As a longtime small business owner and consultant, I’ve developed an exquisite sensitivity to the value of people’s time – my time, as well as the time of clients and coworkers.

However, owning and respecting time is not the same as being busy.   Anyone can be busy – owning our time is harder.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that my coworkers who truly own and control their own time are precisely the same people who respect the time of others.   I appreciate the planning and consideration that implies, and I know these are the people I want on my team.   They are “timely” in the best sense – they respect their own time and help their team members own their time in turn.  And inevitably more gets done, more easily.

For the merely busy, there is always an excuse, always a plausible reason why another person or the system is to blame for wasted time: for being late for a meeting, for a scheduling conflict, for missing meetings without apology, for being unprepared at meetings, for not getting things done on time, and – most of all – for failing to communicate a problem, make amends, and take ownership.   A person who claims to be busy is actually signaling that instead of making things happen, they are allowing – or even encouraging – things to happen to them.

It’s amazing how I can behave if my ultimate excuse is that I’m busy.  You schedule a meeting, but I’m 15 minutes late.  You ask for a meeting, and I agree but don’t follow up.  I am on time for a meeting but don’t know what the meeting is about.   I miss a meeting and after the meeting is over send you a text telling you “I can’t make the meeting.“ I text you four minutes before a meeting telling you I won’t be there.

Your response to these acts of inconsideration is likely to be this person is wasting my time,  and you’re right, with my sincere apologies.  And in your place, my response would be “this is not a person I can rely on, and the most crucial, most important, and most valuable attribute for my team members is that I can rely on them.  With consideration a close second.

By suddenly cancelling a meeting, or being unprepared for a meeting, I’ve saved 30 minutes of my time, but I’ve wasted at least an hour, and perhaps much more than an hour, of my colleagues’ time.  And signaled, that when push comes to shove my problems are more important than yours.   Why would you want me on your team?  And with the tables turned, why would I want someone who can’t control their time on my team?

Owning our time is an acquired skill.  I for one am still in acquisition – after 20 years in business, I still have days that are fully out of control before the business day has officially started.  But it requires no real skill, only consideration, to make amends when our best efforts at time management fail.

Being busy has become a form of subtle bragging, but it really sends a message of unreliability, with lack of consideration waiting in the wings.     On the other hand, being timely – owning our own time and assisting our team members in owning theirs – might be one of the best compliments a working person can receive.

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