tl;dr: How we spend our own time is up to each of us. How we choose to spend the time of others requires thoughtfulness.
After college, I lived in Germany (Frankfurt) for 1 year and then in Japan for 2 years.
On one of my first days in Germany, I was walking with a friend to the subway.
I said, “hey, let’s make sure we don’t miss the train” and began to increase my speed.
When you live in DC or NYC or many other places, you know the feeling well of walking down onto the platform only to see the train you wanted to get on pull out at that moment.
In my youth, we had no way of knowing how long it would be until the next train might arrive. Today, it’s much better. But then, in the late 90s, that was the norm.
Not in Frankfurt, however.
She said to me, “what’s the rush? The train will be there in 4 minutes.”
Sure enough, it was.
That’s when I understood that one of the secrets to German, and Japanese, success was they had an intimate appreciation of the value of time.
The Swiss are world-class at this as well.
I adopted the approach. On time is late. Early is on time.
And it worked.
Know Thy Time
When I returned to the US, I diligently adhered to this methodology. I was almost always early or on time.
Soon, however, I was reminded that American culture appreciates time, but with a bit less rigidity.
Everyone by now has been on a Zoom call where the start is delayed for 3, 5, or 10 minutes either waiting for someone or dealing with technical difficulties.
I’m not perfect, so this isn’t about everyone else.
It’s about a recognition about what being late and being unprepared means to other people.
In the The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (more context here), Peter Drucker offers 3 ways for executives to become effective.
The first is: Know Thy Time.
Since June 1, I’ve been keeping a “time log” as Drucker suggested.
It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet, but it has an illuminating impact.
You start to see WHERE your time goes.
Since, like you, I only have 24 hours in a day, the challenge is to figure out how to apply a limited resource that can’t be renewed (my time) against an unlimited set of activities for what I could be doing.
Drucker wants us each to align our time agains the highest order impacts.
We all want this. But few of us do this.
Time gets sucked away by distractions (e.g. phone/notifications), inefficiency (default meetings of 30 or 60 minutes that only require 12 or 38 minutes), and perhaps most perniciously, unequal perceptions of the value of the time from 10am to 10:07am.
The Value of Time
When we show up late or unprepared for a meeting on the front end or continue meetings unnecessarily after the purpose has been achieved on the back end, we are burning time.
Worse, we are burning the time of others, preventing them from applying their limited valuable resource against their highest order objectives.
Every minute not spent on priority #1 is a cost to the organization and the individual. Add all those meetings up that start late or run late and pretty soon, it’s a very expensive impact on the company or a person’s ability to achieve their dreams.
Obviously, there are situations where life intervenes. Clearly, there are moments where we either have to be late or continue discussing something that hasn’t been resolved.
And, there are ways to make sure that the 10:00 to 10:07 timeframe isn’t a total waste. Tom Friedman wrote an entire book, Thank You For Being Late, on how he made the most of time when others were delayed.
Still, for me, it’s a question of awareness that whatever we do (late for a meeting, sending ‘reply all’ when it’s not really necessary to create a 52,000 person email storm) is going to impact the time of someone else.
The questions I am starting to ask are:
-is it worth it to ask for someone’s time for this?
-am I being thoughtful in respecting the time of others?
A few years ago, I saw an interview with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates on the Charlie Rose show.
Buffet said it as clearly as could be said.
“I’m rich. I can buy whatever I want. But I can’t buy time.”Warren Buffet