It should be against the law to steal someone else’s time.

Wow, I didn’t realize how strongly I felt until I actually wrote the preceding sentence!

Time matters a lot to me.  For instance, I’m obsessively punctual and I have little patience for people who are continually “running a little late.”  Any professional who gets paid by the hour knows that time is money. So does any service provider who schedules customers. Imagine if your first customer of the day was “running a little late” to the tune of 15 minutes, thereby causing you to run behind your entire day. How would you feel? Vandalized by a time thief?

Obviously, we all get the occasional flat tire or are stuck in an unusual traffic jam (unless you live in Southern California where traffic jams are never unusual). We aren’t time thieves in those types of situations, and as long as it’s not habitual, I’m in favor of dismissing the charges.

On the other hand, there are numerous examples of inexcusable time thievery.  I invite you to check your time etiquette against the following list of misdemeanors:

  • Interrupting a colleague’s work time/space with the phrase, “this will only take a second”
  • Calling someone when an email will suffice and is usually the better choice
  • Violating normal time boundaries (sending middle-of-the-night texts, for example)
  • Not returning phone calls within a reasonable amount of time
  • Sending instant messages instead of a text or email (the notification tone always startles me)
  • Unnecessary follow-up inquiries (“did you get my email?”)
  • Not holding up your end of the deal
  • Hanging up without leaving a message (acceptable only in the case of a “butt-dial” — and not to be over-used)
  • Creating a time crunch due to your own procrastination
  • Failing to adequately prepare resulting in the need for bail-out
  • Being late

Of course, there are ways to thwart a time thief.  You can put your phone on “do not disturb” before you get into bed.  Those magic words in the form of a sign on your door or cubicle will also help in an office situation when you truly do not want to be disturbed. You can tell the follow-up inquirer to simply assume you received the email and that you’ll do your best to promptly reply.  (Then keep your word.)  The constant procrastinator would likely benefit by receiving a deadline accompanied by appropriate consequences.   The hanger-upper deserves a return call irrespective of whether there was a voicemail (we can certainly demonstrate better time etiquette in doing so).  And what would happen if you started without the constantly late person?

Notwithstanding the above suggestions and not surprisingly, I believe the most effective way to reduce time theft is . . . wait for it . . . to communicate your expectations in advance so as to leave no doubt.

Do you have any other examples of how your time is stolen by others?  What have you done to eliminate time theft in your own life?  Extra points from me if your methods are devious!