Time management is critical for local government administrators and managers. During my career in local government I found three tools that helped me retain control of my time. With the New Year here I thought I’d share these tools to see if you can incorporate them for your use.
Shortly after assuming my initial role as a County Administrator it became obvious people wanted my time. Employees, Department Heads, County Board Members, members of the local media as well as taxpayers all wanted time with me. Some wanted to vent their frustrations, others to share suggestions; still others just wanted to shoot the breeze. Few ever took time to make an appointment – they’d just show up in my office.
New to the job I had to be polite; yet somehow I had to minimize these unplanned visits because they negatively impacted my productivity. Eventually I assembled three tools to help me effectively weed through unplanned visitors, these three tools became my trademark.
Upon returning from lunch or a meeting I often found individuals waiting to see me. They had no appointment and I was unaware of their desire to meet. They’d typically say “I just need five minutes of your time”. In actuality they took closer to 45. To combat these awkward moments I purchased an egg timer. Not just any egg time but a very large, expensive and ornate egg timer from a high-end culinary store. It was a10 minute, “sand thru the glass type” timer, which I prominently displayed on my desk.
Now when an unannounced visitor arrived at my office asking for “just five minutes of my time” I would greet them and say NO – I told them I would give them 10 minutes. Upon entering my officer we’d sit down and I would flip the egg timer. “What’s that they’d inquire” – ‘that’s your ten minutes so please be brief and get to the point’. When the last grain of sand ran through the glass I had the option to continue the discussion or politely inform them that their 10 minutes were up and if they’d like to continue this conversation they would need to make an appointment with my secretary. Word quickly spread – make an appointment if you want to see Gabrielsen.
There were also occasions where department heads, employees, taxpayers or members of the county board would rush in my office breathing hard and mumbling making it difficult to understand. What I thought they were saying was Mr. Gabrielsen, Mr. Gabrielsen we (I) have a problem or Mr. Gabrielsen Mr. Gabrielsen you need to… To cut through their excitement I bought a pair of bright red rubber bicycle handle bar grips, which I placed on a wooden board and kept alongside the egg timer.
Now whenever a person rushed in my office in a panic mode I would hand them my board and say please GET A GRIP; I can’t understand what you are saying. That simple statement – ‘get a grip’ caused them to stop and catch their breath. Once they gained their composure they were able to clearly and briefly articulate their concerns that I needed to take action on. Word quickly spread only go to Gabrielsen when you are calm and have your facts lined up.
Finally, there were times when individuals arrived to complain about a concern or issue which I had no control over. Contrary to popular belief, County Administrators do not have authority to waive federal mandates, overlook state statutes, violate established County Policies or override approved union contract language. No matter how much we’d like, we can’t settle personality conflicts between co-workers, reverse decisions of a Zoning Board or arbitrarily change market valuations of parcels of land calculated by the Assessor’s Office. Lastly we cannot defy a County Board’s decision to lay employees off or overrule a County Board’s decision to terminate an employee.
To prevent unending loops of repeatedly explaining there was nothing I could do, I would open my desk drawer and take out my third tool – a tube of KY Jelly, which I would lay on my desk. Stunned, the person would ask, “What’s that for?” To which I would politely respond, “Unfortunately life does not always seem fair and sometimes we are confronted by things that hurt. Though I wish I could help in this matter, as I have said over and over there is nothing I can do. If you think this product can help ease the pain feel free to take it with you.” Visitors stopped their complaining and left.
These three tools were extremely effective for my management style and they were indispensible in maintaining my time management. Will they be of value to everyone? Maybe not. Are there other time management tools you can consider? Absolutely. Your management or time relates directly to your productivity.
Best Wishes with your time management in 2013
author of Pearls of Wisdom … The Unofficial Guide for Local Public Officials