Unfashionably Late

January 4, 2011
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Tardiness in a social setting is easy to shrug off, while stakes are higher in the business world.

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.)

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 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. I take 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 with lateness. When you’re scrambling to produce something at the last minute, quality is bound to suffer. Haste makes waste.

Everyone at one time or another shows up late due to circumstances beyond control, but it’s not hard to notice that certain people tend to be chronically late. They always have an excuse – traffic, last-minute interruptions, emergencies, etc. Yet when these excuses arise over and over, it becomes clear that the reason 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 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 causes of this tardiness disease:

1. 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 activities accordingly.

2. 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 incoming phone calls and so on.

3. 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 catch up on paperwork, check phone/e-mail messages or grab a cup of coffee.

4. Procrastination. Putting things off till 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 issues 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.

5. Delegate. Tardiness tends to go hand-in-hand with micromanagement. 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.


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