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How Team Office Hours Can Boost Your Productivity

To be as productive as possible, you not only need to optimize your schedule for yourself, you need to coordinate and synchronize with the rest of your team. A neat scheduling trick makes this easy.

By
Stever Robbins,
September 27, 2016
Episode #425

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It’s not easy being the bottleneck. But when you’re the one in the middle of everything, you can still get your own work done and be there for everyone else.

It’s a new school year at Grandma Cuddles’s Day Care Center, and the new year starts with cursive lessons! Each tyke learns cursive by tracing an adult’s handwriting until they can duplicate the letters exactly. One of the tots is transcribing the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting. Another is re-writing Amelia Earhart’s memoirs in Amelia’s own script! And of course, the star pupil has been given the handwriting of the Pentagon’s Chief Procurement Officer. The penmanship is astonishingly accurate, except for a teensy bit of confusion over the spelling of “nucular” versus “nuclear.” Overall, Grandma is finding the kiddies’ art projects quite useful to her plans.

As well as the lessons are going, Grandma has to review and approve every one of the letters the kids have written before the letter is sent out to, er, wherever it is that Grandma sends them. Probably the parents. Yes, I’m sure of it. 

Unfortunately, Grandma has a very busy schedule. She has lessons to plan, prospective students to interview, discipline committee cases to review, and new machinery to install. And the tots? As they finish their assignments, they line up outside her office, waiting with hopeful smiles on their faces, papers clutched in their innocent little hands. And they wait. Sometimes for days.

This is a familiar story in business. The more important you are—and I’m sure you’re very important—the more everyone else gets stuck waiting for you. For them, it’s frustrating. For you … well, it’s kind of fun to be the one whose nap time can cause an entire Fortune 500 company to grind to a halt. However, the novelty wears off fast. You end up spending far too much of your time being sucked into details on far too many other peoples’ agendas.

You can reclaim your time, while still being the most important person in the room.

Schedule Review Time

The tots at Grandma’s day care never know when they’ll need to talk to grandma. After all, learning to do a perfect imitation of Barbra Streisand’s handwriting (did you know that a Barbra Streisand signature can go for hundreds of dollars on eBay?) might take a lot longer than learning the Secretary of Defense’s signature. The tots just know that once they’re up the learning curve, they’re completely stalled until Grandma issues her approval.

The solution is simple: scheduling office hours. But these aren’t open office hours, like the ones your college professor had, where you would meet with them one-on-one, explain what you were having trouble with, and have them laugh at you and ridicule your bloodline. These are office hours specifically designated for giving approvals. Every day between 10:30 am and 11 am, and again between 2:30pm and 3pm, Grandma is prepared to look over any cursive writing projects and give her approval if they pass muster. 

Arrange your schedule so your review time can be filled with easily-interrupted work.

She doesn’t just spend those hours twiddling her thumbs, waiting. She arranges her schedule so those times are always filled with work that can be easily interrupted, like administrative or accounting. Things that can’t be easily interrupted, like meetings with parents, employees, or heads of three-letter organizations, she schedules for different times of day.

This scheme gives the best of all worlds. The longest a worker—er, student—will ever wait for approval is a couple of hours. And there’s no need for complicated project planning that depends on knowing in advance how long the work will take for a dozen different workers. After all, if little Jesse promises to re-create the authorization signature for the downtown bio-weapons lab and it takes longer than expected, you really don’t want to have to spend time revising a project plan to coordinate the ripple effects on all the other kiddies’ projects.

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