People are wasting your time. Here is how to stop it.

If you value your time, read this (and if you don’t too)

Time is our most valuable resource. That phrase may be common sense, but unfortunately, we continue to waste it. And not just our own time, but the time of others as well.

But why is time, among so many other resources, the most valuable? For the simple fact that there is no way to recover once you lose it. Money, fame, purpose, dignity, meaning in life… all these things are recoverable, but not time. We can shorten or expand our perception of time, but we cannot go back.

“Time waits for no one.”

– Rod Stewart

If we are looking to create a more flexible, collaborative, and people-centered future of work, we need to value and respect time, whether our own or other people’s time. But how to achieve this?

To try to answer this question, let’s consider two types of people: (1) who need to respect more other people’s time and (2) who need to value more their own time. For the first type, here are three points to start valuing others’ time more:

1 — Have more patience

Having patience is also having more empathy. When you realize that no one has their whole life figured out, but that people are doing the best they can according to their own level of consciousness — or as Bukowski would say, “nobody really knows what they’re doing either” — life becomes easier for everyone. Do not make other people’s lives harder just because you’re in a hurry.

2 — Think in the long run

Here I relate our lack of ability to think long term when making our day-to-day decisions. We don’t like to admit it, but we tend to prioritize what’s urgent and not always what’s important. In Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that “unless a person knows how to order their thoughts, attention will be drawn to what is most problematic at the moment.” Some people call it productivity, but those who have emergencies to solve all day are hospitals. Otherwise, you basically turn “disorganization” into a lifestyle. And we pay dearly for this: with time. Before you want to do everything and let others down, ask yourself: “Will I be able to commit to all this?”.

3 — Asteya

This Sanskrit term is one of the ethical principles of Hinduism and means “the abstinence, in one’s actions, words or thoughts, from the unauthorized appropriation of things of value from another human being”. In other words, “don’t steal”. And it’s not just your colleagues’ lunch, but people’s time as well.

Do you remember that meeting you scheduled, didn’t show up, and also didn’t warn anyone? Do you remember that urgent job you asked someone to deliver because you needed it for yesterday, and then it spent weeks in your inbox as unread? It’s going to hurt, but someone needs to tell you this: you’re appropriating (a.k.a. “stealing”) people’s time.

Now, if you are part of the second type of person, who needs to value your time more and avoid being “robbed”, here are three tips:

1 — Two-Step Verification

People who “steal” others’ time can be chaotic and disorganized, and they may want to take on more responsibilities and commitments than they are humanly capable of fulfilling. Therefore, a solution is always to send a reminder some time in advance to remind them.

For example, if you have a meeting scheduled with this person at 2:00 pm, send a message at 12:00 pm asking “Is everything okay for our 2:00 pm meeting in Building B (or via Zoom)?”. Make sure that the message has all the information necessary for the meeting to take place. If the person sees your message and doesn’t respond, consider that the meeting might not take place and perhaps better move on. In the worst case, you will be able to prove that you remembered the appointment and sent in a confirmation request.

2 — Respect your own pace

Normally, people who tend to “steal” other people’s time have a rhythm of their own, which can be fast-paced and may not be healthy — not even for them. That’s why it’s important to set some boundaries and not get carried away by the whirlwind of tasks and commitments they want to throw at you. Knowing how to say no without generating conflict is fundamental; the secret is how.

One technique I use is this: The first step is to understand if someone wants you to do multiple things or deliver results within unrealistic timeframes. As this person certainly didn’t stop to reflect on “the time”, it’s worth doing it for him/her. Thus, a way to avoid conflict and get out of the win/win situation is to present possible and more realistic solutions for the tasks, or suggest a deadline that does not compromise the quality of delivery and, mainly, of your work.

3 — “So Good They Can´t Ignore You”

This is the name of Cal Newport’s book and I strongly recommend that you read it. The book brings several interesting points to having a healthier professional life, but I want to highlight here the importance of control. For Newport, setting its own time and pace, as I talked about in the previous topic, is essential to establishing that control. But the bargaining chip for gaining control will be the quality of your work — what the author called career capital. In other words, you can only make the rules if people recognize the value of your work.

The key is knowing when the time is right to be courageous in your career decisions. Perhaps someone early in their professional life, or someone who has just changed careers, has not yet accumulated enough career capital to take over. Be patient. This is something you only build over time. So value yours.

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Felipe Zamana

Felipe Zamana

💡 Creative Connector | Speaker and Advisor on Creativity, Leadership, Future of Learning, and Future of Work | Professor and Researcher