By: Suleman Ahmer
Suleman Ahmer is MM’s newest specialist. He will be sharing articles on productivity and time management for our readers. As founder of Timelenders, a productivity and time management consulting firm, Ahmer has taught these skills to thousands of people around the globe from CEOs to students. He trains people on the Islamic framework of developing long term visions. He is the author of Embattled Innocence, a collection of short stories based on his work as a Muslim relief worker who has travelled to 25 countries to aid Muslims, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya. His articles on geopolitics and history have appeared in prestigious publications in the US such as The Washington Post for Middle East Affairs. He has spoken on these topics at over 40 US universities including Harvard University, MIT, Emory, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers.
Imagine two individuals: Ahmed and Zain, Ahmed is punctual, he is always on time. Whether it is an official meeting or a social event, he is always there on time. The best part is that even in casual settings he is on time.
In the office, people know that when Ahmed says that he will be returning to work at 2:20 pm, then he means 2:20 pm, not a minute more. For a social event like a marriage ceremony, if the invitation is for 9:00 pm, he will be there no matter how many people show up. Even at home, if he says that he will be coming in at 6:00 pm from work then that is it. His wife and children know that he will be there because that is how Ahmed is: punctual. Since Ahmed lives in a real world of changing situations, traffic jams, emergencies and mobile phones, all who know him, know that in the event of an extraordinary situation, Ahmed will inform the concerned people of the situation and reschedule his appointment.
Zain, is exactly the opposite of Ahmed. He feels that life should not be so ‘strict’. If he says that he will be coming at 2:00 pm then in his mind, this means somewhere between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm. He believes that if one makes it to the meeting then that should be appreciated. Life is too imperfect to allow people to be on time. And if he is running late for work or a social event then people should be intelligent enough to realize that this is the norm of the world and should guess that something must have come up to cause a delay. And yes, on the home front he believes that his wife and children should be considerate enough to also understand that when he says that he will be coming at 6:00 pm then that means that it could be anywhere between 6:00 pm and 7:30 pm. He believes that a happy go lucky lifestyle is the way to go.
Who would you like to work for, hire or marry?
Now here is a question that I would like you to answer honestly: if all other attributes were the same—education, competence, looks etc—and you had the choice of working for, hiring or marrying either Ahmed or Zain (or Aisha or Zaina), who would you choose? Close your eyes, imagine the personalities and answer.
Personally I think that you would choose Ahmed.
If I were to ask you why? You would give me many reasons but the most important would be that Ahmed is predictable. You can count on him. He is dependable.
A few months ago, in a workshop in Abu Dhabi I asked the participants to tell me what attributes come to mind about a person who is never on time as opposed to someone who is always on time. Here are the attributes that the group came up with:
|Organized||Inconsiderate towards others|
|Respectable towards others|
The interesting thing is that this may be true or it may not be true but the image that this behavior creates is the above and you will agree how damaging such an image would be.
Who would you like to be?
This is your choice. If you say that you would like to be Ahmed then we are on the same page and if you feel that you would like to be Zain then I would recommend that you should reconsider. Please check with people around you: friends, colleagues and family members and ask them as to what they think of a person like Ahmed or Zain. You will be amazed at the responses that you would get and I have great hope that these responses may help you to change your perception.
The Art of Never being Late
Ahmed and people like him follow the art of never being late and it is very simple. It has two elements:
Correct time estimation
The first is to correctly estimate the time for all activities. Of course, we can’t become too scientific in this but a good guess is what we are looking for. So if this is traveling somewhere then how much time it would take from the beginning to the end. Similarly, if your task is writing a report or working on a project then how long will it take?
All it takes is to sit down and calculate the steps that an activity takes and individually calculate the time for each step and then add it up; the more complex the activity is, the more steps you should divide the task into.
For example, if you are going to catch a flight that takes off at 5:30 pm work backwards from the time that you plan to be at the airport and estimate the time that it requires you to be ready and travel to the airport. This will look like this:
|Flight time||5:30 pm|
|Arrive at the airport||2 hours||3:30 pm|
|Travel to the airport||30 minutes||3:00 pm|
|Taking the luggage from the home and loading up the car and taking the car out of the garage.||10 minutes||2:50 pm|
|Shower and getting ready||20 minutes||2:30 pm|
|Packing up||30 minutes||2:00 pm|
The interesting thing about breaking up an activity is that you would get a realistic picture. For you to catch a flight at 5:30 pm, you would need to start moving at 2:00 pm.
Now go ahead and apply the same concept to other activities in your life.
Keeping a buffer
I define a buffer as the additional time kept into an activity that accounts for delays that can be anticipated. For example in the above example, we can have traffic delays or if you have an old car which develops a flat tire once in a while then you should keep a buffer. The length of the buffer differs from situation to situation. For example in the above case you may decide to keep a 15 minutes buffer. This means that you need to start moving at 1: 45pm and not 2:00 pm.
Welcome to Ahmed-hood
So if you can follow the above two steps, i.e. proper time estimation and keeping a buffer, I welcome you to the life of punctuality, where people consider you trustworthy and dependable. A life which is much less stressful and a lot more structured.