10 hard truths about workplace punctuality

Meetings aren’t the problem. Meetings that don’t start or end on time—especially because one person was ‘just 10 minutes late’—are the problem. They tick people off and kill productivity.

In the reasonable but seemingly impossible category: (a) standing on the right so others can pass when on an escalator, and (b) showing up to meetings on time.

Putting aside the escalator issue for a problem that’s actually solvable, let’s turn to the matter of punctuality:

1. You’re not that important (really).

Vice President Joe Biden often recalls his mother telling him, “Nobody is better than you, but you’re better than nobody.” Being the most senior person in the room does not give you the right to be late. In fact, the opposite is true.

People with more experience, higher titles, higher salaries and more responsibility should be held to a higher standard. Time is our most precious commodity, not just your most precious commodity. I don’t care who you are, you are just not that important. Show up on time.

2. Long meetings are unproductive and not an excuse.

“So sorry for being late, my last meeting ran long.” If you led that last meeting, no, it didn’t. You were sloppy: You failed to run your meeting efficiently and end it on time.

Manage a meeting the way a coach manages a football game. The meeting should end at the designated time, so move through the agenda at a steady pace and finish it in the time allotted.

If you do need extra time, schedule another session, being precise about what you’ll cover. This should be the exception, not the rule; run a tight meeting, and you’ll often find that scheduling another is unnecessary. In short, actively manage the meeting; very few people do this.

If you were merely the unfortunate attendee stuck in someone else’s poorly run meeting, see No. 8 for next time. Spoiler alert: You have a “hard stop.”

3. There’s always traffic, and parking is always terrible.

Plan for these realities. The above are not valid excuses. Nobody cares. We all live in the same world, and somehow the rest of us made it on time.

4. Tardiness reflects poorly on you.

Nobody is saying it, but everybody’s thinking it: “Where is Jerry? I have better things to do with my time.”

5. The ripple effect is real.

Be precise and deliberate in everything you do. When you start with punctuality, you’ll find that it pervades other tasks. Consequently, you’ll raise the bar across the board. The small things are the big things.

6. Google’s 25-minute and 50-minute features work wonders.

Remember “passing period” in high school? That exists for a reason. You’ll need a restroom break or a glass of water, not to mention that you have to get from one meeting to another. It’s impossible to end one meeting at 10 a.m. and show up at another precisely at 10 a.m. You’re not Usain Bolt.

Google has a setting that defaults meetings to 25 instead of 30 minutes and 50 minutes instead of an hour. It’s professional passing time. Use it, and stick to it.

7. You’re not “just 10 minutes late.”

Meetings are expensive. It doesn’t take much back-of-the-napkin effort to look around the room, estimate what people are being paid, and calculate a rough estimate of a meeting’s cost.

In a meeting with six people, being 10 minutes late equals an hour of lost time. You’re not “just 10 minutes late.” Multiply how late you are by the number of people in the room, and you’ll realize how late you really are.

8. The “hard stop” makes a big difference.

Have a hard stop? No problem. Give everyone a heads-up at the beginning of the meeting (and earn extra points with a reminder 15 minutes prior to its end).

9. If you are going to be late, you should speak up.

Sometimes being late just can’t be avoided. If you’re going to be late, communicate it as soon as you know, and apologize.

Remember, too, to exercise compassion and understanding for your tardy colleagues. People have kids, commutes throw a wrench into things, a doctor’s appointment can run long. In short, stuff happens. Although being late should be rare, we do live in the real world, and it’s sometimes unpredictable.

10. You should stop reading this post.

You’re late for your next meeting.

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.


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