How to Answer ‘Got a Minute?’ When You Literally Don’t Have One Minute

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PHOTO: Five expert tips for how to answer the question "Got a minute?"

And that’s when the phone rings, co-worker sidles up to your desk and email pops up.

“Got a minute?”

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And even though you literally do not have one minute to deal with whatever this person needs or wants, you smile and say, “Sure. What’s up?”

When you’re finally able to sneak a look at the time without seeming rude, 20 minutes have passed.

Edward G. Brown, President and Founder of Cohen Brown Management Group, a culture change management consulting and training company has five expert tips for answering the dreaded “got a minute?” question.

His company’s clients include CIBC, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, Barclays, Prudential Life and Merrill Lynch. Brown is also the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had.

1. Name the problem.

As they say in all the therapy circles, if you can’t name it, you can’t fix it. Here’s the name: It’s not a minute – it’s an interruption. A minute freely chosen and freely given is innocuous, but interruptions are thieving little intrusions that spoil our lives because of all the havoc they trail behind them. There’s the interruption that throws you off task. There’s loss of momentum. There’s the time wasted reassembling your thoughts and resources. There’s frustration at having to rebuild them, which drains your enthusiasm for whatever you were doing. There is the distress at having to make up for lost time. All of these things can cause you to make mistakes and have to start over. Sometimes they create resentment toward your interrupter, no matter how important that person is in your life.

2. Recognize the cause.

Why do you say yes when inside you’re going, “God grant me patience, how will I get everything done?” Because you’re afraid – not shaking in your boots afraid, but you have fears. If it’s a friend, you’re afraid he’ll think you’re cold. If it’s your kid’s teacher, you’re afraid she’ll think you’re not a good parent. If it’s your church or charity, you’re afraid they’ll think you’re selfish. If it’s a customer, you’re afraid they’ll take their business elsewhere.

3. Know your facts.

Facts are mother’s milk to good decisions. If you have a budget with X dollars a month to spend on eating out, then there’s no agonizing over should we or shouldn’t we. The dollars tell you yes or no; no argument, no drama.

You need the same facts about your time. You need to have a solid awareness of your Critical Few – that handful of things that are so important that leaving them undone will cause serious problems. You have to show up for final exams. You have to pay the bills. You have to return the customer’s call. You have to walk the dog, change the baby, take your meds. But mow the lawn, chat with a friend, hear about the ballgame, or go down the hall to get coffee? Maybe, sometime, but make sure you know that those are “Minor Many” – that long list of things that too often distracts us from our Critical Few.

4. Don’t say “no.”

That seems like unnecessary advice. You’ve already rejected “no” because you don’t want to sound like a selfish jerk. But the opposite of “yes” doesn’t have to be “no.”

“I want to hear all about your trip. May I call you back when we can spend some quality time together?” “Please keep me on your list of most willing volunteers, but can we schedule my time for next month, when I can be fully present?” Some version of those words needs to be custom-tailored to every got-a-minute interrupter on your list – family, friends, colleagues, friends, acquaintances. They let your interrupter know that his or her best interests aren’t served any better than yours are by this interruption. Most of all, they keep you from sounding like that selfish jerk you dread sounding like. Practice saying those words a few times until they sound as sincere as you are.

5. Make it a gift.

Even though you can’t give your time on the spot, you do have a valuable gift to offer your Time Bandit: your full concentration and interest at a time of mutual convenience. In this day and age, when it seems like all parties to every transaction are only about half there – the other half distracted by devices, alerts, the pressure of work undone, and the dismal prospect of ever catching up – it’s no small thing to offer your would-be Time Bandit your full attention to his or her needs. When they realize you care about, they will not only be mollified about your current unavailability. They will be gratified, which is what you want. And you get to keep your minute!


Source: ABC