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Are you late?

Are you late?
Swiss Army Watch

Why are you late?

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Time management begins with one of the absolute basics – arrive on time. In his book Copy This!, the founder of Kinko’s (now FedEx Kinko’s) Paul Orfalea recounts that he would make hiring decisions based on key basic modes of operating. One of those is being punctual. I’m sure that Mr. Orfalea isn’t the only one making career decisions based on being on time and other fundamentals of operating in a business context.

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If you’re not the one, you undoubtedly know people who show up late. Sometime they cause a group of people to stop their momentum while the latecomer is brought up to speed. Those on time drum their fingers (figuratively if not actually), change their train of thought and engage in other time filling activities while the latecomer is briefed. I have heard those who were interrupted mumbling under their breath, rolling their eyes, and give other negative feedback – even if the latecomer can hear or see them.

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Here are the negative associated with people that arrive late:

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  • Latecomers are holding up others and hurting the productivity of everyone who has to wait
  • Latecomers are demoralizing those who do bother to show up on time. This sometime starts a chain reaction where everyone starts showing up 5 then 10 then 15 minutes late to the detriment of all.
  • Showing up late disrespects others’ time. It is interpreted as ‘The latecomer thinks he is more important or has better things to do than I do.’
  • Other people extend lateness to meeting to expect tardiness in other arenas such as project deadlines. Thus, managers label late comers as high maintenance and dependant on others since the manager infers latecomers will be unreliable to be self-regulating. The manager has additional work to check on the work of the late contributor.
  • Late people start a domino affect that can set entire groups, departments, and projects back. That hurts reputations as well as budgets and plans.
  • Latecomers can get a reputation as ‘in need of attention’, ‘show boater’, ‘egomaniac’, and more.

Some of the positives associated with people who are on time and early: These attributes may not be earned but they are applied as an extension of being on time.

  • They’re reliable and easy to count on.
  • They won’t let a person, manager, or department down.
  • They can be trusted with important (career building) activities and responsibilities.
  • They are predictable in a positive way.
  • They are proactive and contributors.
  • They are conscientious.

If being on time is an opportunity for development for you consider these steps down the path to being on time:

  • Mentally reprogram yourself to arrive 5 minutes early to every meeting. Put them on your calendar for 10 minutes before start time. For example, a 2:00pm meeting is put as 1:50pm on your calendar.
  • Practice exit strategies so you leave previous commitments with enough time to get to the next one.
  • Do not stop at your computer to check email just before a meeting.
  • Plan your usual departure to a meeting and leave 10 minutes “early.”
  • Call if it’s the rare occasion that you’re running late.
  • DO NOT set your watch or clocks 5 or 10 minutes ahead. The rest of the world runs on real time so you need to synchronize with actual time.
  • Set alarms in your computer calendar to remind you to wrap-up current work and get off to a meeting on time.
  • Visualize the possible surprise and recognition you’ll receive for leading by arriving early.

Susan Sabo is the creative mind at Productivity Cafe. She works with clients to help them get more done and to get home at a reasonable time. Susan learned punctuality from her Dad who is always 10 minutes early.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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