For years, I could be counted on to be late. Got a lunch meeting at 11:30 am? Dustin will be there at 11:40. Got a class at 9:00am? Dustin will be there at 9:20. Is there a meeting at 6:00 pm? Dustin’s there by 6:30. Work hours are 8:30 am to 5 pm? I’m in by 9:00.
People joked about it. It was my “thing” — I was on “Dustin time”. It was all very funny — until I realized that the same people that joked about it showed, time and again, that they didn’t trust me to get things done — that, indeed, they saw me as an incompetent person who couldn’t even get it together enough to be on time.
Being punctual matters, at least in today’s Western societies. Being on time, every time, conveys far more than just a good sense of timing. It tells people that you’re on top of things, that you’re organized, that you can be counted on, that you value them, and, ultimately, that you value yourself.
Being on time consistently shows everyone around you that you are the master of your life. It demonstrates foresight — the ability to predict possible hang-ups — and adaptability — the ability to change your plans to accommodate those hang-ups.
On the other hand, being late all the time shows that you are a victim of the winds of fate, that you’re incapable of anticipating possible problems and either dealing with them or altering your course to avoid them. It sends the message that you’re harassed by time, not in control of it.
Someone who shows, over and over, that they are the master of their time is someone who will be taken seriously in areas far removed from time management. That foresight and adaptability that gets you where you need to be, when you need to be there, tells the people around you that you can handle whatever is thrown at you.
Conversely, people assume that if the chronically late person can’t even consider the possibility of a little extra traffic, s/he won’t be able to consider other obstacles that might stand in the way of getting a project or task done.
Punctuality is also a trust issue. When you make an appointment, you are making a commitment to be where you said you’d be when you said you’d be there. The only way you build up other people’s trust in you is by consistently meeting your commitments — and that starts with being punctual. The person who is always on time is someone others can trust to be as good as their word.
In contrast, the person who is perpetually late is, plain and simple, someone who lies to you repeatedly. You said you’d be here at 9 o’clock, but you’re not here; if your word isn’t good enough about something as trivial as showing up on time, how can your word be any good about anything more important?
People are busy — too busy to be waiting on you while their other work goes unfinished. Being punctual shows, clearly and truly, that you value their time and, by extension, that you value them as a person. It says, “Let’s make this time we’ve arranged as productive as possible so we can both get on with all our other important stuff.”
Compare that with the attitude of the chronically late person who, when confronted, says, “But I’m always on time for the things that are important.” The message this sends is that, when I’m late, it’s because I really don’t feel that whatever I’m late for is all that important — if it were a date with a cute woman or man I met at the Starbucks, I’d have been on time; if it were a Moby concert, I’d have been on time; but since it’s just a meeting about the status of the big project I’m working on, I feel I can be late.
There’s another kind of always-late person: the person who makes a “big entrance”, using their lack of punctuality to show their status. Let’s face it — showing off your importance by having other people sit and wait on you clearly says “you’re not important to me.” And everyone knows the solution — don’t show up, or wait until the moment’s just right, and stab that high-and-mighty loser in the back. If you like to make the grand entrance, don’t worry — someday soon you’ll make a grand entrance to an empty room.
Finally, being on time shows you value your time — and yourself. First of all, being repeatedly late is a self-destructive behavior — why else would you risk not landing the big client, losing your job, or insulting those around you? And everyone knows that most self-destructive behavior follows from low self-esteem. Even if it’s not true, that’s the perception you’re allowing others.
Second of all, punctuality shows that your time is too valuable to waste stuck in traffic, on the phone dealing with trivial matters, or otherwise occupied in anything other than the business at hand. Being late demonstrates, plainly and clearly, that you’re interruptible, that your work is never as high a priority as whatever trivial thing comes along, and that you’re unwilling to set priorities in your own life. If that’s the case, why should anyone else care about your time? Why shouldn’t they interrupt you whenever they feel like it, dump meaningless busy-work on you, or dismiss you entirely?
It took me a while to figure all this out (late to the party, as usual) but once I did, I made a concerted effort to be on time — or, usually, early — for every appointment. With few exceptions, I am on time, too — and every exception is an opportunity for me to learn how better to manage the same circumstances next time.
If you’re perpetually late, it’s time to stop — right now, not 10 minutes from now. Consider the message you’re sending to those around you, and consider the message you’d like to be sending, and act immediately to match those two up.
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