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Punctuality Counts

Punctuality Counts

Punctuality Counts

    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.

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    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.

    Punctuality shows mastery

    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.

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    Punctuality shows competence

    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 shows integrity

    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.

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    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?

    Punctuality shows you value people

    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.

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    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.

    Punctuality shows you value yourself

    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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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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