Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why are you always running late??

I still hear feedback several years after a blog post I wrote about some of the reasons why people are late. In particular, one friend and client of mine receives regular hassle from her business partners for her constant tardiness. She's by no means alone. You know the people I mean (and perhaps you are one,) who are perpetually racing out the door and/or driving like a maniac, yet still arriving way after the time they agreed upon to meet a colleague, friend, or family member. Meanwhile, there's the other person, standing or sitting, trying to be patient about the loss of productive time while waiting, and feeling like the latester must not think they are important enough to be on time for.

This is one of those intent vs. impact situations. Chronically late Lucy or Larry may genuinely be trying to arrive on the dot of the agreed-upon time – but as repeated occasions of their tardiness occur, the people who are waiting for them might begin to interpret Lucy’s and Larry's constant lateness as laziness, disorganization, a show of apathy, or a power play.

Although you might intuitively notice different ways of perceiving time, there is a scientific explanation for the differences in how people handle time use. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall, after substantial international travel, identified two different types of time sense: monochronic vs. polychronic.

  • Do one thing at a time.
  • View time commitments as critical.
  • Are committed to jobs (projects and tasks).
  • Adhere religiously to plans.

  • Do many things at once and are highly distractible.
  • View time commitments as objectives.
  • Are committed to people and relationships.
  • Change plans often.
  • Base promptness on the significance of the relationship.
  • Have a strong tendency to build lifelong relationships.

No wonder that the time issue creates such tension! In the U.S. we’re in a very monochronic society, with every moment scheduled, such that even the most time sensitive have to hop to in order to meet our commitments. The society is mobile, and often the focus is on tasks rather than relationships. Businesspersons, students, even retired individuals are guided (or ruled) by clocks and calendars.
As individuals, Americans are not exclusively monochronic or polychronic – one person might be at any spot on a continuum in between the two extremes. But if a person has polychronic tendencies it’s typically played out in the transition from one activity to another. Coach Martha Beck suggests a coping strategy in what she calls “The Art of the Dismount:”  If you are a polychrone who is constantly late, and it's a problem for you or other people who are important to you, here are some ideas:

  1. Accept transition trauma - Sometimes it is hard to think about letting go of the activity right in front of you to switch to another, especially if the current activity is interesting and absorbing. It might not feel good to stop, but regardless of how it feels it might be necessary.
  2. Plan your dismount backward - Start with the time that you know you have to arrive, then work back from there. How long is the walk there from your car, and before that, how long is your drive? How long will your personal preparation be before you can hop into the car? So by when do you have to log off of your Facebook account?
  3. Say goodbye before you say hello - Determine ahead of time what you are going to say when it is time to leave. You might need to say it in a few different ways before you take off. If you are concerned about hurting feelings, it will be helpful to think it through ahead of time - you won't be as likely to procrastinate on your departure if you know how you are going to do it.
  4. Set up redundant reminders - You might need a watch alarm, a beep from your smart phone - even a staffer or family member to keep you on the path to disengagement. This thing right in front of you is hanging onto your attention, so it will likely take some extra steps to make you actually push back from your desk, stand up, and walk out the door.
  5. Give the dismount half the energy - Assume that you'll have to expend energy into developing your eventual disengagement, enough that it might be a full 50% of your total energy on the project or event in which you're involved.
Time sense is a significant way in which people are different from one another. If you are a polychrone who has to live and succeed in a monochronic world, you can use some of these adaptations to help yourself perform more effectively. If you’d like to read Martha Beck’s article, check out this link:

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