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Incredible Time Management Tools

Time management is critical for local government administrators and managers. During my career in local government I found three tools that helped me retain control of my time. With the New Year here I thought I’d share these tools to see if you can incorporate them for your use. If this article is of value please leave a comment; if not share those thoughts as well. If you prefer send me a personal email at [email protected]

The Background

Shortly after assuming my initial role as a County Administrator it became obvious people wanted my time. Employees, Department Heads, County Board Members, members of the local media as well as taxpayers all wanted to time with me. Some wanted to vent their frustrations, others to share suggestions; still others just wanted to shoot the breeze. Few ever took time to make an appointment – they’d just show up in my office.

New to the job I had to be polite; yet somehow I had to minimize these unplanned visits because they negatively impacted my productivity. Eventually I assembled three tools to help me effectively weed through unplanned visitors, these three tools became my trademark.

The Reality

Upon returning from lunch or a meeting I often found individuals waiting to see me. They had no appointment and I was unaware of their desire to meet. They’d typically say “I just need five minutes of your time”. In actuality they took closer to 45. To combat these awkward moments I purchased an egg timer. Not just any egg time but a very large, expensive and ornate egg timer from a high end culinary store. It was a10 minute, “sand thru the glass type” timer which I prominently displayed on my desk.

Now when an unannounced visitor arrived at my office asking for “just five minutes of my time” I would greet them and say NO – I told them I would give them 10 minutes. Upon entering my officer we’d sit down and I would flip the egg timer. “What’s that they’d inquire” – ‘that’s your ten minutes so please be brief and get to the point’. When the last grain of sand ran through the glass I had the option to continue the discussion or politely inform them that their 10 minutes were up and if they’d like to continue this conversation they would need to make an appointment with my secretary. Word quickly spread – make an appointment if you want to see Gabrielsen.

There were also occasions where department heads, employees, taxpayers or members of the county board would rush in my office breathing hard and mumbling making it difficult to understand. What I thought they were saying was Mr. Gabrielsen, Mr. Gabrielsen we (I) have a problem or Mr. Gabrielsen Mr. Gabrielsen you need to… To cut through their excitement I bought a pair of bright red rubber bicycle handle bar grips which I placed on a wooden board and kept alongside the egg timer.

Now whenever a person rushed in my office in a panic mode I would hand them my board and say please GET A GRIP; I can’t understand what you are saying. That simple statement – ‘get a grip’ caused them to stop and catch their breath. Once they gained their composure they were able to clearly and briefly articulate their concerns that I needed to take action on. Word quickly spread only go to Gabrielsen when you are calm and have your facts lined up.

Finally, there were times when individuals arrived to complain about a concern or issue which I had no control over. Contrary to popular belief County Administrators do not have authority to waive federal mandates, overlook state statutes, violate established County Policies or override approved union contract language? No matter how much we’d like we can’t settle personality conflicts between co-workers, reverse decisions of a Zoning Board or arbitrarily change market valuations of parcels of land calculated by the Assessor’s Office. Lastly we cannot defy a County Board’s decision to lay employees off or overrule a County Board’s decision to terminate an employee.

To prevent unending loops of repeatedly explaining there was nothing I could do I would open my desk draw and take out my third tool – a tube of KY Jell which I would lay on my desk. Stunned the person would ask “what’s that for”? To which I would politely respond ‘Unfortunately life does not always seem fair and sometimes we are confronted by things that hurt. Though I wish I could help in this matter, as I have said over and over there is nothing I can do. If you think this product can help ease the pain feel free to take it with you. Visitors stopped their complaining and left.

These three tools were extremely effective for my management style and they were indispensible in maintaining my time management. Will they be of value to everyone? Maybe not. Are there other time management tools you can consider? Absolutely. Your management or time relates directly to your productivity.

Best Wishes with your time management in 2013

Gabe Gabrielsen

author of Pearls of Wisdom … The Unofficial Guide for Local Public Officials

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Patricia Long

I wish my supervisors read this post when I worked for local government!! They seemed to spend so much time in meetings and an awful lot of time trying to assuage people. I love these tips. If I ever become a supervisor, I’d love to try out these tips. Are you serious about #3?? That sounds pretty risky and riskque!

Bonnie Sharp

Thank you for a practical, yet humorous post. Limiting interruptions and keeping folks on message are probably two of the biggest timesavers. Embarrassing people into silence? Priceless.

Diane Lucas

Gabe, I absolutely love the egg timer suggestion. The other two leave me a bit cold – they seem to tell your “customer” that they are at fault somehow. I can’t explain exactly, but I think I’d be offended – esp by the KY Jelly. But I wouldn’t want a local public official’s job – there is no winning.

Best wishes for the New Year!


Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I would probably go with aspercreme in place of the KY (I don’t think I have ever seen KY used to relieve pain) but they certainly bring humor to the situation. I do like the timer and used a similar tactic to help a boss get control over endless meetings and overruns. I would walk into the meeting a few minutes before it was to end, point at my wrist that she needed to leave, she would start packing up and leave. Everyone took that opportunity to leave, so meetings started sticking to the agenda and even started ending early or on time. People would walk out of the meeting thanking me as they filed by. And I thought everyone would be angry about my interrupting!

Margaret Sarro

I’m sorry? Is this article a joke? Maybe I just lost my humor today since my computer broke this AM, but I found this article to be worthless. I hoped it would provide some real advice/useful tips, but instead it seemed like an article on how to be a jerk at work. IMO unplanned visits are just part of normal work life. You can cut down on them, but you can’t get rid of them all together. I suggest that honesty is really the best way to go…something like “I’m sorry I don’t have time right now, but I’d love to meet with you later when I can give this topic the time it deserves.” is hard to argue with. And when all else fails find a way to work from home a couple of days a week (that’s what I do!)…it makes it a lot harder to randomly drop in!!

Elizabeth Zelman

Gabe this is fantastic! Although none of these things are relevant to me, I had to read through because this story is just too funny. I’m not in a management position now having just started out but I hope to be someday; I’m going to remember this and maybe have my own timer eventually (that’s my favorite). Thanks for sharing!

Luigi Puzone

Very interesting tools.
If you can’t synthesize a concept in a few minutes you can’t be really conscious of what you’re asking or speaking about 🙂