Managing Your Time When Someone Else Controls It

People say that time management is a life skill. This is inaccurate, because managing time requires a sense of how time progresses in order to manage it in the first place. If someone has no awareness of time moving and unfolding, then framing time management as a skill to be mastered makes no sense.

For most of my life, I was inept at managing my time regardless of my attempts. To improve, I pored over self-help books and “productivity” systems from Dayrunner to Stephen Covey’s four-quadrant system.  None helped.  The theories and philosophies were inspiring, but failed in practice. I simply lacked a basic awareness of the passage of time, and I could track time only with great effort.

After pissing off enough people who mattered to me deeply, I had to make a change, which amounted to reorienting life almost to the degree of changing from right-handedness to left-handedness.

So, imagine my sheer frustration at spending three hours waiting for a doctor who is behind on seeing patients. Not once, but several times. This actually happened a short time after I made the paradigm shift, and it left me feeling out of control and victimized. It was payback, in a way, and it caused me to think through strategies for improving my so-called skills. Managing appointments is an art, because other people are in control of your time.

So here are some tips and tricks for when others have control of your life:

1. Schedule for the first appointment of the day. Typically doctors, health care providers, hair stylists, and the like suffer from a cascade effect where “running behind” accumulates with each new client or patient. Every appointment adds an extra ten or fifteen minutes to the “behindness” so that your wait time increases exponentially the later your appointment is. The first appointment of the day avoids that accumulation. In fact, you are in the enviable position of starting the cascade effect for others.

2. Always get an appointment card. Always. I learned this trick because one of my provider’s receptionists was bad about accidentally double booking (not “tight scheduling,” but actually double booking). An appointment card in hand is proof of slot ownership and trumps the poor soul who shows up without a card. for the proper time but had nothing to prove it. Just whip out the card, and you’ll likely be accommodated.

3. Don’t come early even if they tell you to. Note: This only applies to doctor’s appointments. Health care providers want you to come in ten minutes early to fill out their excessive paperwork. You end up sitting around either way. You can ask how much paperwork is required, and you can have the paperwork mailed to you ahead of time.

4. Call ahead. Not all providers call to remind you of your appointment. If they don’t offer that courtesy, then you can call to confirm. If you have a provider who is notoriously late, call the receptionist before you leave and find out how far behind the appointments are running. That way you can reduce your wait time by showing up later than scheduled.

5.  Don’t miss an appointment. Missing appointments puts you at the mercy of the scheduler and limits your control of the timing because you have to be “squeezed in,” put on a wait list, or you are locked out of choice time slots. For some visits, like the gynecologist’s office, you have to schedule several months in advance, and it’s easy to lose track of your date. Even though you might get a courtesy call, the time before your next appointment is long enough that you can forget and make other plans. Use a free reminder service on the net (monkeyon.com, google calendar) to send yourself emails or messages telling you when your appointment is getting close.

6. Bring something to do. In the era of mobile computing, there’s really no reason to be twiddling your thumbs in the waiting room.  For those holdouts, however, remember that the well-thumbed magazine left on the end table is probably missing the last page of the article you’re interested in reading.  Tip: Once I tried an audiobook in the waiting room, smugly enjoying myself, and I missed the nurse’s assistant calling me back to the doctor’s office.  Skip anything with earphones.

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