Tuesday, December 21, 2010


My CEO likes to say to me, "You have a warped sense of time. You think a lot of time has passed, when it's only been five minutes."

It is true. I had not realized before, but I am very impatient! There are times when I've thought, "Why hasn't so-and-so replied to my email?!" and I search for the thread to write a demanding followup, only to find that I had only sent my email the night before.

The state of feeling impatient is uncomfortable. I am in this state of discomfort multiple times per week, where I'm waiting impatiently. I would like to lessen this feeling.

I heard from one startup founder that his investor will send followup emails every hour until he gets an answer. That seems a bit too pushy, but it is one solution.

Or perhaps I can try some type of meditation, where I imagine myself as a cactus in a timeless desert, or focus on breathing, or some such.

If you are impatient, how do you deal with this? If you are patient, what is your emotional reaction to people like me who are impatient? Do we seem inexplicable?


Piaw Na said...

I am a very impatient person as well. I moderate this by making sure I have a thick stack of things to do all the time. That way I always have something to do which makes the time go past much faster. IMing with friends also does the same thing, but now you're wasting 2 people's time. :-)

Philipp said...

There's a time proven method for you...

Milkman said...

Impatience is a common trait of Type A personalities (i'm one too), and living in the Bay Area its probably the majority type. Besides having multiple things to do (to take focus off the email or call you are waiting for), I simply set a timeline like: I need to give ppl at least one business day to respond to emails, or a few hours to return a call etc -- and before that time, I try not to check on the status explicitly (if i happen to be checking mail for some other purpose, thats fine, but wouldnt log on to just look for this particular mail..)

Anonymous said...

Philip Zimbardo (the Stanford prison study guy) identifies different time perspectives as a key predictor of who you will get along with and how successful you will be in the long run. Your description is typical of a highly future-oriented person. The people who are to you slow and annoying are just more present-oriented, and in turn find your haste perplexing. The ideal would be a balanced mix of perspectives.

Perhaps you would benefit from reading Zimbardo's book (with John Boyd), The Time Paradox, which has a thorough discussion of the theory as well as exercises for balancing your time perspective.

(At the risk of stating the obvious, I am not either author and have no connection with the book.)

Jeremy said...

I'm with Milkman. I'm pretty impatient myself, but I found that it helps to set timelines. If you send someone a business-related e-mail, ask yourself when do you absolutely have to have the information? You should definitely wait that long. Or you can put something in your message like, "I need this information by the end of the business day." If they don't respond by then, you're in the clear for following up.

For personal e-mail...hmmm...I think that some of us are on the computer constantly so we wonder why other people don't respond quickly as if they don't have anything better to do. Again, unless you're asking someone to confirm some plans that day, just leave it be. People will respond when they respond.

For impatience in general, follow Piaw Na's suggestion of having a lot to do.

Anonymous said...

Add this to your emails: Sorry for the rush but if you could reply by 3pm, I would really appreciate it. If it will take longer, please just let me know when you will have time to complete this. Thanks!

If I am working with a high energy person. My first impulse is too meet their demand. If they are making a request with expectations I cannot meet then I tell them, "Look, if you expect this by 8am tomorrow, I don't think I can make that deadline. How about 3pm?" So I guess I default to negotiations.

Actually this could be a business model for someone to make an email button like an email confirmation. Can you complete by XX:XX am/pm ? YES/NO would be the reply!! :)

Dog of Justice said...

I like the suggestion of including a recommended reply time, especially when communicating with differently-wired people.

My other thought is that impatience is a useful trait in quite a few contexts, and you should try to put yourself in those contexts as often as possible; pretty sure you already do this, though.

Niniane said...

I'm enjoying this discussion.

I think it would be weird if I sent out business emails that said "Can you complete by XX:XX am/pm ? YES/NO". It feels directive and demanding.

Anonymous said...

If and when you become a mother, I think you will learn patience :)

Jeremy said...


It wouldn't be weird for a business e-mail to ask by when you could complete a certain task since most work these days is collaborative.

It would definitely be weird for a personal e-mail. "Does this dress make me look fat? Yes/no. Please reply by 4PM." Heh.

Benjamin said...

I work as a research scientist, so I am fairly "future-oriented", however Dr. Zimbardo might define it. I have also been considered very patient my whole life. Although I am prone to interrupt when I am excited by an idea. You asked how a patient person might react to an impatient person. I can be annoyed, but I am also thankful. The person who pushes can drive projects towards completion. A patient person can help make sure that all the needed tasks are completed with quality and nothing is done too rashly. It seems to me that any good team should have a "pusher",if you will, and a patient "caretaker". Together, they can help launch outstanding innovations quickly.

Niniane said...

I just downloaded a Kindle sample of "The Time Paradox". Looking forward to reading it!

Yishan said...

Should I be replying to emails from you more promptly? Sometimes I phase out my replies depending on how much consideration they need.

I enjoy your typical rapid-replies to my emails, so I like your native impatience. It makes you good to work with.

Patent guy said...

I'm a patent lawyer. As well as my own occasional impatience, I deal with it from a number of my clients and colleagues.

My work is deadline-driven, and my colleagues are generally good at navigating that. When giving an assignment, it's just standard practice to set the deadline for the next milestone, whether it's the end of the day or the end of the week. Checking in before that milestone without a good reason (i.e., changed circumstances or the like) will get you a bad reputation.

Of course, occasionally it's also effective. If you're the head honcho around the office, then the bad reputation doesn't mean much. But if you're less than that, I think it does.

Even on the client side, I've seen clients "fired" because they were too demanding, and having their business wasn't worth the aggravation.

As for dealing with impatience, I can't improve on the other suggestions: just set a schedule for when to follow up, and don't follow up before then.

But what I hope I CAN add is the perspective from the other side of the transaction. I believe the leeway you have in being demanding is directly proportional to your importance to the person you're badgering. If you go above your allotted badgering quota, you'll start to be ignored, implicitly or explicitly.

And just to share stories, here's one from an old law firm:

A big-shot partner asked me late one night to look into a fairly specific question of law. He said he has a call with the client at noon the next day, and if I had time to look into it and speak intelligently with him at 11:00 the next morning. I said sure.

The problem was specific enough that I estimated it would take about 1.5 hours to pretty thoroughly explore it. So the night before, I stayed a little late finishing what I was doing, so my next morning was clear.

I came in at 9:00 and started working. At 10:00 he called, as I was in the middle of exploring a sub-issue. "So, do you have the answer to the question I asked last night?" I replied somewhat confused and disoriented. At first, I thought I had misremembered our 11:00 appointment, but then I realized I didn't : "Well, the answer... it's... wait, weren't we supposed to talk at 11:00?"

His response was awesome:

"Well, yeah... I SAID 11:00, but it's 10:00 now; what's going to happen between now and then? You should have the answer now. Did you not start working on this last night!?"

I went to his office then, gave him the analysis I had at the time, and avoided doing work for him in the future. His loss, not mine.

Let that be a cautionary tale for all you impatient folks out there. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm impatient, so I just do other things if I am waiting for something else to finish. I stumbled upon your blog while surfing da web looking for sample resumes because I have not updated my resume in I-don't-know-how-many years.

Niniane said...

I like how Patent Guy didn't realize that comments were moderated, so he impatiently submitted his comment 4 times. :)

Same Patent Guy said...

Heh, Patent Guy here.

In fairness, when I submitted my comments, I got an error saying a redirect link was too long. I wasn't sure if the comments went through, but I figured, since the comments were moderated, there was no risk in resubmitting... since SURELY you'd only put one up!

But I can't help feeling a little embarrassed... kinda like my mom who continues to click a button when the computer is otherwise working.

Niniane said...

Oh, I see. I hope you don't mind that I had a bit of good-natured teasing at your expense. :)

I've removed the duplicate entries. I did enjoy your story about the "fake" 11am deadline.

sunny said...

This is hilarious because I'm the same way.

For example just this morning, I woke up and started working on this project. It was 5 AM. I had a couple of questions and concerns, so I e-mailed the group.

2 hours later, though in my brain it felt like 2 days, no one had replied, and I got really annoyed.

Then I looked at the clock and realized it's 7 AM on a holiday morning. Should probably cut the rest of the group some slack, hm? Sigh.

Patent guy said...

Not at all. What's the world without a little good natured teasing?

Eric said...

I think I'm patient compared to many in Silicon Valley, so my opinion on this matter might sound naive.

If I need an answer right away, I send an e-mail describing what I need and make a phone call to tell the recipient when I need it by, apologize for the inconvenience and negotiate for a quick turn-around.

I think one or two such requests on a normal day are fine; any more than that, and I start to question whether I should be doing some of these things myself.

I think a big-shot executive such as yourself gets a bigger allotment of such e-mails; however, the same people should also depend on you. If they can't get things done until you get things done, they will meet your unspoken deadline out of pure self-interest.

Niniane said...

re: Sunny. Your story about getting annoyed at 7am and then realizing you'd only sent the email at 5am on a holiday weekend made me laugh out loud. I can imagine myself doing the same thing.

Jeremy said...

I read most of these comments with a sense of unease and guilt. I'm kryptonite to impatient people. People I work with get so worked up when I don't check emails, or when I turn my phone off for a few days. Sometimes I take to working nocturnally and sleeping through the day so I can get things done in true isolation.

I'm reminded of Knuth's explanation of why he hasn't had an email address since 1990:
"Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things."

y said...

I am guilty as well. But, you know what, meditation does help a lot! I practice meditation by focusing on my breath, and thanking the present moment. Meditating doesn't have to be fancy!

Maybe we're meant to enjoy these moments that force us to wait. I try to especially calm down when I'm in a hurry, such as stretching and breathing and smiling when I'm at a traffic light. :)

By the way, I love your website. Very inspiring!