Let’s Talk About…Time Management & Time Bandits

Q: I plan, prioritise and document, and have done courses, but I still don’t seem to have mastered Time Management. I get lots of things done at work but everything involves constant rescheduling and a mad dash at the end. This makes me look and feel disorganised. Where am I going wrong?

Let’s consider those five final words: why this assumption that you are doing something wrong? Based on your query, it seems the basic knowledge and skills are in place. So, rather than giving you a further Time Management lecture here, I wonder if you are simply a victim of your surrounding environment.

The modern world brings many benefits, but it has also brought extreme busy-ness, demands and distraction. This can often cause basic niceties, such as punctuality or even honouring prior commitments, to become optional. I find that the more an organisation actively focusses on culture and wellbeing, the less this happens, because the tone and standards of the workplace are co-created between every employee, across all levels. However, when everyone is left entirely to their own devices, behaviourally speaking,  straightforward tasks can become unnecessarily overwhelming.

Time Bandits

This is my well-worn descriptor for the people who create this environment of subtle organisational chaos. They can be bosses, peers, at times even clients…anyone with whom you must interact for the purposes of carrying out your work.

All of us have encountered them, it is not exclusive to any one industry. They are the people who regularly and unapologetically arrive late to meetings, wanting us to rewind and start again. Or they don’t show up. Their calendar shows back-to-back meetings, every day (yet they put an hour in your diary for a meeting that really only needs 30 minutes). They set up sizeable meetings for 4pm or later. They use meetings as a place to catch up with gossip, or to talk about entirely unrelated topics (they are also the Chairs of meetings who allow others to do this). They continue to answer their phone and have lengthy conversations with others during your scheduled meeting. They love the “I’ll call you when I’m ready” hand signal (hand clenched, pinky to the mouth, thumb to the ear) as you arrive for a scheduled meeting. You go back to your desk wondering whether to start work on something else – will it be 5 minutes, 1 hour, or the next day when the call actually comes?

And so on. Does any of this sound familiar?

Moving forward

You can take small steps to resolve this for yourself, of course, such as personally addressing this with individuals. However, there is usually an entire chain at work within the organisation –a complex connectivity of personalities, behaviours, demands and expectations that snowball towards innocent individuals like you.

Why do Time Bandits in the organisation remain unquestioned? Because they are generally people who work late and will catch up on their own tasks in the 9pm silence – they contribute and so, from above, they are never viewed as being a problem for investigation. If they themselves are unhappily stuck in the chain, they don’t admit it. Good people then lose motivation, or even leave, the cycle continuing with a new audience.

If you notice that this is a wider cultural issue where you work, raise this with HR. There is no overnight solution to this, as it concerns people and their behaviours. Press for ongoing discussion and monitoring. It needs to be tackled with appropriate force at the appropriate level in the organisation, especially if the chain of chaos starts near the very top.

In the meantime, have faith in your own skills, keep documenting your work efforts – and, most of all,  take pride in spearheading this step towards a more harmonious working environment!


This Q&A was first published in Irish Tatler magazines.

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