You probably know people who are late. Often.
They don’t want to be late. In fact, their good intentions are probably the reason that they are late. They might try one technique or another, and even apologize for being late, and yet it happens again.
There is one reason and one amplifying factor.
The amplifying factor is that when they’re late, people wait for them.
You might notice that things that leave on time (commuter trains, airplanes, live TV shows etc) almost never have a crowd of people showing up five or ten minutes late cursing out the system. For those things, the things that are known to leave on time, they manage to show up. That’s because their good intentions are not welcome here.
And the reason?
The reason is that in every interaction, they want to connect a bit more, respect the other person’s ideas and contribute in that moment. They do that by spending their most precious resource on their behalf. What’s happening is that they are looking for a magical way to get more minutes in the day.
Of course, the person they’re meeting with doesn’t need five more minutes of their time. They need five more hours of their time. But it feels like giving them five minutes one doesn’t have is a way of showing them that they care.
The alternative is a simple as it is difficult: Say no.
Say it without rushing and without stress. “I’m sorry, our time is up.”
An overloaded truck isn’t a more efficient way to move gravel (or anything else). And when you overload your day by treating time as squishy based on how much you care, you’ve just become inefficient and thus disrespectful.
Lots of other things in our life aren’t squishy. Gravity, for example, or the solidity of dry wall. They are what they are.
So is time if you let it.
The hard part about being on time is standing up and moving on. But the cost of being squishy is that you’re not only disrespecting the next person, you’re stressed all the time.
Stand up and walk out.
People will learn, and they’ll end up respecting you for it, because it’s not personal. Just as it’s not personal when the train leaves on time. The alternative, which is squishiness, is personal. Because if you like someone, you’re willing to be even more late than usual.