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Time Management Skills: Don't Waste Time for Others

Updated on September 6, 2012

Does this describe you?

Everyone knows people who always show up fifteen minutes late—for everything. When they arrive, they wave their arms with a flourish and either quickly apologize or make a joke of their lack of punctuality. We’ve also met folks who are quick to arrange a get-together, promising a good time for all. An hour before we’re supposed to meet them, they call to tell us something came up, but they hope to meet with us “again” soon. And, there are also folks that schedule a meeting but spend half their time on the phone with someone else. What do these people have in common? They waste our time. Are you one of these people?

An important aspect of time management that can help us organize in a dramatic if indirect way is consideration for others. If we are respectful of a friend or colleague’s time, they will be more thoughtful of our own schedule. If we are unconcerned with wasting someone else’s time, we will be accorded the same courtesy. Our personal life will suffer and our business will lose customers.

There are several simple things we can do to save time for people we deal with regularly. Following these suggestions will allow us to create a favorable impression on everyone we meet. We will not only be more efficient in conducting our business, we will be viewed as courteous and in control of our life.

The look of wasting time

Are you wasting time?
Are you wasting time?
...always missing the bus?
...always missing the bus?
...making everyone wait for you?
...making everyone wait for you?
Or, perhaps you're on time but unfocused?
Or, perhaps you're on time but unfocused?
Are you a story-teller, unwittingly putting everyone to sleep?
Are you a story-teller, unwittingly putting everyone to sleep?
Respect everyone's time.  Be early and be focused.
Respect everyone's time. Be early and be focused.

Recommendations for respecting others' time

1. Arrive slightly early for everything. This is a fundamental rule of time management. If we can arrive at an appointment at all, we can arrive on time. Being late is an insult and can be construed as arrogance. Tardiness tells our friends or clients that we don’t value them or their business. A lack of punctuality conveys the impression that anything we were doing is more important than anything our acquaintances could be doing—a remarkable display of conceit.

If we must be late, we should never make light of our tardiness. Don’t offer a witty one-liner in explanation, as this suggests we’re late all the time and have armed ourselves with an array of cute rationalizations (trust me, the folks we stand up are not laughing with us). Never use “I’m running late” as an excuse; this is a virtual confession that we’ve wasted someone’s time for no good reason at all. Conversely, a personal crisis described in great detail might garner sympathy for our situation but suggests we have no control over our life. If we are a few minutes early, we don’t need excuses.

2. Don’t let others make us late. We will fail to be early (or even on time) if we allow others to make us late. A key aspect of keeping others’ schedules is insisting that friends and acquaintances allow us to respect our own agenda. We mustn’t be angry or impatient if someone unwittingly wastes our time—we should gently inform them we have other things to accomplish. It’s okay to have a lot on our plate but if we are comfortable wasting our own time, others will be happy to help us do it.

3. Respect others’ schedules. If we know someone must be at work by 8:00 AM, we shouldn’t make them late by showing up at their door at 7:45 AM. If they risk being late to talk with us, they will be extremely irritated if our visit is unimportant. Some people do this intentionally, either to keep interactions brief or to claim in good conscience that they tried to reach someone and failed, while for others it is a form of egotism to impose their schedule upon others. If we are unconcerned with making someone else late, our lack of courtesy will be reciprocated.

4. Don’t become difficult to contact. Does our phone always go to voice mail? Is our business phone larded with superfluous telephone options, emphasized with a “listen carefully because our options have changed” warning? When we do answer the phone, are we often unavailable, offering a hasty greeting and promises to call back later? If this describes you, save time for others by becoming more accessible. This does not mean we are obliged to take calls 24 hours a day, but we should create small blocks of time when friends and business acquaintances can reach us if they need to. If someone knows when they can successfully contact us, we have spared them the frustration of repeated messages, phone tag, or trying to track us down using any means at their disposal.

5. Communicate efficiently. Learn to speak clearly and to the point. When talking with someone, don’t let the purpose of the visit be the last thing discussed. Finish business first, allowing whatever time is left for less important matters. This will also allow us to conclude a meeting in a casual, affable way.

Don’t talk incessantly. It is acceptable for a thought to remain unexpressed. Others may be too polite to tell us if we ramble, but we will soon discover people have “got to get going” when they think our next monologue is imminent. Natural story-tellers must maintain the awareness to know when an audience is willing to listen.

6. Become organized. We must take control of our life and not be at its mercy. Perhaps we feel justified when we are late for work or miss an important telephone call. After all, things happen and our friends and associates will surely understand. In truth, they do understand once or twice, but eventually we will be perceived as incapable of dealing with life. Take control and address problems efficiently in order to minimize distractions that affect interactions with others.

7. Don’t cancel meetings or get-togethers casually. If we make plans to meet with someone, we should keep them. If we arrange a get-together with an old friend, we need to be there. One of the worst, most blatant ways to misuse someone’s time is to cancel on them at the last minute. When we do this, we are wasting more than a few moments spent in idle chatter—we are killing an hour or two they graciously set aside specifically for us. It is not only disrespectful; it is insulting and won’t quickly be forgotten. If we say we’ll show up, we have to mean it!

8. Focus on others when with them. Do we interrupt family or friends to take a call or read a text message? Does multi-tasking too often divide our attention? It is impossible to compartmentalize our lives to the extent that nothing overlaps, but if our focus is not on the person we are interacting with, we’re wasting their time. In all likelihood, we are frustrating or angering them, as well. Offer undivided attention when meeting with someone, even if it is only for a short time. Once the purpose in meeting has been accomplished, distractions won’t hurt as much.

A little respect goes a long way

There is an overriding theme to these recommendations for respecting others’ time: each action step concerns how we conduct ourselves. We aren’t focusing on the other person but rather upon our own behavior. It’s unrealistic to seek change within anyone except ourselves. With this realization comes an important footnote: respecting the time and schedule of others is an act to be undertaken with courtesy. We won’t change someone else with words, so it is counterproductive to insult the story-teller or snap at someone trying to reach us while we’re conducting other business. Appropriate behavior will be reciprocated. Respect their time by respecting the person and don’t become a mean-spirited boor trying to change people; that is doing no one any favors.

Demonstrating respect for others benefits everyone. Accomplishing this allows us to be seen as courteous, understanding, and in control of our life. We will impress others with an efficiency they will attempt to match—at least when they are with us. Business associates will admire our work ethic and personal relationships will improve. All this can be gained, just by respecting others’ time.

Not a bad deal, is it?

A 2012 Update

It has been two years since I wrote this article, and I hoped it would be of use to folks with time management issues. There are not many occasions in my personal life at this stage where someone regularly wastes time or makes me late, but I have noticed with interest that it is a severe issue for many people in a work environment. I had a manager who frequently arrived late; it was not an issue because I was always there early and prepared for the day. I could not find it within myself to intentionally show up late and demonstrate the pitfalls of arriving for work at a leisurely pace with full confidence that someone else will step in to keep things going. Sadly, arriving early and preparing for the day even became part of my regular duties.

There are always staff members that struggle with punctuality, as well. They waste time for others because someone has to step in until they make it to work. Some race through the doorway at the very last moment, while others arrive late but armed with that convenient explanation. The hurried entrances and laundry list of explanations become irrelevant and managers lump them all together as unreliable employees.

It is not too late for anyone, however! It is possible for anyone to adopt habits that will allow them to manage their time effectively and not waste time for others. If the situations described here affect you, please take time to read and apply the information contained within this article. It really is about respect for others, and if you make use of the recommendations offered here, your friends and perhaps your employer will very likely be grateful.

Thank you for reading.

Early or late?

How often are you late for meetings and appointments?

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