Time is a variable we all share, and one we never get back. We never seem to have enough time. Work and other commitments seem to consume our time. We all get the same amount each day; the difference is the choices made on how it is spent. For example, we choose what to do with our time, who to spend it with, and if we want to respect both ours and other people’s time. However, these are influenced by one of the simplest decisions involving time: to be early or to be late.
The people we are close to and our responsibilities expect us to be on time. Being on time to work, school, family functions, and other activities is important. It is important for you to be on time for yourself and those involved. Imagine your work, the dreaded Monday morning meetings. When everyone is on time (meaning early), the meeting is able to begin and end as scheduled. If anyone involved is late, the meeting starts off on a bad foot. This happens instantly, before anyone knows (or cares) why you are late. At this point, it does not matter. All that matters is that you are not on time.
We have many things trying to take our time every day, to steal it in a sense. Responsibilities, other people, and surprises are parts of life that will consume your time, if you let them. It is our responsibility to decide what is worth our time, to prioritize it, and to eliminate what is not. We decide how we spend, and respect, time. The decisions we make impact the people around us. We impact other people’s time. Your family, friends, teammates, and co-workers are impacted by your ability (or inability) to be on time.
What Does It Mean To Be On Time?
There are two things that need to happen to be on time. You must be mentally prepared for where you are going. This means that you have thought about what will happen and what you need to do. You must also be physically present. You are (physically) where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there.
To be on time means that you are mentally prepared at the scheduled time. Preparation allows you to feel confident and ready for the task. It is blatantly obvious to others in the room, and it means you have done your homework and spent time thinking. This helps you think, and act, effectively in the world. It is possible to be physically present but not part of the meeting or event. If you have not prepared, you cannot contribute. If you cannot contribute and think effectively, you are not on time and you are expendable.
Physical presence is an important aspect of being on time. Some might argue that this is all that matters. This means that you are physically where you need to be, when you need to be there. You are not on time if you are not present. A meeting that starts at 8am means that it starts at 8am. Being in the parking lot, walking in the door, or stuck on the bus is not being present. It is impossible to be on time if you are not physically present. This is a simple concept, but surprisingly common.
To be on time is simple, but difficult to do consistently. Think of the meetings, sport practices, school functions, and dinner reservations that fail to start on time. Consistently being on time is difficult, especially when it is not prioritized. It is more common to be late than we hope or believe to be true. Unfortunately, it is not okay to not be on time.
Why You Shouldn’t Be Late
People are impacted when you choose to be late. Two groups of people in particular: you, and those involved in wherever you were supposed to be or whatever you were supposed to do. Being on time is about more than just you.
That 8am meeting you were late to? Everyone involved is now impacted by your failure to be on time. That virtual team meeting at 3 p.m. you did not remember? Everyone on the team now wastes time wondering where you are and why it is not important for you to be on time. Think about it; by being late to one thing, you are saying it’s not as important as something else. You are deliberately choosing one over the other. You might have things that take priority. Fine. Just don’t agree to be on time somewhere if it might not happen.
We all have surprises, either good or bad, that come up and make us late. Things do pop-up. This happens on rare occasions. We are more concerned with overall patterns of behavior, our reliability over long periods of time. To have something unexpected come up is expected, occasionally. To be late each week is not expected, and it is not accepted.
This Includes You
Our ability to be on time impacts those around us. It also influences us personally. It is a small action that carries large consequences. The concepts of gradualness and habits are compounded, positively or negatively, on a daily basis. Paul Graham refers to the concept gradualness in The Age of the Essay. In it, he discusses the power of gradualness and how concepts start with small actions and evolve over time. What we do each day matters. How we treat people and different situations has long-term effects on us. Being on time directly impacts the people involved. It also impacts you, someone more important.
We are shaped by the decisions we make, the things we think about, and the actions we take. Choosing to be on time is a small step in the right direction. Many small steps lead to a large leap over time. But you rarely make large leaps. Progress is made slowly, in small, incremental steps. Some people appear to make large leaps to success, but they do not. Success is made one good decision at a time. Start with one simple decision, to be on time.
Thanks to Nick Lee for reading drafts of this.