I was in a meeting yesterday with my firm's senior partner. My boss and I arrived about a minute before the meeting was to start. Partially in jest, but only partially, the partner paraphrased Vince Lombardi in saying that if you're ten minutes early to a meeting you're on time and if you're five minutes early you're late. I questioned the wisdom of these words, but gently, he is the senior partner after all. He insisted on his point and I dropped my argument, but I took some time after the meeting to think more on this subject.
I'm as sure as ever that I am correct and the senior partner is wrong. And this incident brings to the fore the larger question of schedules and timeliness. As a rule, I make it a point to be very punctual, and if anything I err on the early side (I was a minute early to the meeting above). In fact, I think many of my friends find it somewhat annoying when I show up exactly on time for whatever social occasion has been planned. Someone suggests meeting at 5:30, and there I am knocking on their door while they scramble to finish getting ready. I on the other hand get extremely annoyed when my friends, a couple in particular (they know who they are), show up quite late even when meeting times have been explicitly arranged and emphasized. (A couple of my friends seem to exist in their own personal time, totally separate from the rest of us).
My friend: "Why are you so stressed out?"
Me: "Because you're 45 minutes late and now we're going to miss the start of the movie!"
So who's right? Here are my thoughts:
Business. In a business setting, if you want people to show up at a certain time, tell them that time. Want someone at a 10 AM meeting, tell them there is a 10 AM meeting. If you want them to show up fifteen minutes early to discuss a couple of issues before the meeting starts, tell them to get there at 9:45. In business everyone is busy and it's a deep narcissism to assume that your time is more valuable than someone else's time. That fifteen minutes early that you expect of them is fifteen minutes that they can be doing something else. By no means should you accept habitual tardiness from anyone, but punctuality cannot be punished.
On the flip side, as Shakespeare wrote in The Merry Wives of Windsor (about a very personal meeting), "better three hours too soon than a minute too late." The person who is constantly late is certainly more in the wrong than the person who insists on being early. Again, everyone's time is valuable and showing up late to meetings is highly disrespectful. The bottom line, in business be on time and expect the same of others.
Think about businesses built upon schedules, movies don't start around certain times, FedEx doesn't arrive sometime around their scheduled pick-ups, and planes don't take off twenty minutes early (though late is certainly possible!). Schedules are vital to the orderly operation of society. Respecting this fact, we should all embrace the idea that punctuality is the best behavior. Disorganized, disrespectful, nonchalant, are all characteristics that we should strive to eliminate from our lives.
Social Occasions. Now social occasions are something quite different. Experience certainly tells you that sometimes being late is appropriate. When someone says a party starts at 8 PM they really mean show up no earlier than 8 PM. If you show up early you end up standing around awkwardly while the host finishes setting out the food and beverages. On other occasions you better be on time. When you have dinner reservations at 8 PM, make sure you're at the restaurant a few minutes early (I hope my friend reads this post!). But that's the real difference between many social occasions and work, in leisure we have flexibility, you're a little late or a little early, it's not too critical. At least up to a point.
I guess I'll never understand the mentality that seems to disregard schedules. Our entire lives are set up according to time. Hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year. Schedules are almost always set up with a purpose, ignoring that fact is inconsiderate. It's a bad behavior that is all too often overlooked. By that same token, going beyond punctual, insisting that others be always early, is unnecessarily onerous. Maybe I'll tell that to the senior partner, but I'm going to wait...until exactly the right time.
A few quotes on punctuality:
"Laugh and the world laughs with you, be prompt and you dine alone."-Gerald Barzan, humorist"If I have made an appointment with you, I owe you punctuality, I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own."-Richard Cecil, clergyman"Punctuality is the soul of business."-Thomas Haliburton, writer and businessman"I have been on a calendar, but I've never been on time."-Marilyn Monroe, actress and celebrity"I am a believer in punctuality though it makes me very lonely."-Edward V. Lucas, writer