Archives for posts with tag: Time-keeping

I was back in the UK recently, where the mood was somewhat Brexit-fixated, as could be understood for the single greatest economic event in our lifetimes. There is a feeling of uncomfortable change and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, I was accompanying my mother to a funeral. It was a slightly convoluted travel arrangement, as the funeral was 2 hours away. My brother would drive us up there to attend with us, before heading somewhere else for work. We would take the train back. Mum wanted to avoid the Friday afternoon motorway traffic. So, it was two singles from Stafford to Bristol, about a 2-hour journey on the Crosscountry Trains service.

Mum insisted on paying for my ticket, a ludicrously expensive £60 for a single off-peak journey. The train was 10 minutes late picking us up. There were no seats available, the train was only 4 carriages long, an intercity train service running at 6pm on a Friday, what I would call peak travel time. I managed to find one seat for Mum and stood in the aisle. Two minutes later the food trolley wanted to come through – well, not the food trolley, a chirpy soul directing the food trolley. I had to walk the length of the carriage to let him past, and then come back again. I offered to lie on the luggage rack instead, but he said that would be too dangerous.

After 20 minutes, some seats freed up, so we were able to sit together for the rest of the journey. The train arrived, twenty minutes late. I’ve written before about how the UK rail system is so complex that it seems impossible to keep the trains on time, yet the Germans and Japanese manage it. Nobody seemed all that bothered by the crushed train and its lack of punctuality. Par for the course, they would probably say.

It has been a while since I took the train. No feeling of change and uncertainty there. Same as it ever was.

‘Yep, give me 2 minutes, I’ll be right with you.’

Except that it never is 2 minutes. In Ireland, a couple minutes really does mean somewhere between 2 and 7, since the Irish world ‘cupla’ means ‘few’. When an Irish person says I’ll be a coupla minutes, you know what – and when – they mean.

In England we don’t have that luxury, so when someone says two minutes, or a couple of minutes, or 2 seconds, or 2 ticks, they never mean that, which is frustrating to the recipient because you feel like something else is more important than you, and you’re being put off because your priority is not theirs, when sometimes you need them for 10 seconds.

I used to work for a guy who made a point of being over precise in his expectation setting. He would say things like, ‘I’ll come back to you in 17 minutes,’ ‘I’ll be back at the hotel in 12 minutes, please order me a Cab Sauv.’ or such like. When he said it there was a hint of irony, but it served a useful purpose. More often than not he was there within a minute of the expected time he’d set. He would especially do this if he knew or picked up that you were pressured with one of your own priorities.

And do you know what? The useful purpose this ploy served was that it helped you, in turn, manage your time better.

It’s not always possible in the heat of battle, but it really helps others when you set a clear idea of when you’re available for someone who needs you. And if you can beat that time, thereby over-delivering on your promise, everybody wins.