You can make your phone calls more productive – and even add hours to your workday – by using the power of the Hard Stop.
This is in contrast to the all-too-familiar Soft Stop, where supposedly quick conversations drag on for hours, staff meetings take all morning, and our precious time vanishes right before our eyes.
“Especially in work situations, it’s easy for a meeting or a phone call to run over its allotted time, leaching time off the next task you had on your calendar and ultimately leading you to not have time to finish those last few things you have scheduled for the day,” writes Emily Price for Life Hacker. “That, or keep you at the office for an extra few hours so you can finish them.”
The solution is to place a hard stop on the encounter and stick to it. Do this by setting a specific limit – 14 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever – to emphasize that what you’re doing has a definitive end time.
“It’s great,” says Price. “When you tell someone that you have to leave a meeting after a set amount of time, that person makes more of an effort to get to the point. They’re on time, ready to start your meeting or chat, and the whole thing moves significantly more efficiently.”
A hard stop gives you control over how much time you give to someone or something. An added bonus: by expressing a limit upfront, you give yourself a clear opening to leave when you need to.
Law and Speed Skating
Mayke Nagtegaal is a lawyer and speed skater who finds herself literally racing against time every day.
“As a semi-pro skater, I raced against both the clock and my opponents,” she writes for Fast Company. “Later, as an attorney specializing in international tax law, I diligently logged every minute of billable work done on behalf of our clients. And, especially now as the COO of a rapidly growing global tech company, time is as fleeting as ever.”
Things started to change for Nagtegaal when she had a child and began paying more attention to how she spent her time.
“I knew I had to set firmer boundaries and expectations for how I set up my schedule,” she writes. “That’s not to say that I don’t ever bring work home, or that I say no to every after-hours call or email that comes my way. But I’ve learned to embrace what I’ve started to call a hard stop. The hard stop is the time I choose to put my work aside. It’s the time when I put down my phone, shut my laptop, and focus on my family.”
Hard stops are all about priorities and limits, says Nagtegaal.
“Take an inventory of the non-negotiables both at home and at work,” she suggests. “As an example, I know I need to set aside time for athletic activity. Too many of us know that’s one of the first things to go when we’re pressed for time. But it’s an investment that I find pays dividends.”
Six Tips for Hard Stops
- Give yourself permission. Don’t feel guilty or shy about expressing your time boundaries.
- Be selfish. Otherwise, outside demands will dictate your schedule.
- Communicate clearly. Tell others about your time constraints and let them know you expect them to do the same with you.
- Be flexible. It’s not all about you. Sometimes meetings exceed the allotted time. Go with the flow.
- Find your rhythm. Having a routine (ex: a specific time for checking email or exercising) helps you identify your hard stops.
- Seek out support. Ask your mentors, managers, colleagues and friends to help reinforce your hard stops. In turn, do the same for them.