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It’s 1:59 p.m. The meeting starts in a minute. And as is common before any meeting starts, participants are divided in two types: Those who are punctual and those who are perpetually late. Grace Pacie is part of that second group, a “timebender” as she calls them, and while she recognizes the problems they create for colleagues who are punctual “timekeepers” she notes that they are making use of every minute available to them unlike those who just sit and wait.

“The problem is timebenders can’t bear to be early. Being late is exciting – being early is boring,” she writes in her book Late!. “Our minds aren’t attracted to the idea of being early, just as timekeepers have a deep aversion to being late.”

Timekeepers usually are earliest to arrive, like to finish tasks ahead of time, get annoyed when events don’t start on time, feel uncomfortable if the time available for a task is squeezed, work at a constant pace, are good at measuring how long a task will take, love finishing a task and can’t think too clearly when they have to complete something in a hurry. Oh yeah, their desktops are usually clear.

Timebenders are usually late to arrive, very rarely finish tasks ahead of time, don’t see why other people are so fanatic about starting on time, get energized by tight timelines, can speed up if time is short, can be unrealistic in estimating the time needed for a task, can focus well when they are squeezed by a tight timeline, and put off finishing things. Usually their desks are overloaded with unruly piles of paper.

She says up to 20 per cent of the workforce have trouble with timekeeping, falling into her timebender classification. Probably another 20 per cent are the reverse, liking to be early and expecting others to be similar. In the middle are people who aren’t quite that fervently punctual but don’t find it difficult to be on time, unlike her outcasts.

She wants you to know that timebenders can offer logical explanations for their tardiness – at least to themselves. But that’s just rationalization: “The real reason is we’d rather be tearing around the house in an adrenaline rush, doing tasks that appear to be vitally important, just before we leave. Subconsciously we have convinced ourselves that those empty minutes spending time waiting for something to begin are a complete waste of time, even though when we have occasionally been early (probably by mistake) we might find ourselves chatting to someone interesting or reading something useful on a notice board.”

If you’re a timebender and want to be more like the majority, here are some tips she offers:

Always ask for a deadline: “When do you need this by?” are six words that can make all the difference.

Involve other people: Since the deadlines must be real and external, involve other people in your effort to be on time. Indeed, a timekeeper partner who will be stressed when the deadline approaches can be very helpful.

Take off your watch: Since your tendency is to try to squeeze more and more in before the deadline, this tactic prevents the demon within you from calculating how to fit more in.

Make a Ulysses contract: To avoid being tempted by the song of the Sirens, Ulysses tied himself to the mast of his ship. With a friend, set a series of milestone mini-deadlines you’ll meet to complete the project on time, and if you flub it you must donate a designated sum to the charity of that person’s choice.

Timebenders are in a minority in the office, and those tricks can help you cause others less distress.

Quick hits

  • Management guru Tom Peters says everyone’s “Job #1” is to make friends in other departments and functions – purposefully and consistently.
  • Conscientious people – those who are careful, thorough, and plan ahead – are more likely to experience technostress, recent research shows.
  • To improve your chances of landing a new job, present yourself as a fixer – someone who will find and solve problems – advises Adam Sander, founder and director of the Success Release job program.
  • Being smart doesn’t mean you are persuasive, notes entrepreneur Seth Godin. One doesn’t lead to the other. They can be related, like second cousins. If you’re smart, you can learn to be persuasive but it’s not automatic.
  • Don’t leave a Zoom meeting without giving notice, even if only in chat, so people aren’t confused about what has happened, warns entrepreneur Samantha Hawrylack.

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