Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Being on Time May Be an Impossible Task

Is being late a sin?

I can't tell you how many times in the last months I've been late somewhere, and I am never late. I'm not sure why this is, but I'm determined to get a handle on it.

Being late bugs me. It stresses me out. But I wait on a lot on other people who are late. They're late for phone interviews, they're late for meetings and sometimes they never even show up.

At work, we're all under some incredible deadlines, being asked to do more faster, better, smarter and -- did I mention faster?

So, if that's the case, are we now running later than ever because we set unrealistic deadlines? It's estimated that employee lateness costs about $3 billion annually, but lots of successful people run late: Bill Clinton is known for his inability to stick to a schedule.

Many of us have terrible commutes that we have little or no control over. We're juggling the demands of work and home, and many toil for our companies even when we're physically not at work through e-mail and phone calls.

I'm reminded of a hand-stitched sampler that we had in our living room while I was growing up:

"The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get."

Some will say that lateness is a way to control a situation, it's a head game the tardy folks play with the rest of us. It's the people who are whiners and slackers who are late, and the rest of us shouldn't have to pay the price. But does that still hold true in the workforce today?

Should bosses continue to punish employees for being late? It does make them mad, and ticks off plenty of co-workers.

So, maybe there's an "acceptable" amount of time to be late. If there is, I wish someone would tell me so I could quit chugging the Maalox every time I start to run behind. Is it five minutes? Ten? Twenty?

If you've found ways to stay on schedule and never be late, please let the rest of us know. I'm getting behinder more every day.


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Miriam Salpeter said...

Having just come from a meeting where I was running late, this post is timely. It was a traffic issue, and I didn't have any control over it, but I hate being late and it does stress me out. (Which is why, like you, I'm usually the one waiting!)

I'm doing a workshop in the same neighborhood where I was going today, and I'm thinking that I need to leave 1.5 hours to get there (a typical 15-minute ride), just so I won't have to worry about unexpected traffic obstacles!

I think within 5 minutes late is acceptable, as it accounts for clocks being set differently, etc.

I guess the lesson here is to control what we can and try not to get wrapped up with the rest. Recognizing that being late stresses us out and may result in wasting another person's time may offer the incentive to ensure that being late only happens when things are really out of our hands.

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

I think part of my problem is technology. I love email and Twitter and all that stuff, but I spend WAY too much time on it. The trick is how to wean myself off of it without having a business breakdown. It helps me get stuff done faster, but it also seems to be a real time suck. Got to learn how to manage it better.

Easton Ellsworth said...

"Slow down" is one of the best and hardest pieces of advice I've ever gotten, Anita. I tend to worry too much. Sure, hurrying is necessary sometimes. But calm preparation and a firm resolution to be okay with uncontrollable delays are often more effective than stress-laden haste.

Being late is usually less of a sin than we make it out to be. I sometimes wish American culture were more like others where the meeting starts when everybody gets there, not when the alarm goes off. People vs. the agenda.

In most cases, I think 5 or 10 minutes late is easily forgivable, especially when it only happens once in a while and with ample justification.

Rick said...

Hmmm, being late makes you antsy?!? Must be part of our journalism DNA. :-)

I believe in granting a 5-minute "window" or "grace period." Anything beyond that and it's best practice to call ahead and say you'll be x minutes late (stating the reason is optional).

As for the workplace, that depends on the role you play. If you're in sales, for instance, or customer support, you need to be available when your clients and customers are most likely to be around. And if you're a manager or leader, for crying out loud, be there when you expect your employees to be there. After all, you're the one who needs to set the example.

Anita said...

I'm always so envious when I hear of the "siesta" times in other cultures, or the three-hour lunches in Italy.I love that "people vs. agenda" thought.

Journalism DNA, huh? Never thought of it that way, but you're probably right. You're right on the money when you talk about managers being late. I had a boss once who was always chronically (very) late for meetings. He'd always call and tell us to start without him...then when he got there, we had to repeat everything all over again. It was so annoying.