Today at work I had a meeting scheduled with one of our Directors for 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I got there 5 minutes early, as usual, but he did not arrive until 2.10. Our half-an-hour meeting took 45 minutes because he still had to place a call, so despite expecting to meet with another colleague at 2.45, I wasn’t able to get there until 3.00.
To many of you, being 10 minutes late seems insignificant. But think about what you are saying about yourself if you are constantly five or 10 minutes late.
I plan my days in a way which I will explain later, so that I get everything done (usually). I was able to prepare for my meeting with the director and be there on time. But due to his running late, I was the one who was late for my next appointment. Fortunately people I work with know me well and know that I am rarely late. But what if my meeting had been with a new client?
When I am meeting with a supplier and they are late for our meeting, I think one of three things:
If this happens a second or third time, I add two more options:
4. They have more important things to do.
5. They think their time is more important than mine.
Options 1 and 2 are obviously beyond a person's control (not option 1; I will get back to it later though). But suspecting number 3 is the culprit, I begin forming an image of them as indecisive, perhaps they don’t know their business or perhaps they don’t know how to relate to others well. Maybe they are poor at time management.
Options 4 and 5 are far worse. Suspecting one of these will make me look elsewhere for business quicker than just about anything else.
What if you are a manager being late for the meetings?
Managers who are constantly running late will soon lose the respect of their team. The team’s motivation will fall, their productivity will fall. Eventually the manager’s reputation as a leader will suffer.
So how do I plan my day? It is quite simple.
1. Schedule meetings only when absolutely necessary.
This applies to both those who schedule the meeting and those who have been invited.
Take a few minutes to think if a meeting is the best way to achieve your goals. Might it be easier via email? Or better still, go and see a person and see if you can solve an issue one on one.
If you were invited to a meeting, think if you really need to be there. Will you add value? Will you contribute to the solution? Is this the best way to utilise your time? Check with the meeting organiser; they may have just sent out a blanket invitation.
2. Minimum mandatory participants are invited into the meeting.
Don’t send blanket invites to everyone you think may need to be in a meeting. Don’t accept blanket invitations.
3. Define clearly the purpose of the meeting with a strict agenda.
Often meetings are called with no well-defined outcome. This is what makes meetings run over time, and often be ineffective. Try to define the outcome you want to achieve from the meeting. This will often lead to going back to steps 1 and 2. If the meeting is required, make sure that all attendees know what is expected and create agenda where all items contribute to the expected outcome.
4. The meeting starts on time.
This seems obvious but it’s my pet peeve. The organiser of one meeting of 12 people delayed the start of the meeting for one person who was running five minutes late. Whose time is more important? That of 12 people or that of one? The added benefit of starting meetings on time is the people eventually get used to it and start arriving on time.
Added bonus tip: if you are running late to a meeting for a good reason, and the meeting has started, don’t apologise and explain your tardiness; this distracts people and delays the end of the meeting even further. Just walk in quietly, sit down and listen.
5. Allow 15 minutes to half an hour between meetings.
Another seemingly obvious step that most people ignore. You cannot fit eight one-hour meetings into an eight-hour day. No one is that good. You will get interrupted in between meetings. You will need to prepare things for meetings. You will start running late for all meetings. You will start making people think badly of you. And you will be constantly stressed. So add some breathing and thinking time between meetings. You will do better professionally and feel better physically.
Being stuck in traffic is not a good reason to be late for a meeting. If you add enough travel time between meetings, you should use this excuse very rarely.
There are five ways I look at people when they are running late. If someone I know to be reliable is running late I know that it is something serious beyond their control. But I lose respect for someone who is regularly late. Follow my five tips for being on time and you will be held in greater esteem and be seen as a great leader.