This far into my writing, my obsession with over-analyzing, contemplating, and battling Time is obnoxiously obvious. Time drifts on with or without us. It’s permanently fleeting. And only through Time are we able to achieve anything. Whether mere minutes or small effort compounded over years – the allocation of Time and Focus is necessary to achieve literally anything.
I have increasingly tried to instill the values of punctuality and accountability in myself and how I treat others. If I say I can meet at 9am, I will be there at 9am. If I say we can meet for 30 minutes, I’m happy to use the entire time (even if I’ll always try to steal some Time back). If I say we’re hanging out Friday, our time together is what I’m dedicatedly planning on. And if I’m going to be late or miss a commitment, I can guarantee I’m frantically updating you as soon as I know and with an appropriate amount of explanation.
Now I don’t mean to come off as some sort of Time Tyrant – I understand well that things come up, schedules shift, and life happens. But in my experience there is a meaningful delta between what I would call respectful Time management practices and the average approach experienced.
In the episode “Brother’s Little Helper” of The Simpsons, Bart is prescribed medication to help him focus and improve his behavior. He quickly gains machine like focus, and guards his time. This is highlighted by him uncharacteristically reading alone in his room, and Lisa comes to check on him. He rushes her out of the room by standing and stating “well this has been terrific, let’s do it again some time” – a recommendation from the self-help book he’s actively reading. Getting pushed out, Lisa glances at the book and proclaims “Hey! I’m not a time burglar”.
Everyone has experienced some form of time theft. Life is riddled with time burglars. There are the managers that show up 5 minutes late to meetings. The scrum team meetings that always go long without anyone correcting it. The socialites who are always ‘fashionably late’. A friend who makes plans but tells you the day of that something came up or cancels. The people that ghost calls altogether. That tell you 5 minutes into a meeting they’re going to be late. The co-workers that skip meetings they booked unannounced. The people that request deliverables urgently, then sit on them unreviewed for days. Oh the many faces of the time burglar.
Are this getting suspiciously specific yet? It’s all unacceptable.
Yes, of course there are exceptions like anything else in life. Illness, unexpected high priority situations, family urgencies – hell even the simple desire to be alone – the issues are not in what does or does not happen, rather how and when things are communicated. I’m fine pushing meetings around, but not when it’s consistently 5 minutes into the meeting we should have been having. I’m fine rescheduling plans, but not 30 minutes before we were supposed to hangout.
See the issue becomes playing with peoples’ expectations, unintentionally (hopefully) preying on good nature, and overall capitalizing on the implication that plans are flexible and everyone will be understanding. It isn’t a matter of understanding, however. It’s a matter of respect. The nature of the time burglar is for a recklessly abusive employment of what I call ‘implied flexibility’ – people will be understanding, not say anything at all, or in general that it doesn’t even matter. Well while these people finish getting ready for plans that they’re already late to or absent mindedly let calls bleed across an entire outlook calendar, other people are left twiddling their thumbs, Time pockets turned out.
We all have the same of amount of Time. We all have the same capacity to manage that Time and to communicate with each other. Being late or not showing up to something does not impact just you. Social or professional meetings and agreements involve multiple people, it’s a social contract that is measured in Time. A manager who is consistently late for meetings, is implying his Time is more valuable than yours – or more frighteningly – could be a bigger indicator of how they conduct their job in general. A friend who is late for an evening of plans but says at the last minute “well don’t wait for me then” is lacking a shred of self-awareness of the situation and how plans with other people work.
Then there are the fashionably late, or more accurately, the professional Time burglars. They dance playfully in plain sight, smiling right at you as they make plans they will not honor. Anyone who knows a self-appointed time fashionista, knows the best strategy is to let them pick the Time. Even then, they are likely to miss the mark. The mark by the way, they defined. Yet, the ultimate transgression is the narcissistic celebration of their actions to glean style points – as though they are lucid advertisement for time theft like some perverted clock based hamburglar. “Oh that’s just how we are” – a poor swing at a personality trait.
I hate Time thieves, bandits, and burglars. The fragility and permanent irreplaceability of such a precious resource is sacred. To waste your own Time is one thing, to steal it from another is a primordial sin. And the disconnect of integrity to flake on plans leaving someone in the dust, is just shameful.
Time is precious. We all have the same amount, and the same capacity to manage it. If it sounds like I’m manically rehashing the same points, I am well aware (please see the gif above). Being on time is something I have always been told to respect and have chosen to put in my personal Pantheon of virtues. I’m shocked (happily) each time my punctuality or arriving early is acknowledged…such a basic, simplistic thing is still so heavily appreciated. And the examples I’ve encountered in my life, such as a client executive starting calls within 30 seconds of the meeting start time regardless of who has joined and ending them on time no matter what, have stuck with me vividly.
I recognize everyone has their own challenges. People providing proactive, thoughtful updates that may require schedule shifts? No problem. That is just part of being a good human – to keep people informed and to be generally flexible to make things easier for everyone. But time burglars? No. No sympathy for you. I don’t understand you, and I don’t want to.
See you tomorrow.
Inspirations: Time Burglars, Time, Respect, The Simpsons
Image / Gif Sources: The Simpsons