This week has been marked by delays. Delays by their very nature can be maddening and disheartening – particularly when we feel as if we have no control over them and the action that is being delayed is timely.

I took the first notification “Your flight is delayed” in stride as it was only 25 minutes and a modest flight delay is predictable. By the seventh “Your flight is delayed email” we had entered the land of the surreal. My daughter’s flight to camp that was expected to leave at 5:00PM would finally take off at 11:30PM. My journey leaving my home to drop her off began at 1:00PM and I did not return home until 1:30AM.

The next day we drove another daughter to camp in Maine. After spending a day in Boston on our way, our arrival for drop off was scheduled for 1:00PM Sunday.  Unfortunately, my car died and we were stranded at a service area off the Maine Turnpike. Eventually roadside assistance showed up to provide both a jump and directions to the closest Autozone to diagnose the problem and hopefully remedy it.  After a delay of four hours we eventually completed the drop off at 5:00PM only to turn around and drive six hours home – two of which were spent in a torrential downpour replete with flooded roads.

As frustrating as these instances were, they were delays born from privilege. After all, I was dropping my kids off at camp. Only 16% of American children attend any camp at all, of which an even smaller percentage is sleep away.

By comparison, imagine having a major medical procedure delayed because you don’t have insurance. Or the insane delays in finding affordable housing that can last years after you’ve been approved.

Delay is of course both a noun and a verb. It is something that we both experience (noun) and cause ourselves or others to experience (verb).

The former is particularly maddening as we have little control over delays like waiting in a line or stalled in traffic. The latter, on the other hand, is something we probably should be paying more attention to.

Have you stopped to consider the role your actions play in delaying or hindering another’s progress? They can range from the seemingly innocuous.  “I’m so busy, I haven’t had a chance to review or respond to your email,” to the insidious “I believe in affordable housing but don’t want it in my neighborhood.”

I recently listened to this podcast where Ezra Klein discussed Jennifer Pahlka’s new book Recoding America. She discussed how bureaucracy delays the intended outcome of good policy from being implemented. In one example she noted that despite tens of thousands of Californians being eligible for having drug convictions struck from their records, a grand total of zero actually had completed the onerous process and only thirty-five had even started.

Fortunately, she and others designed a process which in one fell swoop helped thousands complete the process and end their delays.

A similar scenario beautifully played out in one of my favorite films of the last decade, Living. In that story, a bureaucrat in England realizes his life has been one large exercise in delay. In the end, he reorients himself around the idea of removing the delays in his life and that of others to magnificent effect.

Recently former President Barack Obama shared his number one piece of career advice – “just learn how to get things done.” In other words, find ways to remove the delays that hinder progress not only for ourselves but others.

This is something that Chris from roadside assistance and William from Auto Zone understood and practiced. Both went out of their way to provide me with the tools and information to minimize my delays and get me back on the road to where I wanted to go.

Which makes me wonder, what can we all do to avoid delaying the progress of others?

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