Maybe it’s the friend who is always late, the coworker who perpetually misses deadlines, or the significant other who makes last-second plans.
If you’re a natural planner, this behavior may feel anywhere from annoying to infuriating. You just don’t “get” how your time management opposite doesn’t seem to show respect for you and your time.
As a time management coach, I understand where you’re coming from. I’m a planner too. But through working with individuals on the opposite side of the table for the last 10 years, I also deeply understand and appreciate how they tick.
Here’s how you can more peacefully coexist with those who have a different time management style.
Get the right perspective
To start, it’s important to understand the roots of the opposite time management behavior. They tend to lie in one or more of these areas: values, skills, and time consciousness.
In terms of values, some people value other things ahead of being on time. For example, they would rather finish what they were working on, fit in one thing more, or be unrushed instead of arriving precisely at the top of the hour.
In terms of skills, some individuals have never learned how to plan out their work and implement that plan in such a way that they can accomplish it within the allotted time.
In terms of time consciousness, some people don’t have an accurate internal clock. They do not sense the passage of time in the same way that naturally punctual people do.
Explain why it matters
It’s reasonable to express how the behavior of your time management opposite makes you feel–and it’s important. Since your time management opposite isn’t experiencing the world in the same way that you do, they may not be aware of the negative impact. Once they have heightened awareness, it may improve their timeliness, especially if lack of timeliness is primarily an issue of values.
Here are a few examples of what you might say:
I felt really uncomfortable when you were 25 minutes late for dinner because the restaurant was packed. I was trying to hold the table for us and had to repeatedly reassure the waiter that you were coming.
When you gave me the report late, I had to stay up until 1 a.m. reviewing it and was exhausted at the client meeting the next day. It really had a negative impact on my well-being and performance.
I was really looking forward to going to the concert to see my favorite band. When you wouldn’t commit to us going and then the tickets were sold out, I felt really disappointed and like you didn’t value something that was important to me.
You want to stress why the behavior mattered to you and how it made you feel. But in general it’s most effective to express emotions like disappointment, sadness, or discomfort ahead of anger. Some people may respond well to you telling them something made you angry, but most people get defensive.
Lend a hand
If you’re really good at being on time and planning and regularly interacting with someone who is not, it can sometimes be beneficial to help. But proceed with caution. Unless you’re someone’s boss, I would not recommend pushing the issue. If you are someone’s boss or they ask for assistance, these are some ways you could lend a hand:
- Remind them of the time events start and give suggestions of when to leave.
- Help them break down projects into parts, prioritize the parts, and plan out when they will get the parts done.
- Set up interim meeting checkpoints and mini-deadlines to reduce the risk of significantly missing a large deadline.
- Book activities in advance so that you can confirm them before it’s too late or too expensive.
Manage your risk
In addition to managing the external variables, it’s important to do what you can do for your own peace of mind. This means building in margins so someone else’s tardiness doesn’t have as significant an impact on you.
For example, if you’re meeting a perpetually late friend for a theater production that starts at 7:30 p.m., suggest meeting for drinks at a spot within close walking distance at 6 p.m. Even if she’s 30 minutes late, you still have more than enough time to make the performance on time.
If you need to review an important document for a Friday meeting, ask your coworker to return it to you by Wednesday morning. That way if it’s not done by Wednesday morning, you can follow up and should receive it by Thursday morning at the latest.
If you happen to share life with someone who will not set up plans in advance, when you can, book plans that are really important to you for yourself. Then if your spouse or significant other can come with you, great. If not, at least you won’t miss out.
When someone shows up late–again. Turns in an assignment past the deadline–again. Prevents plans from working out–again. Someone with natural planning abilities can start to get agitated, negative, or even bitter.
In a professional setting where an employee does need to meet certain performance standards, accountability and even serious action may be appropriate at some points. But in general, it’s better to relate to your time management opposite in these ways.
First, give them time to grow. They’re relearning years of time management habits. They need encouragement and positive feedback when they do something on time, not criticism when they slip up.
Secondly, especially when it comes to personal relationships, I encourage you to value the relationship over rules. Is someone arriving 10 or 15 minutes late really worth a fight that will ruin the next three or four hours and potentially spill into the next day? Probably not. One of my personal strategies is to ask myself: Would this really matter in 50 years? If not, I let it go.
Finally, it can help to come to a place of acceptance that although individuals absolutely can grow, some people in your life may never be as timely as you, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, it’s just not their natural strength. And they may have certain strengths that you don’t have, such as being flexible and adaptable.
With the right perspective and tools, you can get along better with your time management opposite and experience more peace and productivity yourself.