Kelly Exeter

Kelly Exeter: many flakes have too many commitments.

How often do you show up late, cancel plans at the last minute, or (oh the shame), never return people's phone calls or emails in the first place?

Anecdotally at least, it seems flaky behaviour is on the rise.

Of course, there are times when it's understandable. Maybe your kid is sick, your girlfriend dumped you or your cat died.

But as author and blogger Danielle LaPorte points out, if you want to be successful, it's vital that you do what you say you're going to do.

So why do we find it so hard to follow through on our commitments?

According to blogger Kelly Exeter, it's an inability to prioritise and, in some cases, just a plain old lack of respect for other people's time.

“The vast majority [of flaky people] are just horribly overcommitted,” she says.

So if you are a flake, how do you go about changing your behaviour?

1) Learn to say no, often

Web designer and author of Be Awesome at Online Business Paul Jarvis says people have a tendency to take on too much, resulting in cancelled appointments and missed deadlines.

The answer is to say no to the tasks you might not have time for, and keep your schedule clear for those you've already taken on.

“Saying no means . . . you're honouring the commitments you've already made,” he says.

2) Have a policy for responding to emails

How often have you let emails go unanswered and told yourself you'd get around to them later?

It's important to have a policy that you will respond within one business day, says Exeter.

“When an email has been sitting in your inbox for a couple of days, it can become a much bigger task in your mind,” she says.

“You get decision-making fatigue. Should I respond now or leave it until tomorrow? When you have a mandate, the decision has already been made.”

Business owners can be wary of responding to email too quickly in case it sets up an expectation in the customer's mind that they are always available.

By all means respond within business hours only, but keep it to one day at a minimum, she says.

Mark out time in your diary to deal with email every day and set up a triage system for dealing with urgent inquiries.

3) Don't cram your schedule

Busyness has become such a badge of honour that we continually cram our schedules, instead of focusing on our priorities, says business and career strategist Megan Dalla-Camina.

“Ask yourself, what can come out of your schedule, so that you can create the space, time and energy for the things that are really important?”

When you're scheduling a task, it's important to remember that most things will take longer than you expect, says Jarvis.

"We all think in terms of best-case scenarios. But life never works that way. We will always be confronted with traffic jams and sick pets or children.”

4) Always late? Give yourself a buffer zone

If you are always late, you are effectively saying that your time is more important than other people's, says business coach Kate James.

“I always give myself a buffer zone. For example, if I have to go into the city I will leave an hour early, even though it's only a half-hour drive.”

That's all very well, but what if the problem is not you, but one of your employees?

“People who are always late just don't see it as important,” says Exeter. “So they don't understand that it's important to other people.”

Rather than comment on the person's lateness, you need to expressly state how important it is to you, and to the company, that they arrive on time for work.”

“When you make it clear that it's important they will make the effort to be there.”

And if you do find yourself in a situation where you're unable to honour a commitment?

“Confront it, apologise for it and figure out a solution,” says Jarvis.

“Too often, people try to ignore it and pretend like it didn't happen, which leads to resentment.”

It's always better to have a quick but difficult conversation to figure out how to put things right, he says.