Don’t Leave It Too Late to Start Being Early

Does this look familiar to you?

Dictionary definitions of the word “late” are invariably non-judgemental. They say the word means “after the expected or usual time,” or “delayed.” They don’t acknowledge that being late is nearly always a negative thing. It’s negative because it means you’ve missed something, you’ve kept someone waiting, or something didn’t happen when it was supposed to. The most significant characteristic of lateness, however, is that – contrary to what most people think – it’s hard work.
Most people believe that being punctual is hard work. Of course, it takes an effort to be do something by an agreed time, or to be somewhere at an agreed time. Yet, it’s nothing compared to the effort needed to be habitually late. For starters, being late disrupts your life and the lives of others, and annoys everyone affected. Worse still, it degrades your reputation because people regard you (correctly) as unreliable and impolite. The fact that a habitually late person is willing to put up with all that aggravation raises the obvious question: Why would anyone want to suffer those consequences regularly?
The answer is that habitually late people get a payoff for their lateness – an almost narcotic hit. It’s an acknowledged adrenalin rush stimulated by the sheer risk involved – a sort of kick from living on the edge. Few are conscious of their addiction, yet it’s so engrained in their being that they’re willing to accept the scorn of others and a chaotic life just to experience it. Another group gets a different kind of kick out of being late. That group uses it as a means of exercising power. They misuse their seniority by bullying others just to show who’s in charge. All they get is loathing and disrespect.
In many ways, the situation has become worse in recent years. A big culprit is the cell phone. For most people, the cell phone improves efficiency. It does the opposite in the hands of a compulsively late person where it acts as an aid to their addiction. The cell phone makes it easier to be even later by enabling the delayed person to text a series of excuses before apologetically bursting into the meeting 45 minutes after the schedule start time.
A whole universe of people operates on a different plane. They’re people with integrity. Their work is smart because they meticulously assess the value of every goal and carefully plan the most efficient way to reach it. They’re proud of their work and respectful of others. In their world, punctuality is a given; being late is not in their dictionary. They’re always early for appointments and the only meaning of the word “late” they know is working late because they like their work. It’s easy to identify them. If they work for themselves, they’re successful. If they work in big enterprises, they’re leaders. If they’re in politics, they’re visionaries. If they’re in relationships, they’re nurturing and, if they’re parents, they pass on to their children the value of respecting themselves through respecting others.
The payoffs of being on time are significant, yet their manifestation is subtle. People rarely register your punctuality on a conscious level, but when you’re late, it’s chiselled in stone because people remember things that annoy them. More importantly, however, positive or negative traits are added to your personal profiles. These traits may or may not be recorded in a physical file or computer database, but they’re filed away in the minds of co-workers colleagues, employers, clients, partners and friends. The compulsively late person’s profile is filed in the category marked “unreliable/disrespectful.” Having that label is a huge burden in business and in personal life. It hobbles careers and spoils relationships, sometimes almost before they start. Consistently late people may have some positive traits, but their lateness tarnishes them. They’re aware of their behaviour, but like most addicts, they downplay its negative effects especially to themselves, labelling the complaints of others as overreactions. They rarely appreciate the true implications of their behaviour; if they did, they’d alter it.
Like most addictions, compulsive lateness has a cure, but like most addictions, the cure is not painless; it requires planning and commitment. The best way to fight it is to set one clear and immutable goal. That goal is not that you will never be late again. It’s not even that you’ll always be dead on time. No, the goal is that, from now on, you will always be early. People, who are usually just on time for appointments are nearly always stressed as the time approaches because they worry about being late. People who operate in the “always early” mode, however, are not just always a few minutes early; they’re playing a completely different game. The game is different for three reasons. First, like a student cramming outside the exam room, they have those vital extra few minutes to revise the main points for the meeting. Second, because of this revision and the fact that they’ve had time to relax in advance of the meeting, they’re rarely stressed when it starts. Third, they’re more productive throughout the meeting and their participation is more valued because they’re relaxed and better prepared.
One final reason to get rid of habitual lateness is that it’s rarely an isolated trait. You might call it the tip of the “bad character iceberg” because it’s usually a sign of bigger, but not immediately obvious flaws. Most chronically late people are also unreliable, impolite and disorganized. So, eliminating chronic lateness is likely to eliminate the other faults as well. The sooner the process is started the better because the implications are nothing less than life transforming.
Jeff Robinson
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35 thoughts on “Don’t Leave It Too Late to Start Being Early

  1. This is one half of a life improvement philosophy… you can also reduce the number of times you are late by reducing the number of times that you say “yes”. If you say “no” more, you have less things to arrive late to ;-)

    On a serious note, this is so true. Chronic lateness is a pathology of what Carl Roger’s calls “Incongruent Personality Disorder”. Incongruent individuals, in their pursuit of positive regard, lead lives that include falseness. They forego genuine, authentic lives to meet with the approval of others. Arriving late comes with a victim story: “They made me finish X”, “I am so busy”, “I couldn’t leave my previous meeting”.

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  2. Fantastic piece of advice Jeff! Thank you :-)

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  3. Harry Garfinkle says:

    This item on being late is so very well presented as it covers all the aspects of this condition. We often hear the comment,’Time is money” which is clear as an appointment which is not held and person coming late may face a penalty. Today many medical practices will issue a charge to the patient who comes late and does not advise within a 24 hour period that they cannot meet the precise time for the doctors visit. Being late for appointments can become a very bad habit and should always be avoided by careful planning.

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  4. Quora says:

    How can one never be late?…

    DON’T LEAVE IT TOO LATE TO START BEING EARLY Does this look familiar to you? Dictionary definitions of the word “late” are invariably non-judgemental. They say the word means “after the expected or usual time,” or “delayed.” They don’t acknowledge that…

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  5. Quora says:

    Why is it so difficult for me to be on time?…

    DON’T LEAVE IT TOO LATE TO START BEING EARLY Does this look familiar to you? Dictionary definitions of the word “late” are invariably non-judgemental. They say the word means “after the expected or usual time,” or “delayed.” They don’t acknowledge that…

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  6. Harry says:

    A very, very well written post. I completely agree with the “tip of the bad character ice berg”. It’s interesting that many people who arrive late by habit always do so by the same time e.g. 5 mins.

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  7. Samuel Allingham says:

    I agree. Punctuality is essential. Meeting deadlines is essential to ensure that the delivery of high quality service is maintained.

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  8. SMart says:

    Lateness leads to stress. The importance of punctuality is frequently ignored by many HR managers. Stress can lead to poor workplace performance. Therefore, strict rules on punctuality should be a feature of all business enterprises.

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  9. Mattias says:

    Effective training on the negative effects of punctuality should be provided by all companies. I agree %100 with the article. I love your site!

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  10. Ljuban says:

    Employee punctuality affects the whole organization. It ensures that the workplace can operate more smoothly as a whole. Lateness can negatively affect companies in the ways described by the article. This is why managers are less likely to promote late employees.

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  11. René Caetano says:

    Being systematically late can be a dangerous game. Employers who are late on a frequent basis risk losing their jobs. They may start blaming external causes or other individuals for their lack of punctuality. Thanks for the good advice Jeff.

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  12. Kaspar says:

    Yes, as the article highlights, lack of punctuality can have significant psychological effects on the workplace and its members. I enjoyed reading the very valuable conclusions and ideas included in this article.

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  13. Ann says:

    Yes, being punctual shows that you’re dedicated to the job and capable of handling responsibility. It shows that you are committed and ready to work effectively. When employees arrive on time for work, they show that they are capable of honouring their word.

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  14. Ruwa says:

    Lack of punctuality can have very significant effects in organizational settings. It can create very harmful divisions and resentment amongs workers. Punctual coworkers may compare themselves to late-comers. In addition, managers and leaders should attempt to be on time as often as possible to send a positive message to their employees. They should exhibit an exemplary work ethic.

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  15. Ivo says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your valuable advices in this well written article. Your blog is amazing.

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  16. Ellen says:

    It was great to read this! I had the unfortunate luck to date a guy like this. It was the first time that I ever dated a chronically late person. He would arrange to meet me for 5pm, then text me at 4:55pm with: ‘I am running a bit late, see you in 30 mins x’. Then at 5:30pm he would text again: ‘I am stuck in traffic, see you at 6:00pm. First date he was an hour and a half late. Second date he texted me to say he was late, but I had already got on the bus so I had to wait an hour, trawling around the shops in town to pass the time.

    The third time, he said he would meet me for 5pm, texted me at 5:05pm to say ‘I have just got in, just gonna have a quick shower, be there in 30 mins x’. I texted back and said ‘I do not think you will be able to have a shower, get dressed and get to the other side of town in 30 mins, so let’s just call it 7pm.

    He then replied: ‘Maybe we should just do it another time, have a nice evening.’ I then called him and he would not answer, my calls so I told him that he was rude and disrespectful and that we were through. He then begged me to forgive him, which I did but then saw the light and ended it. For some weird reason I felt bad after, and asked him if he wanted to start again and he never replied.

    It was a shame in the sense that in other ways he was nice, he even brought me medicine and cooked for me, but like you said lateness can ruin a potential relationship before it has even started. I never bothered to contact him again, and in many ways I am glad he never replied, as it would only have dragged out the inevitable.

    I could not cope with that type of behaviour, its about common decency and respect. If someone treats you like that at the beginning, I dread to think what they will be like after 6 months etc. All I can say to people is love yourself and respect your own time. These late losers think that they are hurting you, but in reality the only person they are hurting is themselves. They will end up lonely, and the only type of person that will tolerate their crap is someone just as dysfunctional as they are.

    Peace and love xx

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  17. Cmarten says:

    I love the fact that you equate constant lateness with an addiction. It really is! A good friend of mine is habitually late, though not to such excess usually. Fifteen – twenty minutes at her worst times. She sweeps in apologizing every time and other friends are quick to say “oh, it’s okay” and make jokes about her chronic issue. I find it rude personally, and definitely a bid for attention, although perhaps subconscious on her part.

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  18. […] into productive ones. (See my two blogs related to the power of habit: “The Winning Habit” and “Don’t Leave it Too Late to Start Being Early”). By identifying the triggers, we can control our impulsive reactions. The result is nearly always […]

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  19. Wow, what condescending BS! “A whole universe of people operates on a different plane.”?? So on top of being punctual, you’re also enlightened? I make an effort to be on time, and usually am, but I don’t sweat it too much if I’m late for something casual. Obviously, I am early for interviews, business meetings, sit-down dinners etc. but what kind of twat shows up for an evening party right at the planned time?

    It’s only with the advent of the industrial age, where time equals money, that punctuality has become so important. I don’t want to be treated like a commodity, and don’t want to treat other people that way also. Doing so reinforces the capitalistic dehumanization of all people who are just viewed through their ability to be productive. I am quite proud of my work and respectful of others, but I don’t think that it has anything to do with my punctuality.

    I bet you like having a clean desk too. Einstein said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

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