If You’re On Time, You’re Already Late

Is that an oxymoron?… Actually no… A phrase once commonly taught to the young. You expect them to learn and practise punctuality later in life. But what exactly does it mean? How can you be late if you arrive on time?… We’ll come back to the origin of that phrase further down the article. But first, here’s what I was taught about the concept of time. At first, how to read it, and then how to manage it.

Man stretching out to reach for the alarm clock, showing that he's slept through the alarm, causing him to be late.
Sleeping through the alarm clock, the most common reason for being late. – Image by jcomp / Freepik

Punctuality – What It Means To You And Me

I was born a typical Asian child. Raised to respect elders in the family, teachers at school, seniors at work, and yes, even among peers too. A typical quality, commonly instilled to a typical Asian child. And that includes understanding what’s expected of you, and ensuring that you meet the expectation when interacting with them. That was being respectful…

Of course, respect here goes farther than merely carrying out polite conversations and performing one’s “duties”. One of the more important parameters of respect, and yet often overlooked, is punctuality. Overlooked, because as we grow up, we’re expected to “manage our own time”… Something that most people eventually forget, or intentionally ignore.

Learning To Never Be Late For School

Up until secondary school, timing was “enforced”. Every Monday morning, the bell rings at exactly half-past-seven, indicating the start of the weekly assembly. The same bell also marked the change of periods too, as well as the end of school day. Every activity has a clearly marked time slot, and each change of slot clearly indicated. The change of activity slots clearly indicated with the sound of the bell.

Primary school classroom, with a teaching in the front of the classroom teaching primary students.
Primary school classroom – Image by Steve Riot from Pixabay

So what about those who don’t adhere to the strict timings? Or those who consciously choose to challenge the establishment?… “Punishment” awaits those who’re late for the compulsory Monday morning assembly. You’ll probably be locked out at the school gate until assembly has concluded. Or worse, cited for disobedience, and sent to detention if repeated. Everything is marked out clearly. There’s simply no excuse for ignorance.

It’s mass behavioural conditioning. Every action will be etched into muscle memory if repeated often enough. If you’re forced to adhere to the established “system”, it’ll eventually become muscle memory… Or at least hoped to become muscle memory.

Leaving School, And Into Adulthood

Every adolescent looks forward to finally leaving school, where one is considered an adult. It’s immaterial whether one chooses to enrol for further education or join the workforce. Young adults are expected to have learnt how to behave like a decent human being by then.

Institutions of higher learning no longer have bells to tell you when to assemble for class. In fact, most professors don’t even care whether you attend lectures on time, or even at all…

View of a lecture hall, in a typical university. At this stage, nobody will be teaching you about the virtues of not being late.
Typical lecture theatre at universities. – Image by Nikolay Geogiev / Pixabay

Work places probably have time markers for you to clock in for work, and clock off when you leave work. Other than that, nobody really monitors whether you adhere to the other schedules. Office meetings, client meetings, even lunch breaks.

As a result, time tolerances become looser, and people simply accept it for what it is… the norm!… Unfortunately, ignorance breeds contempt!…

Ignorance Breeds Contempt

At work, your weekly meetings start at ten o’clock every Monday morning. But the attendees start dragging their feet into the meeting room from five-past-ten onwards. What more, most head straight to the coffee counter for their morning fix first, before even settling down.

You make plans to meet your bestie for lunch at the restaurant at quarter-past-twelve. And he starts waving his hand at you from across the street at half-past-twelve, totally oblivious of his tardiness.

You’re at an out-of-town work trip with five other colleagues. You charter a van to pick you up at the hotel entrance at half-past seven in the morning. But you noticed that most of them just arrived for their buffet breakfast at quarter-past-seven. You’re probably wondering if they can finish their breakfast within fifteen minutes…

The “It’s Okay, We’re Not Late” Attitude

When your weekly meeting starts at ten o’clock, it starts at ten o’clock. It doesn’t mean you arrive at ten o’clock, or shortly there after, to begin only after everybody settles in. Herein lies the problem. For a meeting to start at ten o’clock, you need to be settled in by five-to-ten. Which means, you gotta arrive at the meeting room by ten-to-ten. And if you need your morning fix before the meeting, then better make sure you arrive by quarter-to-ten.

Angry boss pointing on wristwatch reprimanding employee for coming too late to a meeting, tardy unpunctual worker affects everybody else schedule after the meeting
Angry boss pointing on wristwatch reprimanding employee for coming too late to a meeting, tardy unpunctual worker affects everybody else’s schedule after the meeting. – Image by yanalya / Freepik

Having lunch at the restaurant means you’ve gotta factor in your transit time too. You still need to walk from work to the restaurant, and back again after lunch. Your lunch hour is from midday to one o’clock, and you probably take fifteen minutes to walk each direction. So it makes perfect sense to meet your bestie for lunch at quarter-past-twelve. You get to spend half-hour to eat and talk with him, and still get back to work on time. But that’s not gonna happen if he arrives at half-past-twelve. It’ll probably take another fifteen minutes for you to settle down at the table, and your order to arrive… Which leaves you a grand total of zero minutes to eat, before you have to start walking back to work.

That shared transport at the hotel entrance? You probably have to travel across town to your destination, a journey that usually takes an hour. And leaving at half-past-seven ensures that you cover that distance within the allotted time. Leaving after quarter-to-eight will lead you smack into the morning rush hour. And that hour-long journey will probably end up taking two hours.

It Is Rude To Be Late

Here’re the facts. Your weekly meeting starts at ten o’clock. And it’ll probably last an hour. So you start making plans for your next appointment at eleven o’clock. But if you delay the start for half-an-hour, your meeting won’t end until half-past eleven. That results in you being late for your eleven o’clock appointment… And it’s very rude to be late.

You want to spend quality time with your bestie over lunch. But by arriving a mere fifteen minutes late, you’re gonna be late back to work. That’ll earn you bad remarks for your next annual evaluation. As far as your employer is concerned, tardiness on your part reflects badly on your personality. And that too is very rude on your part.

Your host has probably lined up the whole day’s schedule based on your arrival at the destination. But leaving half-an-hour later than your scheduled time results in you arriving two-and-half hours late. And that throws your tightly planned schedule at your destination completely off. You’ll probably end up skipping a good half of your programme for the day. That will, no doubt, make those people involved in the skipped programme very angry indeed. In short, you’ve been very rude to those people who had put in so much effort to welcome you.

That’s right, being late is rude!…

Respect Works Both Ways

You don’t appreciate being thrown off your balance in your nicely choreographed schedule. So what makes you think that it’s okay to do the same onto others?

Stressed businessman looking at wrist watch, angry that his appointment is late, throwing the rest of his day's schedule in disarray.
Stressed businessman looking at wrist watch, angry that his appointment is late, throwing the rest of his day’s schedule in disarray. – Image by yanalya / Freepik

Time is a limited, and quickly diminishing asset. So if time is important to you, then it’s equally important to others too. If you expect others to respect your time, then make the effort to respect others’ time too. Tardiness is never a good thing. Your parents raised you to be polite to others, and reflect on a good upbringing. Being late, even occasionally, shows otherwise, and reflects very badly on your upbringing. What more if you’re habitually late?…

In Conclusion

So yes, if you arrive on time, then you’re already late. Arriving at your destination on time doesn’t mean you’re ready to embark on your next task at that said time… You probably still need to look for parking, walk to your meeting venue, catch a breath, collect your thoughts, before you’re even proceed with the next task.

As for me, well, I’m proud to say that I’m never on time… because I’m always early… If I have a scheduled appointment, I always make sure I arrive at least half-an-hour before the scheduled time. Walk around and survey the location twenty minutes before the scheduled time. Visit the toilet to relieve myself and straighten my clothes fifteen minutes before the scheduled time. Catch my breath and slowdown my heart rate ten minutes before the scheduled time… And at five minutes before the scheduled time, I knock on the door to announce my arrival…

Need somebody help you sort out your tardiness? Or at least listen to your problems? Buy us a cup of coffee, and we’ll be all ears.

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