“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!” said the White Rabbit in the children’s classic Alice in Wonderland.
We can all picture the scurrying rabbit, holding his pocket watch, checking it frantically and zipping past Alice on his way to, obviously, a very important date. This is precisely the way I feel, should I find myself uncharacteristically running late. Frantic. Even if I know I’m meeting someone who is perpetually late himself or herself.
“I can be on time when it’s important”, a friend of mine tells me, referring to getting to work, meetings or the airport on time, yet she constantly turns up late for every social engagement. While it might be okay to fashionably late for a party, it’s not in the least bit fashionable to arrive even five minutes late for a lunch meeting, dinner engagement or even a coffee date. You are telling the other person they’re actually not important.
Years ago I overheard two of my employees talking, one of whom was new to the team. The veteran warned her “You can’t be late for Kathy. It really annoys her.” I wanted to prairie dog up out of my cubicle and say “You can’t be late for anybody! I am not unusual in this way!” Am I?
Chronically late people will tell you that they are optimistic planners. They never think things will take as long as they realistically do. I say they are bad planners; if it always takes you an hour to drive downtown at 9am, don’t schedule a meeting for 9:30 unless you’re going to leave at 8:30. It’s pretty much that simple. You might need to change the order of the tasks you’re trying to get done that day. FYI, your number one task should be being on time.
Performing non-time sensitive tasks first makes little sense. If there are things you can do anytime that day – calling a doctor, typing an email, catching up on social media – leave for your appointment first. Get to your destination, or a coffee shop nearby, and then do those tasks from there. It’s far less stressful and you’ll have accomplished all of the same things without annoying the person you are meeting by once again being late.
Allow more than enough time for traffic, line-ups and general time sucks when you plan your day. Don’t book meetings that run exactly one hour with the next one starting on the hour. You don’t need to go to the washroom, grab a coffee or return a phone call EVER during the day? Of course you do, and you do it thinking the next person you’re meeting with won’t mind if you’re late. Trust me, they mind. They have things to do also.
Which brings me to the on-time person. While it’s frustrating to deal with the lateness of others, sometimes we have to. Make sure you have something to do to make your potentially wasted time more productive. Whether it’s a book or your laptop or running a quick errand, have a back up plan.
Post Script: This article was mostly written while I waited for someone. So maybe I owe my late friends some thanks for the work that I get done. But don’t tell them that.