Everyone knows it is important to be on time to meetings. No one plans to be running late or rushing from one conference room to the next, eating a few hurried bites of a sandwich on the way, and yet most professionals do it every day. Many of us wear a packed schedule as a badge of honor. Even as cultures shift away from this mentality, our brains still associate "busy" with "important" and "working hard".
We are all constantly a victim of our own optimism bias and planning fallacy--essentially, I underestimate how long something will take to do and overestimate my ability to do it quickly and more efficiently. Here is how you might see this diabolical duo in your daily life:
- Always moving the same 10 items on your to-do list to tomorrow because everything else took longer than you expected (or you were constantly putting out fires)
- Thinking you can answer one last email before you leave for the next meeting or appointment
- Knowing it took you all day to complete a proposal last time (and the time before that), but expecting it will only take four hours this time
Even though we are all victims of these brain biases at work and in our personal lives, there is another bias that combines with these and could seriously damage your reputation: fundamental attribution error.
Our brains think about other people differently than we think about our own self. We know the backstory for why we were late for that meeting-- "I've got back-to-backs all day. They know I've got to eat something!" Unfortunately, others look at our tardiness (or rushing, or constantly checking a phone or smart watch during meetings) in a much more negative light: "Jane is always in a rush, she should really be more responsible and plan better."
The easiest way to see this in action is when someone cuts you off on the freeway. You may honk your horn, waive your arms in exasperation and generally label that person as a complete jerk. What about when you cut someone off? "Well, I had to because I was going to miss my exit and I couldn't be late for that meeting...."
If you've been notoriously late or rushing for decades, don't expect this perception to change overnight. You built that reputation over thousands of meetings and encounters; it will take some dedication to change it. However, it is really important for your career and overall relationships to fix this, and the steps are fairly simple:
1. Remember the biases.
Optimism bias and planning fallacy combine to make you think you will do better this time. Plan a buffer, schedule meetings with yourself to take bio breaks between meetings. If you think it will take two minutes to get there, schedule five to be safe. Arriving early for a while will go far in fixing your reputation.
2. Consider your appearance.
When you look rushed or distracted, others are writing a negative story onto your overall personality (instead of the one you write, which gives credit to all the external factors). Think about how you want to be perceived (calm, in control, in the moment) and how you can show that in your demeanor.
How would someone who exemplifies those qualities act? Maybe it means more eye contact or not bringing your iPad or smart watch into a meeting. Slowing down and being thoughtful about your appearance in the moment will make a big difference.
3. Flip the story your brain is telling.
Walking a mile in someone else's shoes is more than some colorful language. If one of your colleagues (you can make someone up who is notoriously late) was walking into a meeting the way you are, what would you say about them to yourself?
Remember, everyone has that same reaction toward you. And remember, you're doing this to everyone else too. When you feel the urge to judge others harshly and write their actions off as a character flaw, consider how you would tell that story if it was about you. That grace will go a long way in rebuilding relationships and your reputation.