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April 25, 2024

How to End Drama Around Time Agreements

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One place leaders and teams waste time and burn energy is around time agreements. 

  • When meetings start late and run over, it leads to waiting and crammed schedules as one meeting bleeds into another. This is a setup for exhaustion.
  • Leaders show up late for people on their team or in their personal lives and then make excuses and justify why they were late. Making excuses, justifying, and rationalizing is a massive waste of energy; conscious leaders simply don’t do it.
  • When people perpetually break agreements, drama follows. This is of course another waste of energy. 

Many couples and families also waste much energy in drama around time. This can look like:

  • Stress about when they leave for school in the morning
  • Squabbles about dinner time: “Come eat, food’s getting cold!”
  • Showing up late for events or parties
  • Waiting on others and getting pissed about doing so
  • Others feeling rushed because they know someone’s going to be mad that they’re late 

On and on it goes. Massive energy wasted because of drama around time agreements.

All of this is optional. 

Here are 5 suggestions on how to end drama around time agreements.

1. Decide and commit to how YOU want to play the game of time agreements.

The more you can see all of life as a game where you get to pick which game you play and how you play it, the less drama you’ll have in your life. The opposite of seeing life as a game is making it all serious, believing you know the right way to do it, that people who don’t do it your way are wrong, and you need to change them or constantly fight with them. This is a valid choice, but not one I prefer.

In my life, I’ve chosen to play the time agreement game this way: 

First, I believe that making and keeping clear agreements is important to my integrity and to my full aliveness

Second, I make clear time agreements: 

“I’ll meet you for lunch at 12 on Tuesday at Brown Bag.” 

“I’ll talk to you on Zoom at 9 am CT on Friday.” 

“I agree to leave for the party Saturday night at 6:30.” 

“I’ll pick up the kids at school today at 3:30.” 

Third, I align my life with keeping 95% of those time agreements. What this looks like for me is that being at Brown Bag at 12 on Tuesday is important to me, really important. It’s a matter of integrity, trustworthiness to others and myself, and energetic aliveness. This isn’t because I believe I should be on time. There is no should around this for me. It’s not a rule. 

Rather, I’ve experimented and found that when I play the game this way life is more easeful and stress melts. I build my life so that I have more than enough time to easefully make it to Brown Bag by 12. Often I end up being early. No problem. 

A note on being early 

I’ve learned over the years to have plenty to do when I arrive early for things. For years I had a list of quick things “to do” in my Asana tasks and I’d just pull up the list and handle things. Easy and satisfying. Now, more often than not, I just sit and enjoy being. The point is I organize my life with the intention to keep my time agreements. 

Fourth, I renegotiate agreements as soon as I see I’m not going to keep them. Life happens and my experience is that I’ll break about 5% of my time agreements. Again, the “life happens” bit comes after my intention and behavior that allows me to easefully keep 95% of my agreements. What this means is that “traffic” is hardly ever the reason I didn’t keep my agreement. I leave with more than enough time to allow for traffic. I plan my schedule with transition times, moving from one meeting to the next, one event to the next, so that I can easefully keep my agreements. And sometimes stuff happens. When it does, I let anyone know who will be affected by my broken agreement and ask that we renegotiate the agreement. Again, this happens rarely. 

Fifth, I clean up broken agreements. When I don’t keep time agreements I take 100% responsibility for breaking the agreement. I don’t make excuses, blame others, rationalize or justify. I just say, “I broke my agreement.” I also check to see if this breech has damaged trust and if so I repair the broken trust. 

This is how I have chosen to play the game of time agreements. 

Other ways to play the time agreements game

There are many ways to play the time agreement game. You might choose another way. There are lots of options: 

  • Don’t make time agreements. Do what you do, when you do it. 
  • Don’t make clear time agreements. “Let’s meet for lunch Friday.” Lunch time means different things to different people. Don’t clarify it. 
  • View time agreements as slippery: “I’ll try but don’t really plan to keep my agreement.” Or, “I plan to keep it BUT I don’t organize my life to allow me to keep some, many, most of my agreements” or “Close is good enough;” e.g. “If I get there within 5, 15, 30 minutes it’s as though I kept the agreement” or “I make a lot of excuses for why I’m always late and I say ‘sorry’ a lot.” 
  • Play the game differently depending on who you’re playing with. How you make and keep time agreements is a function of how important you view the person to be that you’re making agreements with.

What’s important, if you want to minimize drama and maximize aliveness, is that you decide consciously how you want to play. Once you decide how you want to play you can create a life aligned with your game. 

2. Ask people in your life how they want to play the time agreement game.

I suggest a conscious conversation around this topic that allows you to determine if you’re aligned around what game you’re playing and how you’re playing it. If you’re not aligned and don’t talk about this, you’ll constantly be squabbling outwardly or inwardly. 

If you’re playing soccer and they’re playing basketball, every time they touch the ball with their hands you’ll get upset and when you kick it they’ll call a foul. Nobody is bad or wrong. You’re just playing two different games. But until we have a conscious commitment conversation we think we’re right and they’re wrong. We believe they should be playing our game and when they don’t we blame, complain, criticize and try to change them. That’s no fun for you or them. 

How to have a conscious commitments conversation

This conversation can be pretty straightforward.

“Hey, I’d like to have a conversation with you about how we want to be around time and agreements we make about time. Would you be willing to have that with me?” 

WARNING: if you say these words but your real position is you’re right and they’re wrong and you’re using this to change them, the conversation will likely blow up in your face. People will see you as just using “consciousness bullshit" as a way to control them. If you are genuinely open and curious and not really attached to how they play the game, it will be an open and productive conversation. 

If they are a yes to the conversation it can go something like this: “I’ve thought about this and the way I’d like to be around time agreements is ……. (in my case I say what I’ve written above).” The key here is to be as clear and specific as possible. Once you state your preference for the game and how you like to play, answer any questions they might have. 

Then, ask them what they’d like. Many people haven’t really consciously thought about this. They’re playing a game a certain way but they’ve never really reflected on how they are doing it. Just inviting people to become aware can be experienced as threatening so be gentle and patient. Give them time to consider and respond. 

If they want to have the conversation, then you’re in a dialogue looking for similarities and differences in the games you’re playing and how you’re playing them. This conversation is powerful and useful. Don’t rush it. It can take some time to get to clarity. 

What if they don’t want to talk?

By the way, their response could be, “I don’t want to have that conversation.” If this is their response you have information about their availability and desire to play the same game you’re playing. That’s what the purpose of the conversation is, so you got what you needed. It might not be what you wanted. You might have wanted them to be willing to clarify and even to play the same game you’re playing, but at least now you know. 

3. Co-commit to the same game.

If you’re both playing or willing to play the same game then you can co-commit. “Let’s play basketball and play it this way.” Now we’re aligned. This doesn’t mean that we play the game perfectly. We don’t. But when we don’t play the game the way we said we would, we have a clarification, re-commitment conversation. “Hey, I just want to make sure we’re still committed to playing the time agreement game this way. Is that still the case?” If not, we can clarify if someone wants to change the way they play the game. 

Co-commitment and alignment is the key to ending drama, maximizing energy and aliveness. Teams and leaders stop wasting time and energy when they co-commit. 

An example of co-commitment

My wife Debbie and I have chosen to play the same game, though it took some time, discussion, and creativity. Debbie is hard-wired to care less about time than I do. She is much more inclined to be experience-oriented. In other words, her natural preference would be that experiences start when they do and end when they’re over. This is a beautiful flowing alive quality that I cherish in her. She can easily get lost in an art project, her garden, reading a book to a grandchild, designing a bathroom, or working on a spreadsheet. She also sees time more elastically than I naturally do. 

So when we first got together, we’d be invited to a dinner party at 6:30 and I was committed to being there at 6:30. First, she had to help me see that most dinner party invitations don’t actually mean the time they say and that if we work off my sense of time we’ll be the first at every party we go to and sometimes arrive before the host is ready. 

One we co-committed around time agreements, we’d have a conversation that went something like this:

Me: “What time would you like to arrive at the party?”
Her: “Seven”
Me: “Maps says it will take 30 minutes to get there. OK, if we leave at 6:25 to allow a bit of buffer?”
Her: “Yes”
Me: “OK, I’ll be ready to go then.”
Her: “Me too.”

90% of the time we leave at the appointed time. When we don’t, we renegotiate or clean up our agreements. If we regularly didn’t keep our agreements, we’d be having another conversation, e.g. the “what game are we playing conversation.” What we wouldn’t do is have ongoing drama. 

Note: Believe the results
By the way, regardless of how a person says they want to play the game you can tell what game they're playing and how they’re playing it by the results; by what they actually do and don’t do. Their results is their commitment.

If your significant other says they want to play basketball but they keep kicking the ball, don’t believe their words, believe their results. From above the line, from presence, you can point this out to them. “I thought you said you wanted to play the game of time agreements this way but it looks like you’re playing it another way based on what’s happening. That’s OK. I just want to clarify what I see and I’ll adjust accordingly.” 

4. Decide what to do if you’re playing two different games. 

If the clarifying conversation shows that you’re playing two different games, the conscious leader has several options: 

Option A: Take responsibility and keep playing different games

Many of you are in relationships where you’re unaligned around time agreements. Once this is clarified you might decide the relationship is important regardless of your lack of alignment. You don't want to quit your job because your boss is late for every meeting and blows off your one-to-ones. You don’t want to end your marriage because your partner is late the majority of the time. You make sense. But, if you want to live consciously, you make the choice and you end the drama in your head. 

Keep playing with the person but understand you’re playing two different games. STOP ALL COMPLAINING AND CONTROLLING. Once you know you’re not playing the same game, a formula for making yourself and others crazy is to keep complaining about how they’re playing the game. 

If your manager has made it clear that they want to play a different game and you choose to keep working for them you give up the right to bitch, moan, and complain to yourself and others. It’s your choice to keep playing with someone who is not aligned with you. It’s not their problem. It’s your choice. Making this choice and owning it will keep you from suffering every time your manager is late or cancels a meeting with no renegotiation or keeps justifying or making excuses. In fact, you can count on them to play the game the way they play the game. 

I have a number of people in my life who are playing a different game around time than I am. I know this about them and once this is clarified I no longer upset myself with them. One of our children plays a very different game around time agreements. No problem. I simply don’t expect them to show up when they say they will. They’ll show up when they do. I plan accordingly. No drama. I love them being just the way they are. 

A note on waiting

Years ago I decided to end “waiting.” I don’t wait any more. Waiting is a mindset that says, “Something about this moment should be different than it is.” I found this to result in suffering of all kinds, not the least of which was frustration and anger. Now, I trust that what is happening is what is meant to happen and I just stay alive in this now moment doing whatever it is that I’m choosing to do. People sometimes say to me, “Sorry to keep you waiting.” My response is genuinely, “You didn’t keep me waiting. I wasn’t waiting.” This often leads to a fun conversation.

Option B: Ask the person to play your game. 

This is simple and straightforward. Make a request, not a demand, that the person play your game your way. Once you’ve clarified your game you can invite other people to play it. 

I do this all the time. When people in my life who haven't clarified their game or are playing a different game I simply ask them if they’d play my game with me when we interact. I have a number of people in my life who are willing, seemingly happily, to play my game when they play with me even though they don’t play that game anywhere else as far as I can tell. I appreciate them for this. 

Option C: Choose to stop playing with the person

It’s perfectly valid to decide who in your world needs to be aligned with you, willing and wanting to play the same game, the same way. 

If you’re like most conscious leaders you’ll discover that there are certain areas of your life where you want the people in your life aligned around time agreements. This is true for me at work. I don’t choose to work with anyone who doesn’t want to play the same game. They can be fabulous in so many ways but I’ve learned that the sludge that comes from being unaligned around time agreements just isn’t something I choose to have in my life. No one at CLG is playing a different game and as a result we have no drama around time agreements. None. 

Ask yourself: What am I willing to risk for my full aliveness? Would you be willing to stop playing with people who aren’t willing to play the same game as you?

When you take responsibility for ending drama in your time agreements, you get more aliveness, creativity, flow, and productivity. Are you willing to try these steps?

5. Bonus Tip: Align commitments when you enter new relationships

Organizations that minimize drama around time have co-commitment conversations when people join the organization. Co-committing around time is part of the onboarding process. The organization clearly describes what game it’s playing and how it’s played. If the potential hire is not a whole body yes to playing the organization’s game, they’re not a good fit.  

The same is true in your personal life. Where it matters to you, have a co-commitment conversation around time early in the relationship. This can prevent years of drama, leaving more room for the good stuff.

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