When was the last time you were on time for a meeting, appointment, or other event? Or let’s look at it from the other point of view, when was the last time you were waiting for someone who was late and had no idea whether they were even going to show up, if they were delayed or in an accident, or just forgot to meet with you?
It would seem that with the increased use of cell phones and with most of those cell phones having the ability to send text messages that it would be a no-brainer to simply let the other person know that you were running late. After all, people seem to have time to text and tweet about all sorts of other trivial things like what they were having to eat, the number of times Bob in the office next to them got up to go to the restroom, or the number of times Jill stopped working so she could answer her boyfriend’s most recent call.
Respect for other people’s time seems so yesterday. If you even bring up the fact that someone is late to a meeting, they given you an attitude as if to say, ‘Well at least I’m busy and getting my job done is more important than this stupid meeting you called.’
But there is another side to this. If you work in an IT position at a company, I bet you receive your share of unsolicited phone calls and e-mails asking you, ‘When would be the best time that we can meet so I can show you our new Thing-a-ma-bob’ that will change the productivity of your office.’ What makes these calls just plain rude is that you never contacted them for a meeting, they just assume that you want one. They don’t even ask whether you would like to meet to learn more about their product. I have to admit, I generally don’t even respond back to many of these e-mails and calls. I treat them sort of like spam. Responding to them only confirms that the e-mail address or phone number is valid.
And while I’m talking about phone calls, how annoying are they when you are busy trying to develop a new program, analyze a set of data, or plan out a project schedule? There are many times that I am not in my office being either at a meeting or working directly with one of my direct reports. Even when I am in my office, I will not interrupt my concentration on a project or a meeting with a staff member for a phone call in which the caller is not known to me. One of the toughest things for a programmer, writer or manager can do is to get into the ‘zone’. Any interruption from that zone costs not only the time of the interruption, but an equal amount of time trying to refocus your thoughts to get back into the zone.
So what do you do? My suggestion is that you allocate time during the day to respond to email and to return phone calls. The rest of the time, you may want to isolate yourself so you can focus on getting your job. For example, I answer most emails either first thing in the morning when I get into work, right after lunch, or during the last half hour before I go home. During the rest of the day, I monitor e-mails and only respond to true emergencies.
I treat phone calls the same way. If I am with a staff member or in focused thought and if the caller is not the boss, I’ll let the call go to voice mail to be reviewed later when I finish the task or when the staff member leaves. It is amazing how many callers do not leave a message. I maintain that if the call is important enough, the caller will leave me a message. Often times, by leaving a message, I can research the question and respond back to the caller more effectively when I review the calls later. Maybe I’ve missed that call offering me $100,000 a year for life from Publisher’s Clearing House, but I’ll take that risk.
I treat meeting requests the same way. If it is a meeting that I or a member of my team must attend because it affects one of our projects, I make sure one of us can be there. If something happens that we cannot attend, I notify the meeting organizer. I don’t let them just wonder whether we are going to show up or not. If the meeting does seem to really affect our team or if we are already busy with other meetings or tasks during that time and cannot attend the meeting, I’ll reject it right away and if necessary ask the organizer to check my or one of my staff’s calendar in Outlook for free time to reschedule it. Yes, sometimes emergency meetings might have a priority, but then I feel responsible to notify the organizer of the first meeting that I or my staff cannot attend due to other priorities that have come up and that we need to reschedule. Never, never leave a meeting organizer not knowing if you will attend or not.
I know some people seem afraid to reject a meeting even when they have three meetings scheduled for the same time and they know that they cannot attend all three. They seem to think that rejecting a meeting is something bad like not being a team player. I think that accepting all of the meetings knowing you do not intend to attend them is just plain bad office etiquette.
Finally, if you commit to going to a meeting, get there on time. If a prior meeting is not over, ask if they can schedule a follow-up time to continue the discussion if necessary because the meeting time has ended and you need to be somewhere else.
Oh, and this does not apply just to work. Common courtesy like showing up on time or notifying the other party that you will be late along with an estimate of when (or if) you will get there will get you more respect than trying to show how important you are because you have more meetings than you can attend.
Maybe some other time I talk about the challenge of getting repairmen or deliveries to your house when they say they will be there. Ever get a repairman to tell you that they be at your house sometime between 8 AM and 4 PM? Do you think that could be narrowed down a bit? And again, a phone call when you are late would sure help.
C’ya next time.