“If you are five minutes early, you are already ten minutes late.” Vince Lombardi
Meetings continue to be the topic of much discussion, sarcastic memes, eye-rolling, and general irritation. The good news here, and frankly the positive reality we don’t hear much about, is that there are good meetings. There are examples of productive gatherings of people working towards a common goal that actually produce outcomes from the discussion that are beneficial to the participants and the organization as a whole. They just don’t make fun dinner conversation or social media posts.
Rather than focus on the good meetings so we can replicate them, and rather than contribute in a positive way to the tough ones, it’s often easier to just pull out our laptops or cell phones, lean over to the person next to us, and complain about one more crappy time waster.
That’s kind of a sad state of affairs. “I hate how awful these meetings are, so I’ve decided to actively contribute to making them even more awful.” Do we somehow delight in our collective misery? Is there anything else we do that matches this level of intentionally contributing to a bad outcome?
- “I hate how unhealthy I’m feeling, so I think I’ll stock up on donuts and cheeseburgers and fries, and maybe throw some extra processed crap into my lunch bag today.”
- “I’m bummed at how lousy the yard looks right now, so I think I’ll go ahead and break the mower, and maybe throw some trash in the yard and invite some dogs over to do their business and just leave it there.”
- “I’m super frustrated at how little legroom airlines offer, so I went ahead and packed some extra stuff to hold on my lap and brought some pieces of wood to bang my knees against during the flight to make it worse.”
… I digress…
Yep, it’s easier to complain about meetings, but the easier path isn’t necessarily the better path. Here at Your Clear Next Step, in our relentless pursuit of even better, we’ll keep talking about and celebrating the good meetings and offering tips to help you make meetings better where you work. We’ll do this one tip at a time.
This set of tips concerns starting on time. And honestly, this can apply not just to meetings but to workdays, workouts, or whatever thing you’ve committed to that needs to start on time.
In case you need to be convinced that starting on time really is better for business, here’s an interesting piece that highlights how much time (AND MONEY) we have all lost by not starting on time. ). And even in our personal lives, whether we’re talking about dinner, fun stuff, or bath time for the toddler, starting late can create a downstream cycle of pain – we rush to get finished, we get careless, we start the next thing late, etc., and the cycle continues.
Admittedly, for a whole sector of our population, punctuality is next to perfection. There are many folks who would rather do almost anything than start something late – and they make diligent choices and commitments so that they can arrive early and start on time. For those of you who fit this description, thank you. We appreciate you! Many of your peers and those who look up to you don’t understand this ability or passion, but deep down, we appreciate you. Honestly, we kind of want to be more like you.
But for everyone else, starting on time is difficult. For these folks, tardiness exists not because they’re trying to be mean, rude, or disrespectful, or even because they’re trying to be late.
- In some cases, the individual just has a fluid relationship with time. Time gets away from them, so to speak. Seconds turn to minutes when they’re deep in thought or engaged in an interesting discussion. Time isn’t a priority for them.
- In other cases, the individual has an overly optimistic sense of how long something takes. In their optimism about how fast they could get somewhere or complete some task if all the conditions were perfect, they forget to plan in for the extra time to scrape off the windshield, or the printer jam, or the person with one more question.
- In yet other cases, the individual has an compulsion to do ONE. MORE. THING. It’s like this desire to accomplish more, do more, get more out of each day compels them to see minutes on a clock as a race to get more done, and sometimes the clock wins.
Tip 1 – Identify the impacts.
Determine how much time and money your team is wasting by starting late. Determine how annoyed the punctual people are becoming by this incessant late start. Calculate the costs. The negative impact should inspire you to want to start on time.
Tip 2 – Set a reasonable goal.
Vince Lombardi indicates that we need to be ready 15 minutes early. But honestly, that’s not practical in our current packed-to-bursting calendars. If you struggle to start a task or a meeting on time, telling yourself to be ready to start 15 minutes early probably isn’t going to produce lasting results. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the whole idea! Maybe we can just be ready 5 minutes early.
Tip 3 – Change the time.
If the reality is that you won’t be able to start when you’re scheduled to start, then adjust the scheduled start time. As Cy Wakeman would say – “stop arguing with reality”. Need examples?
- If you’re responsible for dropping off kids at the elementary school, where they can’t even get in the school until 7:45 and you’ll be caught up every day in the long line of drop-off traffic, and there’s no way you’ll make it to the office by 8, then stop pretending you can commit to an impossible 8:00 start time; instead, commit to 8:15.
- If you know you have a standing meeting from 10-11 that you’ll be running from and can’t possibly make it across the building for an 11:00 meeting, then stop pretending you will, and instead change your meeting start time to 11:05.
Tip 4 – Stop the crazy.
Take a few minutes to reflect on your own behavior and own up to anything you’re doing that contributes to the lateness – and then stop doing it. Take an active and intentional role in co-creating the on-time start.
- If you’re the person who stops someone else in the hallway to chat a few minutes before the hour, even though they’ve already told you they’re on their way to a meeting, then stop. Ask to connect with them a different time.
- If you’re the person who gets to the meeting room and immediately pulls out your phone or laptop while you’re “waiting” for others to arrive (and then winds up causing the rest of us to wait while you finish that one last thing or close down), then stop. Get to the meeting room, and keep your electronics closed.
Tip 5 – Break the cycle.
Commit to ending your meetings early so that everyone can get to their next meeting on time. If it’s not “your” meeting, but you’re a participant, commit to contributing to brevity so that this meeting can end on time or early. Someone has to take the first step. Why not let it be you?
- Instead of being the person who is distracted by doing something else during the meeting and needing to ask the presenter to repeat themselves, stop allowing distractions. Try keeping your phone and laptop away.
- Instead of contributing to the never-ending meeting by being the person who answers a yes or no question with a five paragraph monologue, stop giving long answers. Try “yes” and “no”. Try jotting your thoughts down and focus more on making your point clearly one time than on repeating it multiple ways.
Tip 6 – Get help.
If you’re one of those folks who is perpetually tardy, you may not be able to make this change on your own. In the moment, identify someone who can be a meeting timekeeper, or set a timer on your phone to help. For longer term changes, find someone else to help you learn this new skill and ask them to help keep you accountable during this transitional period.
Years ago, my best friend Nancy challenged me to become less tardy. Without her help, I might still be a full 5 minutes behind the 8-ball.
Hopefully, you’ve found some nuggets in these tips you can apply. We’d love to hear your ideas too! How are you helping to improve the working environment for all of us by starting on time?