Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chronological Phase Shift Syndrome in the Adult

We've got at least two people that play a part in our lives that always seem to be in a hurry but they never seem to get where they need to be when they need to be there. I am intrigued with this psychological phenomenon because it really resembles an addiction.

Example 1:
"I'll be there at 3:00 PM," she says, "meet me at the grocery parking lot." It only took a few times before we realized that she would never be there at 3:00 PM. In fact, now, when we have to meet her, we don't leave the house until 3:30 PM because we know she will be at least an hour late. but even so, we sit and wait sometimes for up to an hour and a half. So, doing the math; she is an average of 2 hours late.

Example 2:
"I'm going to text you to let you know when I am coming. I'll text you on Tuesday. But if I don't text you on Tuesday plan on me texting you Wednesday or Thursday. If I don't text you Wednesday or Thursday, I'll be there Friday to pick you up around noon-ish." he says. This is an actual conversation we had with him. He left us with the vague feeling that there was a solid plan. In spite of our efforts to give him plenty of ways to contact us to let us when he was coming by he always claims he texted, or posted Facebook, or tried to call but somehow we didn't get the message. Now we know there is little reliable content in his statement.

When either of these two miss a deadline or don't show up at all they come prepared with excuses for being late. Sometimes they sound reasonable. Sometimes, well, they sound like this:

I do not think these are bad people. In fact, I think they genuinely try to help and the only reasons I can give for their perpetual lateness (or Chronological Phase Shift Syndrome CPSS, as I call it) are

1) they over commit with the best of intentions (to help) and because of this they can never meet most of their promised deadlines, and thereby help fewer and fewer of their contacts with each new committment.

2) they do not possess the skill set to adequately plan their day, manage their time, or to politely decline to add more to their already crowded lives.

In the first Example 1, the lady provides a service, free of charge, to her customers. She has altruistic motivations. However, her skill set and the number of her committments (which are generally a part of her elaborate excuses) prevent her from fulfilling her self imposed obligations. Her customers become frustrated and less and less tolerant with each occasion.

In Example 2, the young man, already seems to know that his calendar is muddled and doesn't quite know where to stick us or whether he will be able to remember to do has he promised. He, in his own way, is preparing the ground work for his excuses.

My high school English teacher used to say "An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie". I am not saying that these two are lying when the lay on their multilayered, sometimes dramatic, and stilted excuses. What I am saying is that they have CPSS.

Chronological Phase Shift Syndrome is basically a difference in "time" between the schedule in their heads (their ideal schedule, or the schedule they perceive to be true) and the schedule that happens in reality.

If your day were to look like an outlook calendar in the DAY VIEW and you are always or nearly always on time then 9 AM on Monday would either be "free" or it would be scheduled with something for you to do. You would complete your task starting at 9 AM Monday and would allow enough time to move to the next task. But, if you are one with CPSS, then the task you pencilled in for 9AM Monday in your internal calendar really isn't going to happen until 1030 or later. You think you are doing well because the task is on your list, but you fell a little guilty (or defensive) about missing another deadline. Your calendar is there and it gives you some comfort but you are using it for the wrong thing. You are using it as a worklist NOT a schedule.

In both of these examples, because they both know they have a history of missing deadlines, they build in excuses, sometimes even as they are setting the appointment as mentioned in Example 2.

I am rarely late and if I do get behind it sends me into a spiral of anger and despair. I am nothing special and these two examples are not much younger than I am. So I can't claim a particular talent nor can I blame another generation for this phenomenon. And I am not so sure I can attribute it all to my upbringing. But this I do know. This world has way too much lateness. BQW (Before Quitting Work), one of the cardinal sins one could commit if one was a salesman needing my time, a committee member required to be at a meeting I was conducting, or an applicant looking for work was to be late. Used to be you could weed out the deadwood simply by noticing who kept their committments. My being on time is not as much a matter of personal pride as it is a courtesy to the person waiting for me. My being on time for them shows them the importance I place on their time. Now, however, most everyone is late. And with the exception of myself and a few other "hardasses" at the hospital it is generally accepted. One of my co-workers who was to lead a meeting that I was also attending, started promptly at 1 PM when the meeting was scheduled. She concluded the meeting at 1:10 PM because I was the only person in the room. We did get alot of work done though...

There is an element of honor in keeping to your committments. And it starts with making every committment a matter of honor-if that makes sense. I would not hire a person who was late no matter the excuse. If they would be late for an interview to get a job, would they be late on their first day? Would they be late frequently? Would they be unreliable in other areas of their life if they could not keep a simple appointment time?

What is more, the people in my example, seem to be addicted to this cycle of commit-fail-excuse-commit again.

Somehow, the emphasis in our culture shifted from being on punctuality to a kind of martyrdom. Now it seems that having an overbooked calendar and failing to keep committments is the new way to show how hard one is working. Again, I saw this played out, BQW. One day while walking out at the end of my day at 4pm I met up with another department director who was also leaving for the day. When I asked her if she was slipping out early she simply said, "Just because someone works 14 hour days, is late to meetings, and has an overbooked calendar, and can't keep a committment does not mean they are a good manager". I agreed.

So what is the solution? Here are a few tips that are effective in my personal experience.

Remove this psychological safety net from your repertoire. Everytime you are late (every time) simply say, "I am sorry, there is no excuse. I know you were counting on me and I let you down". This is a short, if not painful, way to break the cycle.

Secondly, make no new commitments until every commitment you already have has been completed. Then take 2 weeks and enjoy the freedom of no committments. Then, with your first new committment, plan for one hour before and one hour after the appointment. Use this time to meet that committment. If you are meeting someone at 2PM, start the process of meeting them at 1PM - even if you are the one that is waiting for the appointment for a change - this helps you to plan for those things that cause excuses.

Third, make being punctual a matter of honor to you- a way to build trust in your reliability. Everyone wants to be trusted right? Well the cycle of commit-fail-excuse-commit again slowly (sometimes quickly) erodes the trust people have in you. Make the other person's time more important than your own.

Do all three of these things in concert and you will be on time, most of the time. Miss any one of these and the old cycle continues.

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