Why Everyone Needs To Learn To Respect People’s Time

[dropcap size=small]”A[/dropcap] failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”

Chances are that at some point in time in your schooling you had a crotchety teacher recite that in a monotone voice while patently having zero patience for whatever your crisis was that would cause them extra work or to stay after hours. At the time you internally stomped your feet and tore your hair out and wondered how anyone could be such an inflexible and unfeeling robot.

What you perhaps didn’t quite grasp, was their dual lesson of time management, and I’d argue even more importantly, of respecting someone else’s time. The latter unfortunately, being the life lesson so very few people ever learn.

The problem is when you have a smartphone attached to you at all times, always connected to work or school, the hours slip by and you don’t even realize you’re texting someone after midnight, emailing them frantically during dinner time, or chasing them down on the weekends. There are deadlines that need to be met and in a world where everyone is always tethered, what does it matter? The 9-to-5 work day doesn’t really exist anymore, so what’s the harm, right?

Wrong. It’s rude. What’s worse is that it’s subconsciously rude to the extent that the implications of it are insidious and often unnoticed. Every time you push yourself into someone else’s time you’re implying that your time, your needs, and your demands are more valuable than theirs. You’re setting a precedence, that demands, deadlines, and requests can come in at any time, and that they must always be connected and can never turn off. Just because you can proverbially reach out and touch any time of the day or night does not dictate that you should. It’s as disrespectful and rude as invading someone’s personal space, because even if you’re not there physically, you’re that constant dinging reminder in their pocket, creeping in too closely on their personal time.

Let’s say you’re doing a group project in school and everyone has their part in except for one kid who is dragging their feet. Finally at midnight the night prior it comes in and you have to make sure it’s compiled into the rest of the project. You’re now stuck awake late at night doing work because the other person wasn’t considerate enough to respect other people’s time. Yes, you could have ignored the email and slept on, but then your grade (and that of everyone else’s) is on the line. I’m sure they were busy, had a different schedule than yours, and got to it when they could, but by not setting expectations that it could come late (or not volunteering to do the final work if they knew they needed more time) they said as plain as day, “My time is more valuable than yours.” It’s a habit that starts early and creeps into your routine without you even noticing it.

Still think this is being unreasonable? Let’s say you’re in a position of power over someone. You’re their boss or even a co-worker with the boss’ ear and you’re doing some late-night work. It’s 11 p.m. and you’re firing off frantic email responses to things that came in during the day, filled with more questions and requests. As that person is settling down for the night, perhaps with their family, friends, or hell even a book, their phone is buzzing off the table. That last bit of time before bed is now filled with stress and tension. Instead of letting them unwind enough to sleep they’re now wondering if they have to respond, and if you do this routinely, likely they will email/text/call you back because they’re concerned it would reflect poorly on their job if they don’t. Their time is now your time, and frankly you don’t have the rights to it. I’ve had bosses who email all hours of the day and night and think that just because they pay you a salary that they own you. Anytime a thought pops in their head they can reach out and expect you to be there with an answer. That creates stress, burnout, and a complete lack of respect for the employee. As a matter of fact when I was interviewing for a job and the person routinely emailed me back late at night, I took them out of the running. It was a number one warning sign that though I’d be paid for forty hours a week, I’d be expected to be around 24/7, and since it wasn’t a job for curing cancer, that was unacceptable.

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It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day lives, busy schedules, and the constant demands coming from all sides. With a full time job and running LD, my time is never my own. There’s always someone needing something from me, conference calls and articles to read, interns to work with, landing pages to write, etc. If I don’t have a question for someone at work, someone on LD has one for me, and so I horde my time like Smaug’s treasure. And in return I do the same for my writers and editors. For a start-up online magazine with writers all over the world, we have some very rigid guidelines. Articles are in by a certain time, they’re given to editors with plenty of time to be read, and for the most part we do not publish on the weekends. I get laughed at all the time for it, but every single person needs downtime, whether that’s a respite after work or knowing that no one is going to bug them on the weekend. When things get pushed to the last minute and editing requests come in very late at night, I tell my editors to pass on the piece. If someone chases us every single day even when we’ve responded back, we tell them “Thank you, but no thank you” no matter how good the piece might be. Respect comes in a lot of forms, and sometimes the simplest is just acknowledging that people are letting you into their lives, you don’t have the right to force your way into them.

We may be shooting ourselves in the foot, the publishing world is non-stop after all, but it doesn’t hurt to be the last bastion of respect for others. My hard stop after work hours to respond to the office likely means I’ll never be a CEO (though dear God I pray I never am), but it does mean I’ll have uninterrupted dinner with my sister, focus on grad school, and that I can feel like my own damn person and not some cog in someone else’s machine. Because at the end of the day, whether we mean to or not, respecting someone’s time is the same as respecting them. It may mean having to be a better planner, and it definitely means more work on holding up your own responsibilities, but by just refraining to email them in the middle of the night, you’re going a long way to help de-stress their lives too.

So next time you’ve got a really great idea or want feedback on something from work in the middle of the night, use the auto-scheduler, and have it sent in the morning. It doesn’t take much to train yourself to be respectful of other people’s time, after all, wouldn’t you want them to do the same for you?

View Comments (2)
  • Preach fearless leader! I turned my alerts off for emails when I was working at the apartment complex where I lived. I also hoarded the information as to which apartment was mine since I didn’t want residents banging on my door in the middle of the night.

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