Why You Can't Have 5 Minutes of My Time

Why you can't have five minute of my time

Okay, that’s not the nicest headline is it?

But you’ve felt like saying it, haven’t you?

And don’t you wish you could say it sometimes?

Now, you would never say it that way. And neither would I.

But how many times have you set out to accomplish your to do list in the morning only to have a series of  ‘I just need five minutes’ (which is never five minutes) or “I really need to meet with you” consume most of your day?

How many times have you got ‘nothing on the calendar’ (which you were going to use to knock that project out of the park) only to have someone ask you if you’re free and next thing you know half your day has vapourized?

So you

end up working at night

put in time on the weekend

fall further behind; and

never complete your most important priorities.

Or all of the above.

The truth is that five minutes (or 15 minutes, or lunch or a meeting) with someone you didn’t need to meet with is time:

Your kids need

Your spouse has been waiting for

Your direct reports deserve

That special project requires

Your true priorities demand

So what you do with those requests without being a jerk, or feeling guilty or losing all your friends?

1. Be kind. Show some empathy. (They probably want to meet with you for what to them is a great reason). Even begin by saying “I would love do that, however…” and then tell them why you can’t (I’ve got a project I have to follow through on etc). In fact, here’s a six step strategy on how to say no nicely.

2. Redirect. I amazed at how many times people think I can help them when in fact others are in a much better place to assist them than I would be. So spend 1 minute refering or directing them to someone who truly can help them. If you decide to meet with them anyway (because you can’t say no), just remember, you not only wasted your time. You wasted theirs.

3. Defer. If you think you should meet with someone, say “I can’t now, but how about later? Can you email me and we’ll set up a time?” It’s amazing how many times people just don’t follow through. Or when they do, they say “Don’t need to…the problem is solved.”  Guess it wasn’t that important after all.

4. Be clear on your priorities. If you haven’t thought through what’s important, everything will seem important. Most of the time you probably don’t say no because you don’t know why you should say no. Change that. Set priorities. Decide which tasks and people will require your time and schedule standing appointments with them. I blogged about how to do that here.

5. Change Expectations. This one is huge. I’m a pastor, and stereotypically, everyone expects a pastor to visit them and be there for them. We just happen to have 1500 people who call our church home. So that doesn’t work out too well. We’ve trained our people to look to each other for care (in small groups) and every week, we refer people whose needs are a bit deeper to outside counselors we trust.  That frees me up to teach, lead our team, advance our mission and work with key leaders. You can retrain peoples’ expectations. That also frees me up to care for our elders, staff team and senior leaders. It allows me to do for a few what I wish I could do for everyone.

6. Schedule Appointments with Yourself. Schedule space in your calendar to work on it, not in it. If you need time to write a talk, start a project, think through an issue, solve a problem or set goals, write it in your calendar. I rarely book appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then when someone asks you whether you are free, you can truthfully say “I’m sorry, I’m not free…I have a commitment”.  And by the way, the commitment on your day off is to your family. You aren’t free then either.

7. Leave a few open spots in your calendar. Sometimes you do need to just meet with random people. I keep a few spots open in my calendar every month for that. Just because you can’t be accessible to everyone doesn’t mean you need to be accessible to no one. I usually keep them short (30-60 minutes max, sometimes shorter), but I go in with an open mind trying to learn. I also vet those meetings ahead of time to make sure I’m not wasting their time when they actually should have met with someone else.

It’s amazing what can happen when you begin to protect those “five minute” segments in your calendar.

What are you learning about saying no to people who ask for your time?

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  • Sarah Greenwood

    This post makes me sad. It sounds like we people in church are just a nuisance to Pastors, Carey. Sorry for that. Jesus was all about people – he wouldn’t defer and delay us. He would help us and love us, as misguided, needy and bothersome as we might be. I think many “deferred” people do not find other solutions, they just walk away from a church that wouldn’t help them, and perhaps even from faith. I know Pastors are busy and I respect that. Yikes. won’t be asking my Pastor for help any time soon, that’s for sure.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Sarah….it makes me sad that this makes you sad. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot of pastors burn out because of not being sure of how to handle all the demands on their time. Even Jesus would ‘finish’ ministry at certain points and walk away to rest, despite there being more need. This post is designed to help leaders serve everyone better. And Point 7 is for exactly people like you. So please don’t walk away. Managing your time well actually creates a church even more people can attend. Hope this helps. Sorry Sarah.

      • Sarah Greenwoord

        What a gracious and kind answer, thank you ever so much, Carey. You raise some excellent points. Thanks :)

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  • Steve Frissell

    I do 30 minutes one-on-one with one non-direct report every Wednesday morning. I have no agenda for that time and allow the employee decide how they want to use the time. We talk about life, faith, parenting, and sometimes work. It takes a few months for me to rotate through my whole staff, but the routine has been a great solution for me. I don’t have to say “no” to five minute meetings often, but when I do the staff members already know I care. Some of them ask less often for the five minute meetings now because they know we’ll have thirty in a couple of weeks.

  • Daniel Decker

    Excellent. I’m not so good at saying no to some things but I have learned how to say no to the random “5 minute” meetings. Most people don’t understand the “no” but my time is a finite resource… there is only so much of it and I must protect it for myself and for those who I love. I’ve learned that I’m not superman when I try to be everything to everyone. ;) That doesn’t mean I don’t make time for people, I do… I just do it more intentionally and I hope with greater impact.

  • kmizen

    Excellent. I struggle with these areas in ministry, it’s so easy to say yes all the time. Saying no isn’t easy. Appreciate this, thanks Carey!

  • Rielly

    I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are on Bob Goff’s book Love Does… he seems to take a little bit of a different approach.

  • http://www.greenmango.cc/ Roy Opata Olende

    So spot on.

    I remember leaving my wife waiting for ages Sunday after Sunday just because someone wanted to chat, ask a question, etc. It felt like a good thing to prioritize people who seemed to be in need, and it was a real drag on my relationship.

    That was then, and things are great now…but as others have mentioned, these are lessons I wish I’d learned a long time ago.

  • http://www.confessionsofaparent.com/ Mike Berry

    Carey, this is spot on. I especially love #6. I’ve never thought of doing that. Just recently I sat down with my assistant and gave her specific times throughout my week that I would take outside appointments. All she has to do when she receives a request is look over my calendar and decide when I can meet. The times are blocked up against on-going onsite meetings so there’s an escape hatch. I set up boundaries like, “If this is a repeat appointment then I can only meet with them for 1 hour onsite”, or, “If I have to travel to meet with them, the travel time will be included in the appointment time.” My assistant is super nice and can spin it really kindly to folks. I’ve found my time is better spent now that I’ve gone to this system. Thanks for your words! -Mike

  • http://www.charlielyons.ca/ Charlie Lyons

    Very good thoughts, Pastor Carey. As one who’s planning on going into the pastorate, these are lessons learned well now, to be sure! :-) Thanks!

  • cnieuwhof

    I wished I’d thought of all this stuff years ago Charles. And thanks Christy!

  • Charles Hodsdon

    Wish I had read this before I sent an e-mail yesterday… I have a fence to mend and an outline for doing better in the future, Thanks!

  • Christy

    Reading this was a very valuable use of 5 minutes of my time ;)