To turn up late to a meeting is to waste time, money and goodwill. It also creates the impression of laziness and arrogance. So why does everyone keep doing it?

You’d think it was quite simple really, keeping time. I mean, we learned how to read a clock face somewhere around the age of five: the big hand’s pointing straight up, and the little hand’s pointing at the three so it must be … ? And yet some in our industry still seem to have a problem.

Our business revolves around meetings. Design team meetings, client meetings, site meetings, co-ordination meetings, pre-contract meetings, post-contract meetings … meetings are the comings-together that make construction happen. The last time I attended one that started on time was probably … 1992. Of course, there’s not a lot you can do if there are sheep on the line outside Swindon or a lorry’s overturned on the M25, but all too often it’s down to incompetence. If you have a meeting in Canary Wharf at 2pm, why are you in Hammersmith at 1.45? Not even a London cabbie could can get you where you’re supposed to be when you said you’d be there. With electronic diaries and WAP-enabled mobiles that list traffic blackspots and train timetables as well as keeping you posted on the football, we ought to be able to be a little more punctual.

When there are more than 10 people in a meeting, a lot of time can be wasted making small talk and sorting out coffee preferences while waiting for some dilatory team member. At a recent meeting, I filled in the waiting time by estimating the charge-out rate of the people around the table: it was something north of £2000 an hour.

Not everyone has an equal sense of the importance of meetings. One architect of my acquaintance reckoned that it didn’t matter how late he was, since “the meeting can’t start without me”. When challenged about this rather cavalier attitude, he raised an indolent eyebrow, as if daring me to question the veracity of his statement.

This is the kind of arrogance that leaves the rest of the design team fuming and grinding their teeth at every encounter: with obvious consequences to the easy co-operation so vital in getting a building built on time.

The other area where we seem to forget our clock-reading abilities is when making presentations. Given a 20-minute slot, how many of us have sat in an audience twitching slightly as the speaker sails past the allotted time span, continuing his fascinating discourse well past the half-hour mark, seemingly oblivious to the audience’s discomfort, the chairman’s polite coughs, or pointed watch-examining by following presenters? It’s something of an insult to other speakers to assume your talk is so much more interesting than whatever is slated to follow.

At a recent meeting, the charge-out rate of the people around the table was £2000 an hour

Again, it’s not hard to get it right – it just seems that the presenter couldn’t be bothered to prepare the speech to fill the allotted slot. How many carry out a dry run to ensure that arguments are cogent, that the equipment works, and that everything will go to time? Not many, I guarantee.

Many offerings are given to the accompaniment of a PowerPoint slide show. I could write screeds about PowerPoint, and how not to use it (for God’s sake don’t be tempted by the prepared templates) but I will content myself with these two simple tips: 1) A picture/diagram/drawing/graphic says a thousand words, and 2) Allow at most one slide a minute. There’s no way any presenter, no matter how competent, can get through 60 meaningful slides in 15 minutes. Think about it – that’s one slide every 15 seconds, which barely gives enough time for a coherent sentence per slide.

There are many opportunities for us to improve our performance in the area of time management. Simple things, such as checking the next day’s diary before setting off for home in the evening, switching off the insistent beep of every email alert, and yes, scheduling time to practice presentations rather than hastily stammering through them off the cuff. In a business where margins are small and professional fees tight, anything that we can do to make more efficient use of our time has got to be a good thing.

Tanya Ross is an associate of Buro Happold in Bath