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Chronically Late? Here’s What You’re Telling the World


Punctuality. It’s a virtue of sorts in the world at large. Tardiness, however, is a vice. While there are some cultural differences in our human approach to time, generally speaking there is an appreciation and an expectation that folks will be punctual for things. 

For personal appointments.
For meetings, both professional and social.
For work.
For school.
For social gatherings. 

Whenever you set a specific time for something, the understanding is that you and the others involved will be punctual. 

What does it mean to be punctual? It’s not hard; it’s simply that you will arrive ON TIME. That’s it. Nothing fancy or complicated about it. If you have an appointment at 11 am, it means that you will be at that appointment, ready to go at 11 am.  

The key phrase here is READY TO GO. In other words, it doesn’t mean that you’ll come squealing in at 11 am on the dot. Particularly if there’s any preparation you’ve got to tend to before the event in question. If you have to set up for a presentation, or prepare coffee for a meeting (or just for your own caffeine addiction), or remove your wet coat and boots on a particularly dreary fall day before you can be fully present, then punctuality likely looks like you arriving at least at 10:50 for that 11 am start time (really, it’s about arriving however early you need to get there to ensure your readiness for that 11 am start time).  

For many folks, punctuality is an issue. And not just an occasional one. It’s chronic. There are folks who are NEVER on time. They just don’t seem able to arrive with any time to spare. 

If you fall into this category, I want to share with you the subtle messages you are sending to the world at large and invite you to ask yourself: is this REALLY what you’re trying to say? 

First and foremost, consciously or not, you are broadcasting a lack of self-respect. You read that right. A lack of SELF respect is what’s getting in the way of you being on time. So ask yourself, what’s it going to take for you to start respecting YOU?   

Second, chronic tardiness tells those around you that you lack time-management capacity. You don’t know how to schedule yourself so that you have enough time to get to where you need to be -- or you know how but don’t care to. You don’t factor in travel time, or transition time, or whatever else is necessary to ensure your prompt arrival for events. 

Third, others get the message that you don’t respect THEIR time, their commitment to you. There’s a subtle way that your tardiness conveys the idea that their time isn’t nearly as important as your time. 

Finally, when you’re late, you portray a lack of commitment to whatever it is you’re late for. It doesn’t matter if it’s work, a doctor’s appointment, or lunch with a dear friend. Being chronically late means that you aren’t fully invested or interested in participating. 

Understand, I’m talking about CHRONIC tardiness here, not the occasional misstep. Because, let’s face it; everyone is tardy from time to time. Unexpected things happen.  

Those who have children know the ever-present peril of the child who needs to be changed/bathed or otherwise tended to JUST BEFORE heading out the door for the day.  

Or there’s the every-common traffic snafu -- construction, accidents, downed power-lines, whatever -- that can throw a wrench into the most committed person’s plans. 

Then there’s the meeting that goes overtime, putting you behind the eight-ball for every other appointment for the rest of the day (although this one can be avoided by building in buffer time to your schedule -- but that’s an article for another day). 

Occasional tardiness is understandable and can be forgiven. Chronic tardiness? Not so much. Nor should it be. If you are someone who finds yourself constantly racing against the clock, apologizing for being late, or racing in under the wire with your fingers crossed and hoping that everyone gives you a pass, it’s time to stop and think. Why exactly are you doing this? How committed or invested are you to the task at hand and the people involved? What will it take for you to respect yourself enough to honour the commitments that you make, in a way that includes being prompt?

Bottom-line: being punctual is about so much more than common courtesy. It’s about interacting with the world from a place of respect, both for yourself and others. To suggest that punctuality is something you’re incapable of is a lie. It’s time to stop telling that lie, ask yourself what you’re truly committed to, and operate in the world with respect for that commitment. Because respect for self and others is essential to your ability to succeed in all that you undertake.