Monday, January 17, 2005

Managing Time vs. Managing Conflict

David began with, "I have a major time management problem. As an editor, I often get two clients calling with assignments. They call around ten AM and both want their projects completed by mid-afternoon. Then a third client calls around lunchtime with a crisis. So I have too many projects – all at once. The next day the phone is silent."

David’s dilemma made me think of Jennifer, who worked for two bosses, Blue and Green. Blue would give her an assignment to be completed by noon.
Green would call five minutes later with another assignment – you guessed it – to be completed by lunchtime. Jennifer was stressed and frazzled all day long. She had to negotiate with her internal customers – her management team – to set up a service delivery schedule that would be fair to everyone.

Whether your customers are internal or external, the key is to design consistent policies to avoid conflict.

1. Train your customers from the get-go.

Clients typically are nice people who have no clue about what it takes to deliver your service. For example, one client sent me a project, along with a ten-page single-spaced set of "notes." When I called with a question, she asked, "Can’t you just read the notes?" I explained that I might spend an hour searching for the answer to my question -- and I would have to charge accordingly. Sometimes clients will pay the fee as long as they get to remove themselves from the fray – but sometimes they’ll prefer to become more involved. It’s up to you to give them that choice.

2. Develop a conflict resolution plan before you need it.

As you face conflicting demands, develop a system so you won’t have to play referee every day. You can insist on 24 hours notice, command extra charges for rush jobs, or adhere strictly to first come, first served rules.

Working for a company? Get everyone to agree on a rule for setting priorities. Match your communication style to your organization’s culture. If nobody wants to negotiate, or if you’re working late on everybody’s projects (while the folks who assigned those projects left hours ago), your challenge becomes, "how to deal with unreasonable bosses."

3. Design your promises ahead of time.

When a client’s on the phone, it’s so tempting to say, "You only want to pay X dollars? No problem." Or you invite everyone in a class to send questions, which you promise to answer within 24 hours.

Off the phone, you realize you’ve just committed to an hourly rate that’s a fraction of your normal fee. (We’ve all done this at least once.) Either you deliver a half-baked solution or you put in lots of unpaid overtime. And either way, you’ll find yourself resenting the client and wondering why you got into this business in the first place.

Lessons learned: Conflicting demands? You’re not facing a time management challenge. You’re looking for a new strategy -- a way to mesh your preferred working style with the needs of your clients – and a set of policies to protect you from your own generosity.

As a career/business consultant, I’m happy to help you work through your own time challenges and conflicts. See


Post a Comment

<< Home