Need a time machine? Just text someone!
I lost count of how many times I joined an important meeting late because I was busy writing a text message on my phone or laptop.
This is how it played out. I was so focused on texting that I forgot I had a meeting, despite the multiple reminders showing up on my devices. I snoozed them all and thought for a brief instant: “I’ll join after the text is sent”. Then, right before hitting “send”, I received the classic “are you joining?” message. I checked the time, and it was almost 10 min after the meeting start time!
Did this “adverse time traveling” ever happen to you?
I know it did. Maybe it wasn’t at work but in some other context. Nevertheless, the dynamic is always the same, and what feels like a few moments is, in reality, several minutes.
Why does this happen?
Have you ever noticed the time before starting to write a text message? Even a small one with a few more words than “I’ll join asap”. You start writing at 3:03 and after you hit send it’s 3:08, so you think: it can’t be happening! 5 min for a couple of average sentences?
It’s about our reputation
We are all more or less conscious that a text may say a lot about our traits, and we must make sure it hits a minimum quality standard, in line with the image of ourselves we want to convey with it. Needless to say, this is particularly important when we are texting people who don’t know us, or know us a little.
The quality standard we set encompasses several aspects: clarity of the message, readability, evoked emotions, syntax and spelling correctness, punctuation, etc.
Making sure your sentence meets quality standards takes time and focus, inevitably. Thus, we lose track of time and when we go back to reality, we end up being late.
Wait a second… Doesn’t being late affect our reputation, too?
Yes, it does! And if we want to preserve our reputation, we have to incur more cost in terms of time and effort.
Managing the trade-off
Do I finish writing, send the message now and be late for the meeting?
Do I send a poor quality message right now and join the meeting on time?
Do I stop writing, join the meeting, and finish my message afterwards?
There isn’t a general best answer, and the way we manage the trade-off between cost and reputational risk depends on each single case.
If you, like me, think that respect, professionalism and quality of communication is key to personal and organizational success, then you are likely to stop writing to join the meeting and finish the message afterwards, although it will take a considerable extra effort to “re-fetch” all the variables in your mind to continue writing. Plus, you are procrastinating while accumulating more messages to process, and this generally slows you down.
If you are working with your seasoned team mates, and you have nothing to prove to each other, you may go for low message quality and speed of execution, since the reputational damage is low-to-none.
Finally, if the meeting you need to attend is not that important and you hate to procrastinate sending that message, then you may go for a few min of join delay, unless the people to meet are so important that being late would have a negative effect that exceeds the cost of deferring the message for later.
No matter the scenario, you have to make a fairly simple decision. However, if you don’t make the most appropriate one consistently, then the negative effects can compound over time, and a one-off forgivable reputational stumble, when repeated, may become a much bigger issue.
How frequently do we manage the trade-off?
You are in back-to-back meetings for the most part of the workday; people need you, you need people, and calling is off-limits because it feels like an invasion of privacy. Asynchronous messaging is what’s left for us, in a world characterized by too many communication channels, notifications and people in do-not-disturb mode.
So, chances are, texting is how you handle most of your communications, sometimes while you are in a boring meeting with 10 people; although, in the latter case, chances are you can’t really focus enough to write important quality messages.
When you write a ton of messages and join many meetings, then the likelihood for a conflict is real and high.
For me, almost every meeting is preceded by some fairly urgent unrelated messaging. In fact, people who depend on my input to move the needle message me no matter my status, even in do-not-disturb mode. In a back-to-back meeting streak, the only occasion I have to reply to people who asked me something that requires a bit of concentration, is in between meetings.
In a back-to-back scenario with multiple people requesting your input, the reputational risk extends even to the scenario when you stop writing your text before the meeting, and then continue after the latter ends. In fact, it is very easy to forget to follow up on a message that has been temporarily put on hold, or even to erroneously think you sent the message already, with the result of not answering, hence, appearing disrespectfully unprofessional or uninterested.
Designing a solution to adverse time travels
If you like risk, messaging and time travels, then maybe the best option for you is to maintain the status quo.
If you, instead, prefer enjoying every moment of your life without the stress of managing the frequent above mentioned trade-off, then keep reading!
As we have seen, the reputational risk is based on the following factors:
- Being late to the next meeting or forgetting about it because of writing a text.
- Writing a low quality message to make it on time for the next meeting.
- Putting a draft message on hold to attend the meeting on time but forget to follow up, complete and send such a message.
For all three points, in my opinion, the most extreme and impactful solutions would be getting rid of meetings or getting rid of messages. Unfortunately, none of them would be plausible: you can’t radically change the way people operate by magically eliminating a mainstream tool.
However, there is an approach that may be implemented: reducing both meetings and messages, so that the “adverse time traveling” phenomenon and its reputational trade-off can be remarkably diminished in frequency.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is veering all industries towards a calendar-free way of interacting in real time
The path to get rid of calendars and live a free more productive life is still long and winding, nevertheless, we start seeing the trend of transforming 1:1 conversations into impromptu (video) calls, magically presented at the right time for both parties involved.
The Tweelin research team estimated that converting 1:1 calendar events into “fluid” calls may free up about 40% of someone’s schedule, reducing both meetings and messages, therefore, reducing the likelihood of “adverse time traveling.”
Imagine you were able to get rid of all that back and forth texting to coordinate the availability related to 40% of the planned part of your day. Pretty impactful.
In addition, your day would be less constrained by calendar slots, allowing you to do more for the same amount of total time. You only have 8 slots of 8 hours during your work day, fill them all up and there’s very little you’ll be able to achieve during work hours, and you’ll have to work overtime on the solo tasks that matter.
In other words, adopting the right AI technology will bring you to a future of better work-life balance, without “adverse time traveling”.