Why Buying Another Clock Won’t Get You There On Time

When I was young, I was always late. I’ve spent half a lifetime working to develop punctuality and it seems to be improving.

Aggravating the problem was how I handled being late. The lesson I learned when I made the following change has led to a major reduction in my business stress.

When I was late, all I did was hurry more to try to be less late. Of course, people were always waiting, and once you’re late, being less late than you might have been really doesn’t help much. You know what does help?

one more clock

A phone call.

If you’re late, make a phone call. “Sorry, I’m going to be three/five/fifteen minutes late. Your time is valuable, and I’m very sorry I didn’t plan better.” To date (20 years since I started the habit) the only reaction I ever remember is, “No problem; thanks for letting me know.” In fact, I get “No worries; I’m late as well” as often as not.

If you make a mistake (and lateness is a mistake), admit it as soon as you’re aware of it and do what you can to fix it. Clients, prospects, even suspects don’t expect perfection (if they do, you can’t work with them anyway.) They expect mistakes now and then. What they care about is how you deal with the mistake. Of course, they won’t excuse incompetence, but you might be surprised how much good will you get by being forthright.

Why We’re Like This

It’s almost impossible to avoid seeing a timepiece almost everywhere you look. Nearly every adult in some countries wears a wristwatch. Your cell phone’s display probably includes a readout of the time. Right down there in the corner of my computer screen is another. Driving down the street, even if you didn’t have another clock on the dashboard you’d hear the time announced on the radio at least once an hour.

We’re a society obsessed with timekeeping. So how on earth can anyone ever be late?

It’s pretty obviously not about time. Less obviously, maybe, is that it’s about manners.

Here’s my confession. When I was young, the reason I was always late was because I was arrogant and selfish.

My chronic lateness had two sources: I never really wanted to stop what I was already doing to get to what I was supposed to be doing, but worse, I honestly believed others weren’t as important as me. There I was, doing something really meaningful, and if we started the next thing 15 minutes late, I was sure they didn’t mind waiting.

It took years of unpleasant interaction and a major change in my self-image to decide that punctuality was a way of showing my consideration for others. Of course, first I had to have that consideration.

Those of us who are chronically late fall into a handful of personality types defined by psychologists, but the short version is that if we’re chronically late, we don’t respect others; we don’t think they’re as important as we are. Dale Carnegie is not impressed, and neither are those you do business with.

When others realize that you don’t value their time it’s a short step to thinking you don’t value them—and an even shorter step to them not valuing you.

If you know you have a problem with punctuality, treat it like any other gap you might discover in your professional abilities, and patch it. If you can read a book and get the concepts, check your local library or search the internet for resources. If you’re the type who can enlist the aid of friends to make the change, do it. If you’ve tried before and can’t seem to overcome the lateness habit, consider finding a life skills coach to help you sort out causes and solutions.

And for those of you who are glad I’m not talking to you right now, try one of these experiments:

  • keep a log of your punctuality for a week or so; prove it to yourself in writing
  • ask a trusted friend or business associate if you have a reputation for punctuality

Hopefully, you won’t find any surprises. If you do, come back and read this again; it’s more meaningful once your eyes are open.

(Excerpted from my first book, The Commonsense Entrepreneur)

6 thoughts on “Why Buying Another Clock Won’t Get You There On Time

  1. You mean I have to open my eyes? (It helps for typing too.)

    I’m with you brother, and have come to mostly the same conclusions. I have a real hard time stopping what I’m currently doing to get to the next thing. But it’s not always selfish, many times it’s when I’m interacting with someone else and I just can’t cut them off to say, “I really have to leave now.”

    The other thing I figured out is that I’m not a good estimator of travel time – how long will it take me to get to the next thing? And along with that is the concept of not wanting to be early, because if I’m early, then that would be a waste of time (then that starts to get into the selfish bit.)

    I agree that it does come down to selfishness, but it’s still hard for me to admit that, because I think I’m a pretty giving guy. (Of course, there’s the problem.)

    Thanks for cranking out wisdom.

    1. There’s a killer, Rex, shutting someone down so you don’t leave someone else hanging.

      Try bringing them in on the good manners. “I am so sorry, but I have an appointment, and I hate being late.” Anyone with any manners will appreciate helping you out. Especially if you can find a way to revisit whatever was going on at the moment.

      It’s funny how we can compartmentalize. It’s easy to be giving and generous but still neglectful about little indirect ways of showing respect. For me, it was mostly a matter of awareness. Once I realized what I was doing, I was a little offended at myself. That made it easy to change.

      Arrive early, and always have a book (or your Kindle) with you. Five minutes spent reading isn’t a bad thing.

      Or arrive early and spend five minutes watching people, meditating, pondering something positive in your life. Most of us take far too little time to just think. Best Beloved does it much more than I, and I envy her. I’m trying to make more time to stare at the sky and let my thoughts show me what I’m thinking.

  2. Funny, how thoughts and themes seem to flit around and hit folks at pretty much the same time! My friend Erin wrote about nearly the same thing, tomorrow (Oct. 2 to your Oct 1): http://remadebyhand.com/2012/10/do-you-know-where-your-time-is-going/
    Joeyjoejoe (actually another Joel) commented about “scheduling (time for) serendipity” – time to stare at the sky, asitwere…

    My “often late” comes from some of all the reasons youguyz mentioned – “I don’wanna stop”, “I don’t care enough”, and “Oops! I forgot about traffic” or something equally-in-the-way.

    1. Nice post. That’s a topic I still struggle with, sorting out what’s really important and making sure that’s where I’m spending my time.

      I’m working on not making commitments that don’t thrill me. Too much guilt as a kid leads to making promises because I think I should, not because everyone is better off because of it. The commitments I regret are the ones I’m late to.

      Traffic or other practical considerations is easy to deal with: write a sign that says “it takes twice as long” or just “2X” and hang it where you can see it. Start doubling the estimate, and when you see that it still barely gets there on time, you’ll adjust. Sometimes, you’ll even be early.

      Gives you time to stare at the sky, eh?

  3. I will probably get accused of making excuses for myself but in my case my lateness situations seem to revolve around a generalized disorganization stemming from a constant upheaval in my housing .I just got into this new place and set my clock.New digital clock from Walmart.Two days ago i set my clock to match my sons school clock.Hydro flickered out in the middle of the night.We were late by five minutes.New to the school my face flushed red in shame dropping my son off feeling like an idiot mother.Then I was so determined to be on time the next day I went home directly to my alarm clock and set the time backwards 15 minutes.Well shows you where my head is.Time shoudl have been set forward 15 minutes.This morning I felt as though I was in the twightlight zone staring at the school clock heart pounding with panick attack face reddened with utter shame 15 minutes late.I stood there staring at the secretary swallowing an apple sized lump ready to cry.When will i ever get it right?It turns out I have a problem with math a sort of dyslexia and time is included in that time estimation.Time an abstract numerical ability I always struggled with it.As far as I am concerned I would prefer to live in a clockless society.I hate tick tock of time.

    1. Shelly, I would so love to toss all the clocks. No, actually, I think many of them are works of art, they’re beautiful. But I don’t like the time pressure we all seem to accept.

      Challenges with something as fundamental as the math of time is not making excuses. I have social anxieties, and have family members with learning disabilities, so I’m quick to extend understanding when someone seems like they’re out of their depth.

      Part of the solution is to forgive yourself. Extend yourself the same understanding and consideration you wish others would extend. In the grand scheme of things, a kid being late for school is not the end of the world. (I have 7 of ’em. Lateness happens. Nobody dies.)

      Another thing you can do is to enlist the help of others. Here’s my own experience: since I’ve started telling people about the social anxieties which have made me miserable for 50 years, what a surprise — people are understanding and kind. When I have to leave a social gathering because I’m overwhelmed, people express concern instead of being angry or offended.

      It’s not easy, I know, but if you let the school know that you have challenges, that you’re going through things, and ask for help rather than letting them assume you’re making excuses, it could help.

      And if I can help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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