Why Punctuality Matters – and How to Be On Time

By Ali Luke

March 4, 2011   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Checking Time

Do you often find yourself running late? Perhaps it’s been a life-long problem – at college, you were always sloping into class five minutes after the professor had begun. It might not have mattered too much then … but in the working world, punctuality is crucial.

If you’re habitually late for meetings, if you miss deadlines, if you’re often late for work, then you’re going to be killing your chances of promotion – and even putting yourself in line for dismissal.

You might be an intelligent, creative person with a ton of skills and experience. And in some countries, where time-keeping isn’t seen as very significant, your lateness wouldn’t matter at all. But if you live in the West (or work with a number of Western clients), it’s really important. Because if you’re always late, you’re giving people the impression that:

  • You’re disorganized and careless – you can’t get yourself together to set off on time.
  • You’re self-centered – you’re keeping people waiting for you.
  • You’re a liar. You said, “I’ll email you by Wednesday” – and you didn’t get in touch until Friday, not even to explain the delay.
  • You’re stupid (or, at best, far too optimistic). If “traffic was bad” is your excuse every morning, people will wonder why the heck you can’t just plan for it.

Now, these things might all seem very harsh and unfair. Chances are, they’re not true of you at all. You probably have good intentions, but end up being late because you have poor time-management habits. But your bosses and clients are inevitably going to judge you on appearances. If the first impression they have is that you can’t even show up on time, will they really trust you with an important project?

So, punctuality matters. A lot. And once you realize that, it’s an easy thing to get right.

Being On Time (Always)

There are plenty of little tricks that you can use to show up on time. Try these six for starters:

    • Aim to arrive ten minutes early
      Take a book or some work with you, so that you’ve got something to do before the meeting (or whatever) begins. It’s much better to be early and relaxed than late and stressed! 
  • Allow for delays
    If you’re traveling in rush hour, you know that traffic’s going to be bad. If you’re taking the kids to grandma’s, you know it will take a while to get them all into the car. Don’t be hopelessly optimistic; just give yourself an extra half hour. 
  • Cut yourself some slack
    When you’re agreeing to a deadline or giving an estimate, build in a bit of slack. You might be fully confident that you can complete that report in two days, but what if something unexpected crops up? Ask for three days (and, if you can, make yourself look good by finishing a day early.) 
  • Be more organized
    How often have you been late because you forgot your keys and had to hunt the house for them? Or because you had to turn back and get that vital document which you left sitting on the coffee table? Keep your keys, phone and wallet in a consistent place. Get your meeting materials together the day before. 
  • Don’t get distracted at the last minute
    Have you ever checked your emails right before heading to a meeting, “just in case”? It’s far too easy to get distracted and leave it too late to get there on time. 
  • Set an alarm to remind you when to stop working
    If you have a meeting at 11am and it’s a half-hour drive to get there, set an alarm or reminder for 10.15 so that you’ve got time to stop work, grab your stuff and get there with a few minutes to spare.
  • You’ll probably have some of your own favorite ways to be on time – some people swear by putting their watch forwards 10 minutes, for instance. Even if you’re habitually late, I’ll bet that you can be prompt when you need to. How do you do it? Share your tips in the comments…
Ali Luke

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