients. It’s also helpful to find quirky names for these rules so that you can reference them succinctly and playfully.

6. Create checkpoints: Creating new time habits at work can induce anxiety. People may feel like they’re losing access to an important resource. It’s essential, therefore, that you schedule a recurring meeting time, or “checkpoint,” when people know they can come to you. This will reduce both anxiety and unscheduled shoulder-tapping.

7. Model time integrity: “Quick question.” “Got a minute.” “ASAP.” These are all examples of being blurry and unspecific about time. Instead, get in the habit of modeling time integrity: “I have five minutes to talk now. Is that enough time? If not, let’s schedule a time that works.” The magic here lies not only in being specific about your own time, but also in respecting the other person’s request and time.

8. Say “no” to unnecessary meetings: In many organizations, it’s hard to say “no” or “not now” to meetings without feeling like you’re violating a cultural norm. Yet, most people feel like they’re spending way too much time in meetings. If you’re not sure if a meeting is a good use of your time, get in the habit of asking: “Thanks for inviting me. So that I can contribute well, can you share the agenda or goal of the meeting?” If, after receiving a response, you feel that the meeting isn’t a good use of your time, politely decline: “Thanks again for inviting me. To stay efficient, I think I’ll just collect a summary of what was decided/discussed. Does that work?”

So before you have a Harvey-like meltdown, remember, it’s possible to manage your time and maintain positive and resilient relationships with your co-workers. The key lies in communicating preemptively, setting expectations and norms, making people part of the process, and finding structured and creative ways to problem solve together.

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