About a month ago, I was giving a presentation at work and at the end of it I made a joke. I paraphrased a tweet I saw, saying “If you leave me a voice mail, it is basically like putting a note in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean since it is just as likely to get to me”. Expecting at least a little laughter, I was met with a mixture of confusion and people being appauled I would say something like that.
Afterwords, Rebekah told me that I should probably tone it down a bit and I got a sarcastic joke about getting a voice mail from Rebekah from a member of the audience. Personally, I was more confused than anything else. It seemed like a simple little joke to me, but I was forgetting that people don’t always treat their time quite like I do.
For years, I have taken to heart what Merlin Mann encourages. He often talks about protecting your time, not because you are being an a-hole, but because no one else will protect it for you.
When I get a calendar invite for a meeting, I don’t blindly hit accept to every meeting. I take a look at the topic, I see who else is going to be there and I look to see what my schedule looks like that day. I ask questions of myself like “does it make sense for me to be there” or “if that is my only meeting that day, might I propose a new time for the meeting so I can keep a day clear”. I do this because my calendar is just that, my calendar. If I accept everything blindly, it no longer is my calendar, but a place where other people can decide what my time is best spent doing.
The thing about all of this is that I don’t see other people doing this same thing. Some people get offended when I do this, others seem not to notice. I think everyone should be doing this though. I am not trying to protect my time just because I think my time is more important than anyone else. I think everyone’s time is just as important as mine and I think they should be protecting it just as much. That is why I don’t call people on the phone without checking with them first. I don’t expect immediate emails back from people. I don’t have an expectation that people should work any differently than me, so I treat others how I would like to be treated myself. I just need to remember sometime, not everyone has those same expectations.
Update: I wanted to add a couple of more things based on some feedback I got about this post. The first thing is that it may have come across that “This is the Way to Manage Your Time!” This is what works for me, but it might not work for you. The important thing I want people to take away is that you have a choice in where your time and attention go to and at the end of the day, you are the final decider of how you use that. If you have a system that works for you, stick with it. I want people to be thinking about it, since I don’t think everyone does.
Second, the initial feedback I got from Rebekah was entirely positive. She told me to tone it down, but in a constructive way. So constructive, it made me step back and think about this stuff as much as I have, and that is a very good thing.