Sometimes things don’t go as planned. As much as you try to be a reliable, organized person and meet your commitments, sometimes life interferes. Would it help to know that members of Congress face the same challenges that you do?
Derek Willis and Cecilia Reyes recently published an article on the ProPublica website entitled “The Dog Ate My Vote: How Congress Explains Its Absences.” Members of the U.S. House of Representatives can file explanations for missed votes (as well as noting how they would have voted, had they been present). As you read their explanations, I’m sure some of them will sound familiar.
Travel delays, sometimes because of weather, are a common theme. For example, Rep. Jackie Speier wrote, “I was unfortunately unable to cast votes on Monday, July 8, 2013 due to inclement weather that prevented me from making it to Washington, DC.”
And sometimes our representatives experience the same travel frustrations we all do. As Rep. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II wrote in October 2011:
I regret that I was prevented from casting votes during last Monday night’s session due to repeated delays of a flight from Charleston, West Virginia, to Washington.
The flight, originally scheduled to depart at 4:50 p.m., did not leave Charleston until after 9 p.m., more than four hours late. In that time, the airline offered numerous excuses — maintenance, delayed flights that had backed up the system. Numerous alternative departure times were put forward and then retracted. Within one four-minute span, the airline emailed four different departure and arrival times. At moments, the arrival/departure information was so confused that the airplane would have had to violate the laws of physics in order to abide by the airline schedule. This is an all too often occurrence and often maintenance delay excuses are used to cover crew issues and/or other problems.
Needless to say, all passengers were inconvenienced and the airline’s explanations were wholly unsatisfactory. This flight delay prevented me from carrying out my Constitutional duty to represent the people of southern West Virginia.
Sometimes there are medical issues or family emergencies. As Rep. Ruben Hinojosa explained in Feb. 2011, “I regret that I had to return to my district because of the illness and subsequent death of my sister.”
Competing priorities can also cause someone to miss an important event. (At least in these situations you sometimes know about the conflict in advance and can warn people about your absence.) As Rep. Billy Long wrote: “Friday, May 15, 2015 I was away from the Capitol to attend my daughter’s graduation from the University of Missouri Medical School. Due to this event, I was unable to vote on any legislative measures on this date.”
And sometimes we just mess up. I love this honest explanation from Rep. Jeff Landy in April 2011: “I stepped outside to discuss issues with a constituent group and completely lost track of the time.”
As Willis and Reyes wrote, “Voting is one of the most important duties of a lawmaker, and most miss very few votes.” Assuming you are also a person who meets your key commitments the vast majority of the time, just realize that sometimes — no matter how organized you are — things will go wrong. However, there are steps you can take to these situations to a minimum, and make it easier to recover when they do happen.
Unexpected flight delays can ruin your schedule, but you can try to minimize the potential for problems by not booking super-tight connecting flights, and looking at airline data about which flights tend to get delayed when making your choices.
If you regularly lose track of time, using timers and alarms can help. If you’re often on the go and don’t have a smart phone with an alarm function, a watch with a timer might help.
Because you never know when an unavoidable delay might occur, it helps to have contact information (phone numbers, email, etc.) for anyone you might need to inform of any delays. And let them know as soon as you can, even if your revised plans are not yet firm, so they can adjust accordingly. Similarly, have everything you need to reschedule flights and hotel reservations: the confirmation numbers for your original reservations, and the phone numbers, websites, and apps you need to revise those plans.
And when making plans, follow the advice of experienced project managers and include some contingency time in those plans — time added to the schedule to allow for the unknown issues that almost always occur. A schedule that assumes everything will go perfectly is often unrealistic and leads to last-minute scrambling when things go wrong.