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Time Management: Managing Yourself in a Stressful Age
By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
Published: 02/25/2019

Clock As a trainer, you get to know the people that attend your classes and what their concerns are. When I present a stress management class, I ask attendees what stresses them out-or more simply what is stress to them. In corrections, besides the pay, shift work, lack of recognition-and I could go on-they always answer-without fail-the lack of time. Therefore, I get a discussion going, talking about the lack of time to get household chores done, get the bills paid, etc. If probation and parole officers attend, they speak of the amount of time it takes to conduct field visits and finish pre-sentence investigation reports for the court. Many complaints are heard about not having enough time, lack of time management, etc.

However, the real problem is how does one manage something that cannot be stopped, slowed down, or affected in any way? This something is time itself. The seconds ticking by on a clock, the hour that has passed and the day itself cannot be stopped or slowed down. What can be learned is self-management. How we conduct ourselves in the context of time is time management. Alternatively, more simply, time management is self-management.

Here is an example. You are sitting in the waiting room of your dentist, and plan to go to the grocery store after your checkup. You check the messages on your smart phone. Your supervisor from the jail has called you and left a voicemail-he needs clarification on a report that you submitted yesterday. The dental hygienist comes out and tells you that the dentist is running behind and it will be another 15-20 minutes until you are seen. So-now you have a choice. You can sit and read old magazines in the dental office waiting room until you are called. On the other hand- you can call your supervisor back and make your grocery list, which will resolve both the loose end from work and make your grocery shopping go much more smoothly. The smart choice is to use those 15-20 minutes wisely. Return the phone call and make the list. But-many of us will sit and read the magazines, then rush to return the phone call and make the grocery list up right as we walk into the store, most likely forgetting some items. If we forget some then we will take another trip to the store, which takes more time. In our personal lives, there are demands on us-fixing dinner after a long day, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, etc. If we let these stack up-we feel worn out.

Professionally, the corrections field-no matter where you work or what you do, is just as demanding. We have many tasks to perform-and perform well during a shift. Correctional officers (COs) must search inmates and areas, conduct headcounts, pass out meals, etc. Probation and parole officers (POs) have to schedule field visits, office offender sessions and write up pre-sentence investigation reports per the schedule of the courts. Moreover, there is the unexpected-the demands that ‘pop up’ that we do not expect, and we must have the time to deal with those.

The effects of this lack of self-management, not time management are very negative. We feel rushed, anxious, angry, overly apprehensive, and may be abrasive to our loved ones and colleagues. In addition, we may angrily ‘lash out’ at offenders. When we do so, people will not want to come near us.

Self-management means using common sense and will lessen your stress. Here is a short list of pointers, and after reading it I am convinced that using the ‘think outside the box’ method, you can come up with some more:
  • Use the magic word: NO: Many of us think that the best way to do things is to do them ourselves. We do not delegate; we get frustrated and take on more tasks. This crosses over into both our personal and professional lives. Sometimes we have to step back, take a break and say no. However, we must be conscientious. Sometimes our agency needs us to fill in for someone who is sick. Sometimes a friend needs help. We do not want to say no all of the time-but sometimes we must.
  • Watch the ‘drop bys’: These are the friends and colleagues that drop by and want to talk. It is all right to be sociable-but if you have a report to write, rounds to make, or if at home, a pile of laundry to do, social visits can get you behind. It is acceptable to say-politely-that you cannot talk now, or you can use a reason such as the lieutenant is waiting for this report, I have a meeting, etc. If you do not watch the socializing, what you thought was going to be a five-minute conversation could turn into a thirty-minute gabfest. Then you will have to catch up.
  • Get to the point: Why e-mail back and forth when you can make a phone call? In meetings, have an agenda, stick to it and limit discussion. I have found that in some-and certainly not all-meetings in my career, discussions would drone on and on and on with no resolution. A good rule is if a matter cannot be resolved in a reasonable time, table it for later discussion. The stakeholders can discuss it later and resolve the issue. In addition-the best time to hold meetings is early in the workday or shift. Closely related to getting to the point is to throw away junk mail, not answering telemarketer phone calls, etc.
  • Watch distractions: Thanks to the Internet, we can look up anything, from music to movies to travel. However, distractions-while breaking up the monotony, can be distracting. Like socializing, the five-minute ‘surfing the web’ session can last a lot longer.
  • Delegate: Have teenagers at home? Why can’t they do the laundry or prepare dinner? On the other hand, can they clean the house? At work-do, you have staff that welcome extra work or new assignments? Use this energy. You do not have to do everything yourself.
  • Do the hard tasks first: A CO reports to his post and is told by a colleague that a particular inmate has to see him. The CO knows that this inmate has a reputation for asking for favors, will argue, debate, etc. But-it is better to see that inmate early on, rather than at the end of the shift. A PO schedules the worst offender home visit first.
  • Be organized: Keep one calendar. Have a set place for daily essentials such as keys, phone, wallet, etc. Also, keep you address book up to date. In this information age, smart phones, computers, etc. are great tools to use in organizing yourself.
Are you thinking of other time savers-or self-management tools? They will reduce your stress. Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. His prior service in law enforcement included service in the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division. His jail career included assignments in confinement, work release, programs and classification.

He has been an adjunct faculty member of the Criminology, Law and Society Department at George Mason University since 1986, where he has taught four corrections courses. He also teaches corrections in service sessions throughout Virginia, and has performed training and consulting for the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association and the National Institute of Justice. His latest book, The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide: Third Edition was published in April 2017 by Carolina Academic Press. He has authored several other books in corrections. Gary has received a Distinguished Alumnus Award in Social Science from his alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an Instructor Appreciation Award from George Mason University.

Visit the Gary Cornelius page

Other articles by Cornelius


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