“Timeliness is next to godliness.”
We’ve all heard variations of that saying, starting with multiple virtuous characteristics but I believe that timeliness truly is a personality trait to be developed. Whether working or looking, student or CEO, being on time is a fundamental component of your professional development.
When you’re on time, people know that you’re reliable. They know that you respect them and their time enough to put whatever excuses you may have had aside. Sure, you could say “Sorry I was late but I couldn’t find my keys,” but you knew last night that you had this pre-work meeting at Starbucks so you should’ve been thinking far enough in advance that it wasn’t an issue.
Setting the Right Example
I was prompted to write this because, this morning, as I was brewing my pot of coffee, I heard a pair of feet running down the apartment stairs. Following that, I heard a mother’s voice encouraging her child to run and catch the bus. The boy did not catch the bus and the mother was upset with the child, who sounded as if he were no older than 10. The aforementioned scenario is a regularity with my neighbors. I am a firm believer that you set the standard for those who look up to you, whether that is your child or the person you mentor. If you stress to them the importance of being on time, they will follow suit. But if you’re consistently off schedule and making excuses, guess what? You’ll likely either impede their success or they’ll know that your way of doing things was wrong and decide to show more respect for the limited amount of time that we are given in life.
But what if you can’t help it?
Sometimes, you’re going to be late. It’s inevitable. We are human and to be human is to err, correct? But err on the side of caution and respect. If you are going to be late, I will give three pieces of advice:
1) Be late to something you can afford to be late to. You cannot afford to be late to a job interview. You cannot afford to be late to your wedding. You cannot afford to be late to your first day of masters classes. But some things, you can be late for. You can be late for coffee if it’s out of character. Or being 15 minutes late at the bar is alright as long as you’re not the person who invited everyone out. Just don’t make it a habit and people will be much more forgiving.
2) That last statement was a perfect segue into this tip: Don’t make it a habit. People who interact with you regularly know what to expect as far as punctuality goes. For me, I know that every time I go to church, my mother will likely be meeting me there late. I know that, if I want my siblings to be on time, I have to tell them that the event starts 20-30 minutes ahead of it’s printed start time. Don’t let that be you. Set people up to expect a lot from you so that you can step up to the plate.
3) When you will be late, call ahead (or text if the relationship is informal). It lessens the feeling of disrespect and adds to your credibility. If I don’t hear from someone, they have 20 minutes not to contact me before I leave on a first offense, 15 on a second, and the window on his third (and final) instance of being late will last as long as it takes me to finish my tall cup of coffee at whatever coffee shop we’re at. It is not my responsibility to reach out and see if the late person is ok, but instead his responsibility to apologize and give me an estimated time of arrival or reschedule, in the unfortunate event that he was involved in a car accident or some mortal misfortune touched his family.
People aren’t perfect. But you can build a reputation that hedges against it negatively affecting your brand. And, when you are late one day for that important meeting, someone will be able to say “Don’t worry. It’s Deryle. He must be in a real pickle if he’s late because this is a first.”