There are Few Things More Precious Than Time

When a meeting is cancelled at the last minute, not only am I interrupted by the cancellation, but the prep time invested is lost as well. 

A few years ago, a family member gifted my son with John Bridges’ book “How to be a Gentleman.” It’s full of advice, mostly appropriate regardless of gender, on an array of situations in which etiquette is important. There are tips on subjects such as how to use voicemail and smartphone cameras in an acceptable manner, how to make a dinner reservation and when it is suitable to pick one’s nose in public (never). It also issues counsel on when it’s OK to cancel a date with another person.

On a morning a few years ago, my phone buzzed, and I glanced down to see the name of the caller, my friend and business associate, John, appear on the screen. My initial reaction was one of cheerfulness. I always enjoy talking with John. But then the blood started rushing out of my head, adrenaline coursing as I realized my mistake.

“John,” I said answering the phone, “I’m so sorry. I missed our coffee date this morning. I must admit that I totally spaced on our meeting. I feel terrible.”

There are few things more precious than a person’s time, time they will never get back. Thanks to my carelessness with my calendar, I had wasted John’s time and possibly sent an unintended message that he wasn’t important to me.

I called the local bakery and arranged for a dozen cookies to be delivered to his office that afternoon, along with a note apologizing again. When he called to thank me and let me off the hook, I told him again how terrible I felt. And I genuinely meant it.

About a year ago I arrived at a local restaurant about five minutes early for a lunch meeting with a business leader. The restaurant fills up around lunchtime so I secured a table for two, ordered an iced tea and waited—for 15 minutes. The server refilled my iced tea. At the 25-minute mark I ordered lunch. As I ate alone I worried a bit that I had the date or location wrong. Midway through my meal, in response to a text message I had sent, my lunch date responded that he must have forgotten to write down our appointment. No apology, no cookies. Nothing. He just forgot.

Like many, I keep a busy schedule, and at certain times of the year, my calendar can be substantially full of business trips, lunch meetings, coffee appointments and family commitments 60 to 90 days out. During these seasons, I make an art of wedging in meetings based on moving priorities and where, geographically, I might be during any given week. Once pinned on my calendar, I keep my commitments and even if something seemingly more important arises, rarely do I move an appointment and then do so with a sincere apology and plenty of notice. There are few things more precious than a person’s time.

Years ago, a mentor flattered me by sharing his observation that few people arrived at a meeting more prepared than I did. “You do your homework up front, and as a result, you pretty much get whatever you want out of the meeting,” he said. It was a great life lesson and a practice I have tried to follow in the 25 years, hence. While this habit works for me, it also means that I invest significant time in preparation. Thus, when a meeting is cancelled at the last minute, not only am I interrupted by the cancellation, but the prep time invested is lost as well.

In the last month, I have arrived early for two important meetings—ones I had invested significant time in preparation—only to be told that the person with whom I was to meet was unavailable. In each case, a surrogate sat through the meeting and promised to update the no-show.

In another instance, I received an email from an associate 30 minutes before the start of the meeting for which I had dedicated 60 minutes in preparation the evening before. The email simply stated, “Unfortunately I have to cancel our appointment.” I didn’t wait around the office for the cookies to arrive.

“A gentleman breaks a date only for reasons of sickness, death or natural disaster. If he must cancel his plans, he does so with as much warning as possible,” so advises the book, “How to be a Gentleman.” While that standard might seem a bit extreme, it’s not too far off the expectation I hold for myself.

There are few things more precious than a person’s time.