Don’t waste people’s time

Time is a precious commodity. If traded on the commodities market, its value would be incalculable. But alas, time cannot be bought or sold. And while the length of our lives varies and is unpredictable, the number of hours we have in each day is fixed.

Many books have been written on how to maximize your time. Read them and learn. You are the steward of your own time.

This essay focuses on the negative influence that people can have on other people’s time. In other words, if you want to waste your own time, that’s up to you, but don’t waste my time. Likewise, I don’t want to waste your time.

So let’s agree…

Be punctual.
If you have an appointment with someone at 1:00 p.m. and you arrive at 1:05, you have squandered five minutes of her time. To be on time you must be early; it’s nearly impossible to be precisely on time – time is moving too fast. For instance, if a meeting starts at 1:00 you can’t walk in 1:00 – that occurs in a milli-second and then becomes the past. You must arrive before 1:00.

Be organized.
When you are responsible for a project that involves other people, you must be organized or you’ll waste their time. You must predetermine what needs to be accomplished and know the quickest way to do it.

Plan ahead.
Plans exist in the future. The past is history, the present is reality. Always have a plan for what the future can look like.

Be decisive.
Often, it is wise to postpone a decision until it must be made – careful contemplation and monitoring changing variables are good reasons to delay a decision. But when a decision needs to be made, do so.

Be quick, not slow.
By and large, slow is not good. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE would ask his protégés, “Who wants to be slow?” It was a rhetorical question; I hope no one raised his or her hand. While it’s good to be thorough, careful, wise, circumspect, cautious, and deliberate – don’t be slow.

Monitor conversations and keep them on track.
When you and I are talking to each other, let’s pay attention to what we’re talking about and use our time wisely. For instance, don’t spend time talking about irrelevant topics.

A man (whom I did not know) once approached me and said, “Don, I know you lived in Austin, Texas, for a few years. Did you know a man named Ted Wallenburg?” I replied that I didn’t, but he spent the next four minutes telling me all about Ted, a man who had no connection to our lives. Why did he do that?

Also, don’t repeat yourself. When you and I are conversing, I will listen carefully and comprehend what you’re saying. I get it. So you don’t need to say it again. If I don’t understand, I’ll ask for clarification. Circular dialogue is a waste of time.

And let’s carefully consider the topics we want to discuss and allocate our time wisely. If we have only 20 minutes to converse, let’s not talk 12 minutes about an insignificant issue.

When I was 13 years old, we lived next door to an engineer whose hobby was rebuilding Volkswagen engines. One summer I served as his apprentice, so on warm summer evenings we rebuilt engines in his garage.

One of the first lessons he taught me was, “Don, try to anticipate what needs to happen next and act accordingly – hand me the right tool, fetch the next part to be installed – always be thinking two or three steps ahead in the process.”

That’s a great lesson to learn because it saves time.

Understand what can happen simultaneously and what must happen sequentially, and act accordingly.

Pay attention.
President Reagan was buried on June 11, 2004. It was a dreary, rainy day. Nancy Reagan and her family stood in the drizzling rain to watch the casket being taken from the Capitol Rotunda to the National Cathedral. A young military escort held an umbrella over Mrs. Reagan to shield her from the elements. In a moment of mental lapse, the young man allowed the umbrella to drift off to the side, exposing Nancy to the rain. She reached up, grabbed the man’s hand, and yanked the umbrella back into place.

Ouch. I can just imagine what the young man’s commanding officer might have said to him after the funeral: “Son, your only job of the day was to hold an umbrella over Mrs. Reagan. That’s not a difficult assignment. Millions of people were watching. What were you thinking?”

A Boy Scouts leader used to tell his boys, “If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. If you are late you owe everyone ice cream.”

I like that. Don’t waste my time.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

6 Replies to “Don’t waste people’s time”

  1. Those of us who have a certain level of wealth or privilege can forget the challenges of those who are poorer or disadvantaged. I can drive my car to an appointment and I can afford to park in a car park. If you are young or poor and have to depend on public transport or the goodwill of others to transport you to an appointment, you have a greater challenge to be on time. If you need to leave your job to get to an appointment but your boss won’t release you, you can’t afford to argue if there is little prospect of another job.

    Having suffered a six month period of unemployment, I began to understand how much more difficult life can be when your options are limited.

    1. Angela, thanks for sharing good insight. You’re right, life is easier to live when basic needs are met. I’m sorry you had to endure six months of unemployment; I’ve been unemployed twice in my career and it was painful. Kind regards,

  2. This is a superb essay—-I have always tried to be a few minutes early for my appts. and as I am aging I value my time so much more than ever!

  3. Don,

    As usual, you offer so much insight and great advice. Thank you. I’d like to offer an alternative look at your point on conversation. While I agree it’s not a good practice to waste someone else’s time—or your own, for that matter—often there’s a fine line between wasting time and relationship building. What if…
    – The man who approached you wanted to get to know you and this was the only conversational opening he could think of
    – He honestly thought you’d be interested in learning more about Ted
    – Telling you about Ted—a man he apparently found interesting—was his way of sharing something about himself?

    What if that irrelevant (to you) story was his way of saying “Please see me. Please validate me. I’m worth listening to, even if my topic is not on point.”?

    I don’t know where this conversation took place; in a business setting the rules are a little different, I think. It’s bad stewardship to spend the company’s money on things that are not on task. But people are not businesses and conversations are not transactions. They’re building blocks for relationships and as such, I’d argue they need a little slack.

    Besides, you never know when the completely irrelevant will turn into the totally relevant. Life has a way of doing that.

    Thanks again for all the good thoughts!

    1. Thanks, Susan, for taking the time to write. As always, your thoughts are good.
      Relative to my conversation with the man about Ted: If the man I was conversing with was wanting to make a connection with me, I would have preferred talking about him, not an unknown person.
      Also, I do see the value of small talk, but hope that it will lead to more serious topics, but, in the early stages of a relationship small talk may be understandably extended.
      I do see value in your comments and will take them to heart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *