Last week, I wrote about being grumpy. Which I often am. But there's a reason. It's almost always a result of being made to wait. Athletes coming late to training. Back in Canada, we started training at 9am. Folks would come late, so we moved it to 930. Still, they would come late, so we eventually made it 10. Guess what? Yep - still late. Here in London, we started at 10. Late. 1030. Late. 11. Still late. So what is it in the brains of these habitual late-comers that disables any sense of time management whatsoever?
To me, being on time shows you respect those whom you are meeting. And being late is a clear way to show that you do not respect them. Punctuality relates to discipline. To self-mastery. To integrity. And to respect.
This post will discuss why I feel this way. Why being on time is important. Why the habitually late are this way; and also some possible solutions.
So I won't be so grumpy.
Firstly, it is important to understand that punctuality is not a universal trait. For instance, the value on time in Caribbean countries is very much different from that of say, Japan. And since a lot of sprinters are of Caribbean heritage, it's a common theme. Cultural variance is an impediment to understanding in many different contexts, and it certainly includes personality traits. But we live in a culture and a time that values punctuality. So it is up to the habitually-late to change their values. To better conform to societal norms.
Why Is Being Punctual Important?
Diana DeLonzor in her book ‘Never Be Late Again’, identifies a number of reasons, including:
- It reveals you have integrity. A commitment to being on time is essentially a promise. By coming late, you are breaking this promise. By coming on time, you are showing that you have integrity. That you are a man of your word.
- It shows you are dependable. If a person is not punctual, others cannot - and will not - depend on him. In fact, DeLonzor suggests that if you cannot depend on another's punctuality; if they are careless about time - what else are they careless about?
Benjamin Franklin once said to an employee who was always late, but always ready with an excuse: “I have generally found that the man who is good at an excuse is good for nothing else.”
- It reveals your discipline. Being on time shows others that you pay attention to details; that you can organize time.
- Strains your relationships. When you’re habitually late, it makes others feel under-valued.
- Being late takes a toll on your life....it results in lost opportunities: missing a plane, missing a meeting, missing an important part of a lecture, missing a wedding. It creates stress and can lead to car accidents and traffic tickets. It results in embarrassment and forces you to come up with excuses for why you’re late, putting a strain on your honesty.
- Basically, it makes your life more complicated; for men seeking to simplify their lives, cultivating punctuality is an essential part of that path."
And the important ones to me:
- "Shows your respect for others. Being late is a selfish act, for it puts your needs above another’s. You want an extra minute to do what you’d like, but in gaining that minute for yourself, you take a minute from another, which is why….
- Being late is a form of stealing. That’s a tough truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. When you make others wait for you, you rob minutes from them that they’ll never get back. Time they could have turned into money, or simply used for the things important to them. In coming to meet you at the agreed upon hour, they may have made sacrifices – woken up early, cut short their workout, told their kid they couldn’t read a story together – and your lateness negates those sacrifices. If you wouldn’t think of taking ten dollars from another man’s wallet, you shouldn’t think of stealing ten minutes from him either. Being punctual shows you value time yourself, and thus wouldn’t think of depriving others of this precious, but limited resource."
“It has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money. If you have time you can obtain money — usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.”
– Arnold Bennett - ‘How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day’, 1910
Everyone can be on time. And most even want to be on time. Even the habitually late recognize the problem and want to improve. But each time they re-commit to being punctual, they eventually fall back into being late again. It's not that they don't set enough time aside to be punctual. Even when they give themselves enough time, they find themselves simply taking more time still, and again arriving late.
DeLonzor identities a number of reasons why this is so, including:
- "Misperceive the passage of time. Studies show that people who are consistently late underestimate how much time has passed.
- Underestimate how long things will take. Those who are consistently late typically underestimate how long it will take to do something, even when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary…since they do that thing every single day, and it always takes longer than they think it will. What happens to the unpunctual is that they get stuck on the best time they ever did something in, even if it was an anomaly.
- Procrastinate in general. People who struggle with being late, are often prone to procrastination in all areas of their lives. This may be because they are more easily distracted than others or need a deadline to get motivated.
- Be easily distracted. Those who are easily distracted have difficulty being on time because on the way from point A to point B, they get pulled into point C. You’re headed out the door and figure it wouldn’t hurt to check your email before you go, and then as you check your email, you decide to check Facebook too, and before you know it, ten minutes have slipped away.
- Need an external deadline to get motivated. Some people feel they work best under pressure, and can’t get going until a deadline is looming. At which point they go into mildly-panicked, hyper-drive mode."
So, for the habitually late - its obvious that changing this often life-long habit is a little more difficult than simply committing to be on time more often. It's a multi-step process that is deeply rooted in a persons psyche - that will require a patient approach - and patient expectations for those they are in frequent contact with. Habits are difficult to break. In fact, there is evidence to show that they cannot be broken - only replaced with other habits. A new behavior. Easier said than done, but here three ideas:
- "Own up to the problem. When someone knows something is right and wants to do it, but fails at doing so, they often resort to rationalizations in order to soothe the dissonance between who they want to be and how they actually act. In the case of the unpunctual, this takes the form of deciding that being on time isn’t very important anyway, or that people who expect punctuality are unreasonably uptight, or in excusing their lateness by blaming certain circumstances…even if they face those same circumstances every single day. So the first step in overcoming lateness is to quit the rationalizations and take responsibility for the problem.
- Redefine punctuality as a matter of integrity. It’s easiest to reach a goal when you feel a strong sense of purpose and motivation in doing so. Start viewing it as a matter of integrity — a way of keeping your promises and becoming a man of your word. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine the inconvenience your lateness will cause them. Once you form an inner conviction about the importance of punctuality, you can move from relying on external motivation (deadlines), to inner motivation (excellence).
- Always shoot to arrive 15 minutes early. There’s an old expression that if you’re on time, you’re late. The rule of men like Vince Lombardi and Horatio Nelson was to always aim to arrive 15 minutes early. Half the time, you’ll run into unexpected trouble — traffic, difficulty finding the building or a parking space — and end up right on time anyway. And the other half of the time, when you do arrive 15 minutes early, you’ll have a quarter of an hour to do something enjoyable or to get extra prepared for the meeting or interview."