Certain people make it a point to arrive “fashionably late” for social events. It stems from a psychological quirk to make them feel important, as if the party doesn’t begin until they arrive and everyone is awaiting their grand entrance. (Professional psychologists tend to view this as a counter-reaction to low self-esteem.) I know people like this and I suspect most of you do too.
Tardiness in a social setting is easy to shrug off. Early arrivals simply mingle with one another and enjoy getting first crack at the tastiest hors d’oeuvres. In a large gathering few people will even notice when the self-styled life of the party gets there.
Stakes are higher in the business world. Showing up late inconveniences customers and other business associates. Productivity suffers when employees show up late for work. In my line of work, missed deadlines make it hard to meet printing schedules and create more work and headaches for colleagues.
Tardiness in all of these aspects has always been a pet peeve of mine. Throughout my career I’ve taken pride in getting work done on time and in my ability to manage time effectively. To me it’s an aspect of professionalism that goes hand-in-hand with talent and initiative. I also believe the quality of work diminishes when you’re scrambling to produce something at the last minute. Haste makes waste.
Moreover, it’s simply not smart business to annoy customers, prospects and other business VIPs by showing up late. It’s easy enough to get your work crews out of the habit simply by docking their pay and holding tardiness against them in performance reviews.
But what if the problem rests with you, the boss?
Bosses tend to be very busy people constantly chasing around and dealing with phones calls, subordinates and superiors. Yet I don’t buy that excuse. A boss’s job performance ought to be evaluated in part by how well he or she manages time. People who are too harried to get things done on time shouldn’t be in charge of anything.
Everyone at one time or another shows up late due to circumstances beyond their control, but it doesn’t take much observation to notice that certain people tend to be chronically late. They always have an excuse - traffic, last-minute interruptions, sudden emergencies, etc. Yes, sometimes the excuse is legitimate but when these excuses arise over and over, it becomes clear that the underlying cause has more to do with personal habits than outside interference.
Tardiness sends a message that the latecomer’s time is more valuable than that of other people. That’s not an impression you want to give to customers, prospects or other business VIPs - or to subordinates. Employees take their cue from the boss’s behavior. Being on time is a sign of competence. It shows people you are able to manage your time, and that you show respect for that of others.
When being late is unavoidable, the sensible thing to do is call ahead and inform whoever it is you have an appointment with that you’ll be late and by how long. This is a matter of common courtesy as well as smart business. And, if you’re late by even five minutes, make it a point to apologize, even to subordinates.
Chronically late people seldom do this. They become so conditioned to arriving late they regard it as the natural way of doing business and assume everyone else thinks the same way. It’s also because they’d be making so many apologetic phone calls it would slow them down even more.
Let’s take a look at some of the common causes of this tardiness disease:
Disorganization. You intend to keep appointments on time, but as the workday progresses situations arise that you simply didn’t anticipate. When it happens over and over, it’s a sign you need to analyze and reorder priorities. Distractions are the rule more than the exception in business, so you have to assume they will arise and organize your activities accordingly.
Skewed priorities. Time management is about ordering priorities and judgment calls as much as anything else. Is it necessary to meet someone face-to-face, or can the business at hand be handled just as well over the phone or via e-mail? Which activities are critical to do right now and which can be put off till later? If you do judge it important to meet someone in person, then elevate that meeting to priority status above everything else.
Self-delusion. Stop fooling yourself about how long it takes to get from one place to another. What might be a 15-minute drive at noon is likely to take twice as long during the morning or evening commuter rush. Get in the habit of calculating time to arrive 10-15 minutes early for appointments, leaving some leeway for unexpected traffic jams. If there are no delays, you can use the extra time to decompress with a cup of coffee and catch up on paperwork or check phone/e-mail messages.
Procrastination. Putting things off until the last minute is bound to cause delays. When you finally get around to tackling the unpleasant task you’ve put off, a dozen other pressing duties may occur at the same time. So don’t leave difficult issues for last. It’s better to tackle tough tasks first, because if you need extra time to deal with them, items that get pushed back will be of lower priority. Dealing with easy issues first often leads to spending more time on them than warranted in order to avoid the more difficult ones.
Micromanagement. Tardiness tends to go hand-in-hand with micromanagement. Learn to delegate. As long as you’re bogged down in minutiae, there will never be enough time to get everything done. You have to trust subordinates to handle the small stuff.
Get inside your head. If you’re a person who’s habitually late, take an honest look at yourself. Is it really because you’re always busy or for other reasons beyond your control, or deep down is it because you really enjoy being “fashionably late”? No one else needs to know what you find inside your own psyche, but just as with alcoholism, the first step towards a cure is to admit to yourself you have a problem.