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How to - being on time
by Steve Leveen

I used to be mostly on time for things, but I found that people thought of me as always being late. My friends and associates would joke mildly about this with me and I’d get a little irked. I’d think to myself, “Do they have any idea how busy I am? Do they know how much I fit into my day?”

Of course, I’d never say this. Everyone knows it’s poor form to claim to be busy, just as it’s poor form to give excuses.

But I knew I was justified in being a little late once in a while. I mean, come on! Give me a break!

Then my viewpoint changed. Radically.

It was my friend Chris who changed my mind by his example. He is chairman and CEO of a large public company. He also does all kinds of other time-consuming, cool things, like flying his own jet and piloting his boat to the Bahamas. And he is a member of a few civic organizations. I could not suppose that I was busier than he, nor that I fit more things into my life, yet I noticed over the years that he was always early for meetings.

I asked him about this and he said it was kind of a pilot thing. “Ask a pilot to be ready at 9:00 and he’ll be there at 7:30, checking on the plane and weather. It’s just the way it’s done.” And it’s about respect, he said. “If you’re late, you’re saying that your time is more important than mine.”

This got me reflecting about my methods.

I saw that often when running late, I would be reduced to fretting about traffic and driving aggressively in order to shave a minute or two off the drive. Often I would be angry with myself for being late and arrive harried. How much nicer it was when I gave myself plenty of time. I’d be relaxed while driving, thinking of other things or making phone calls. When I arrived early, I would make good use of my time reading or just thinking in quiet enjoyment.

Being on time is “the courtesy of winners,” says the super-achieving editor and author Helen Gurley Brown. There is almost no more important rule for professional success, she advises in her book, I’m Wild Again. Unlike IQ, beauty or athletic skill, being punctual is something you can control.

Nelson Mandela would be one of Helenís winners. In Long Walk to Freedom, he writes: “I am a stickler about punctuality, not only because I think it is a sign of respect to the person you are meeting but in order to combat the Western stereotype of Africans as being notoriously tardy.”

Another on-time person I know is my doctor. Her staff advises patients not to be a minute late or they risk missing their appointment, and, in fact, they are told that if they arrive early they will probably be seen early. I can vouch for this, having arrived early for my last appointment prepared to read, only to be whisked right in. I asked her why she runs her practice so differently from most doctors. “I come from a military family,” she said. “When my father said o-eight-hundred, he meant o-eight-hundred.”

You might think she rushes you through visits, but my experience is that she listens and observes carefully—she just does it on time.

Another on-time man was George Burns, considering it one of his talents. In Gracie: A Love Story, Burns wrote, “I was always right on time. In vaudeville, when you had my kind of talent, you were on time or you were off the bill.”

Evelyn Waugh wrote that “punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” I now find, to the contrary, that being on time gives me more time to think about, and do, what I’m fascinated in—rather than the boring job of rushing.