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I thought it might be interesting to consider the advice I would give someone moving from a country with a flexible view of time to my home country (US), where time is controlled, often to the point of absurdity. Seriously, I have friends who schedule their day to the minute. For example: Meet Carrie for coffee 2:00 – 2:22PM.

The way we view time is often linked to how we think about relationships. My Asian friends see people and relationships as more important than time. Admittedly, most of us in time-focused cultures would not say we see time as more important than people, but, from a cultural perspective, we do.

Several friends and I met for 27 minutes over coffee and brainstormed this list of 5 tips we would give someone coming to our time conscious culture from one where time is seen as adjusting to what is needed.

  • Arrive on time for business and social events:
    • The starting time for a meeting is when it will start. Therefore, you should arrive a few minutes in advance so you are ready at the appointed time. This means you have gotten your tea/coffee/water and are seated and ready to begin.
    • A meeting scheduled for 10AM, will start then. Any social chitchat will occur before the meeting. There are limited, if any, social conversations during the meeting.
    • In social situations, arrive within 5 minutes of the time you were invited.
    • Call and/or text if you are going to be even a few minutes late. In social situations, the hosts may decide to hold up a meal and wait for you.
  • Understand the way meeting deadlines are viewed.
    • Watch how others in your work group / department / company treat deadlines. Are staff expected to work extra hours to meet a deadline or does this indicate poor planning? This often depends upon the leader of the work group, so it is important to observe others in your group.
    • I've worked in groups where working late or on the weekend was seen as a badge of honor and showed dedication. I've also worked where the team leader believed s/he set deadlines with great thought and if someone needed to work additional hours to meet the deadline, they wasted too much time during their workday.
    • If you do not think that the deadline is possible, tell your superior immediately and explain your rationale. Your team leader may have forgotten you were working on something else. Explaining the situation at the outset allows the team leader to make other arrangements or adjust your priorities. If you wait until something is due to tell your team leader you can't make it, s/he will not be impressed and this may cause severe challenges within work group. No one wants to be the person that kept the group from achieving their goal.
  • Do not interrupt colleagues when they are working.
    • As mentioned earlier, time-focused people are more concerned with doing what is needed within the appointed time-frame than in engaging in social niceties. As such, they consider it respectful to be allowed to work uninterrupted.
    • This is not to say that they will not engage in small talk. However, you will have more success if you initiate a conversation during lunch or in the coffee room.
    • In a time-conscious work environment, it is a good idea to focus on getting the task done before building relationships. In fact, it will be easier to develop relationships with coworkers if they see you as someone who does not let the team down.
  • Consider taking a time-management course:
    • Even if you have taken such a course in your home country, the course is probably taught quite differently in a country where time is seen as a commodity to be used wisely, saved or wasted.
    • Learning a few tips that will help you structure your day more effectively will make you more attuned to what is expected and reduce your stress level at working in a different environment.
    • There are many such courses available, many of them on-line, so you can easily fit them within your overfull schedule.
  • Avoid multi-tasking.
    • People may say they can multi-task, but research shows that we can't properly do more than one thing at once.
    • What we call multi-tasking is actually task switching.
    • Research has proven that it takes more time to switch between tasks than if you finished tasks in a sequential order. Think about what happens if you read a book while watching TV. Do you really know what you've seen and understand what you've read?

Understanding and respecting how people in a culture treat time can make working with them much easier.