With our current obsession on time and productivity, you would think that punctuality would be de rigueur for any effective worker. We have our cell phones, our iPhones, our Blackberries, constantly reminding us of what we should be doing and when. Even today, though, there is a certain portion of the populace who simply can’t be on time to any event, whether a weekly staff meeting, school drop-off or dinner party. Why is this? What fundamental factor prevents them from engaging the world in this important way?
Why is punctuality important?
Many people who are chronically late are often surprised at the response of those around them. What does it matter if they were late? They just don’t understand why people are so upset?
The problem, of course, is that the late person has wasted one of the most precious resources in today’s world – time. Worse still, they haven’t just wasted their own time, but the time of everyone involved with them. Meetings start late. Medical patients sit waiting in the lobby. Long lines start to form. The actions of one person can end up effecting hundreds of people and every one of them will feel abused by the waste of time that could have been applied, more effectively, elsewhere. People will forgive you wasting their money, to some extent, but they are unlikely to forgive you for wasting their time.
Think about that the next time you decide to miss a deadline or arrive late for an appointment. Multiply the wasted time, and ill will, by everyone involved and I think you will quickly see why everyone is so irritated. Your actions do have consequences regardless of what you might think.
Whenever someone is late, they will often blame the fact that they are simply “too busy!” Of course, this still means that they are late and the effects are still the same as previously mentioned. “Too busy” becomes an all purpose excuse and we are simply supposed to nod our heads in agreement and understanding. Wrong! While “too busy” is a convenient excuse, it is also a clear indicator that your life is out of control. We are all busy and yet many people can still arrange to be punctual. What it truly means is this person has not learned the important art of saying “No!” Often, we are too busy because we allow ourselves to be. We take on too many commitments and suffer from too much optimism that we can complete every project, every task that we are presented. There is a hint of arrogance here, too. Surely we can accomplish everything, we seem to say to ourselves. Yet, we can’t do it all. Projects are delayed, deadlines missed and those around you suffer for your inability to act logically.
This leads me to another, more controversial, reason for lack of punctuality. It has been my experience that many people are not late due to work pressures, time pressures or lack of organization, but simply because being late gives them power. It gives them control over their life and the lives of those around them. They are late because it makes them feel superior.
These people seem to be saying, with their actions, “I am more important than you. You can’t control me. I live my life on my own schedule. You can’t make me do anything.” Of course, this is folly. Sure, they may feel powerful by showing up whenever they wish, but everyone around them, especially their own family, suffers. I have seen this concept at work at my son’s school. There are (otherwise wonderful) people who seem incapable of arriving on time for school. When I talk with them, it seems clear that it isn’t issues with preparedness or last minute problems. They could have easily arrived on-time and yet they didn’t. Of course, it is their children who suffer, though, more than they do. The embarrassment of tardy slips, the loss of education time, the stress involved in rushing about should be reason enough to modify this behavior and yet it continues. Once you remove all the other causes of lateness, control seems to be the only remaining factor.
No matter how busy you might be, or how much you hate being told when to arrive somewhere, for the sake of your own well-being, family, friends and career, now is the time to learn the importance of being punctual about your work and life. You aren’t just harming yourself, but everyone around you. As I said earlier, you are wasting the most precious commodity of all – time.