Tips for Career Success – Tip 17: Be Punctual

Tip 17: Be Punctual

I have always struggled with punctuality.  I am one of those people that will wait until the last possible minute to leave for something or complete building a major presentation the night before I am set to deliver it.  However, I know this is a negative characteristic, and I have received some incredible advice in the area over the years (as any major offender often does).  With that in mind, I want to share some of the advice that I have learned.  I believe that becoming more punctual can be broken down into three primary focus-areas: better planning, better time management, and better respect for others’ time.  In this article, we will review practical ideas to help each of us improve in these three areas.  By following along and adhering to this advice, you can rewire who you are to never be late to an important meeting, miss a project delivery, or make someone else wait for you again.

Let’s explore how to be punctual together.

Better Planning

When I was first consulting, I arrived fifteen minutes late to a demo that I was providing for a new client.  I was flustered from rushing in the door, and I had actually received a speeding ticket during my drive from Atlanta to Nashville that morning.  My boss had been in the area earlier in the week so he was already there waiting with the client for me to show up.  As soon as I walked in, I knew I had just made my way onto his poo poo list.  After the meeting, we had a not-so-pleasant and quite serious talk about how poorly my being late had reflected on the company and the potential impact something like being late can have on a business relationship.  The entire conversation was constructive, but there was one thing that stuck with me.  He said that no matter where you are going, plan to arrive 15-30 minutes early.  His logic was simple – if you make great time, you can always go somewhere for a coffee or just calm down from the drive before going in.  However, you cannot make up time if you run into traffic (or get a speeding ticket) that delays you.  Since that day, when traveling to a client, I plan on arriving at least 15 minutes early.  I have found that doing so allows me to settle down before the meeting and in turn has produced better meetings.

This concept of baking margins into life scales out to other areas really well.  When I was starting a business, I was given the advice to take my estimated costs in my business plan and add 50%.  Why?  Because as people, we rarely plan for what could go wrong.  I have seen this same approach be effective for consulting as well.  As consultants, we are often asked how long certain tasks take.  Most consultants will follow a logical process to 1.) think about each task, 2.) estimate how long each task should take, and 3.) summarize the total amount of time.  That is a very simplified version of a much more complicated process of scoping, but it represents the basic outline of how one might scope a project.  The problem with this approach is that it fails to allow for the unknown.  We must plan for the unknown.  Otherwise, there is no way to easily get more money once a start-up is in motion, makeup time after you have been pulled over for speeding, or add additional time to a project’s scope when you find out one of the servers needs to be rebuilt. 


Better Time Management

Punctuality is not just about showing up to meetings on time.  Punctuality is also about turning in assignments or following up on requests in a timely manner.  If someone asks you for something, the fact they are asking implies that whatever it is they are asking for is something that would help them do their job better.  Yet, so many of us simply add it onto a “To Do” list that we rarely ever get to.  Then, we find ourselves the day before the deadline (or worse, after the deadline), rushing through delivering whatever was requested.  Everyone reading this can probably think of a scenario where this has happened to you while waiting on someone to deliver, or you have been the person up late the night before the deadline.  Chances are good that you do not have to think back too far to find an example.  Knowing how frustrating it can be as the person waiting on something to be delivered, why is it that so many of us still do this same thing to others?  For the purpose of this article, I am going to hypothesize that we delay completing tasks because we are bad at time management. 

A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that, “time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity”.  The reason I believe so many of us stink at this is because we have so many distractions to keep us from better managing our time.  Take me for instance – in the process of writing this paragraph, I received a Slack message I needed to respond to, a client emailed me asking for an update on some paperwork, I got distracted when I went to search for the Wikipedia definition of “Time Management” and found myself reading an article about “the best railroad route in Alaska”, my wife called to check on what we are doing for dinner, and the list goes on-and-on.  All of those distractions are just what I faced while trying to write a paragraph about better time management by avoiding distractions!  Now, if we take that and spread it out across a larger task, the number of distractions can become staggering.

How then do we avoid all of the distractions so that we can have better time management?  Here are a few sub-tips that I would recommend trying:

  • Set your clocks ahead a few minutes – I know this sounds crazy, but it really works. My car clock and kitchen clocks are all set 5 minutes early.  So, if you, like me, are historically 1-5 minutes late for everything, you can flip the script and become 0-4 minutes early.

  • Get better at estimating how long things take – This is an area that I still could improve more. My typical morning consists of playing with my kids until I have to get ready and leave for work.  I have been taking showers and getting dressed for a while now, so I am pretty good at estimating how long I need to do that.  What I fail to think about is how long it will take me from the point of getting back downstairs to actually being able to leave.  I know that when my kids are there, it usually takes a few minutes of goodbyes, so I need to be better about planning how long those really take.  You too should consider what areas of your life are frequently taking longer than you think and adjust accordingly. 

  • Use focused blocks – In a previous company, a coworker sent out a company-wide email letting everyone know that he would be checking emails and available via our instant-messaging system for 30 minutes every two hours. At the time, I thought he was crazy, but his logic was sound – he was tired of all the distractions throughout the day that come from email and instant messages.  In a similar way, if you schedule times during your day to “unplug” from email and your messaging systems, you can accomplish so much more with dedicated periods of focus.

  • Plan to be early – Just like in my example above, plan to be early for all important meetings or to delivery early for all important projects or assignments.  By planning to be done early, you will allow for the “unexpected traffic” of life to get in the way.

Better Respect for Others’ Time

The final point I would like to ask each of us to focus more on is being respectful of others’ time.  I have been told that our greatest pet peeves are likely areas of fault that we see in ourselves.  For me, I know this is an example of that.  There are few things that bother me more than feeling like my time is being wasted: when someone fails to arrive on-time for a meeting, makes me wait outside when picking them up for a carpool, or stands me up for a planned meeting.  Yet this is an area that I know I am constantly failing at in my own life.  I know that most weeks there are multiple times where I am making others wait for me. 

At the end of the day, I think it all comes down to respect.  If you respect others’ time as much as your own, you will not want to waste, but rather preserve it.  How then can we be better at respecting others’ time?  Here are a few tips to help along the way:

  • Consider how you feel when someone makes you wait – Try to be empathetic to how making someone wait will make them feel.

  • If you have to be late, let people know as soon as possible – Give updates. If you are running late going into your second meeting of the day, chances are strong that you may be late for your third.  Take a second to shoot a quick note to someone to let them know.  If you have a presentation due on Friday, but you are tied up in other projects, let the person expecting the presentation know that you will likely be delayed in delivering.  A little communication can go a long way.

  • Charge yourself for wasting their time – If you make a friend wait for you at a lunch meeting, offer to pay for lunch.  If you make a co-worker wait for a deliverable, buy them a gift.  This approach serves two purposes: it repays something for what you have taken from the people whose time you are not respecting and it punishes you for wasting their time.  Try this out for a couple of weeks and see if you do not find yourself being more respectful of others’ time.

In writing this section, I have realized how bad I am at this in my own life.  To my wife, coworkers, and friends reading this, I am sorry for all of the occasions where I have not respected your time and left you to wait for me.  I know there are countless of them.  I will be better.  We all can be better.  Better at planning.  Better at time management.  Better at respecting others’ time.  We can be better!



I hope you found this article on how to be punctual helpful.  I would love your feedback on this series and this article in the comments below.  Please check in next month for Tip 16: Always Present Standing Up and with a Smile.  You can get more career, and analytics insights on our blog and e-newsletter.

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CareerDustin Adkison