Whether it’s business or personal, being late is not fashionable. Sorry guys, that’s the truth. I’m sure a person suffering from serial lateness made up the expression “fashionably late”. If you are the person waiting, or a host, it’s really frustrating and even annoying. Sadly, some people are habitually late.
I should confess that I was frequently late myself. My reason is that I was a ‘stuffer’. If I had a spare 5 minutes, I’ll fill it with a task and most likely a task which will take 10 minutes, but I figured I could move quickly and knock it out in five. Optimistic, but usually not realistic. Wanting to lead by example, I set a goal a year or two back to stop being late. I achieve that now about 98% of the time and I am proud to say, am even sometimes early!
Being habitually late sends several messages:
- I don’t have my sh*t together and am just very disorganised.
- I don’t value your time; you can sit around waiting for me.
- I cannot be relied upon.
In business (but really your friends should not be an exclusion) this is just not on. It’s not only sending the above messages, but other people are busy too. The person waiting (whether for a phone call, at a café or board room) is sitting waiting and getting annoyed. You are wasting their time. They may have another appointment afterwards and you are now potentially forcing them to be late. For a dinner party, the host has planned to serve at a time; you’re potentially causing the food to be overcooked, stopping the other guests from eating; usually meaning more drinks are consumed, nibbles are served to combat the hunger, and then the meal is not enjoyed as much.
Here are my top 12 tips around avoiding lateness:
1. Don’t be late. Firstly work out why you’re late. It may help to add buffers to time, either buffers between appointments or simply allow extra time to drive, just in case there is bad traffic or a car accident.
2. If you are going to be more than about 2 minutes late to a business appointment, text the person. If it’s going to be more than about 10 minutes (perhaps your car broke down) then ring them. Find out if they prefer you change the tyre and still come, or reschedule. Now a tip here, don’t pull the ‘emergency’ line all the time as your excuse for simply being habitually late. Everyone has an accident, incident or emergency now and then, but if it’s every week, it’s a little like the story of ‘the little boy who cried wolf’ and people who know you will soon start to assume you are telling fairy tales. Likewise don’t tell a client you will be late because you got caught chatting with a friend or were tidying your desk – that really shows how little you care about them and their business.
3. If you know (this is not a business one, more personal) that you’re going to be an hour (or more) late to a friend’s BBQ, then discuss that with them privately at least a few days prior. Asking permission (days in advance, not minutes) is ok, but I strongly recommend you do it privately. If you are late, that’s up to the host, but if you post the request in a group messenger, then it seems to send a message that it’s ok for everyone else to be late too. One person (or couple) late is one thing, but if everyone turning up late, that’s just not fair for the host. Also by doing it privately, that allows the host privately to discuss with you if that won’t work. Every event is different; an hour late for an all-afternoon BBQ is one thing, but an hour late for a sit-down dinner is quite another kettle of fish – most likely burnt fish.
4. Absolutely communicate! Worse than being late is zero communication and just rocking up late – or the absolute worse – not rocking up at all. This applies especially for quotes. You may have decided you don’t want to quote the job, but don’t simply not turn up!
5. Plan in advance. If the person or location is not somewhere you know, check the travel time in Google Maps. Allow your buffer. If you’ve got to prepare food, allow time for that or for dressing. It sounds obvious, but often we set alarms for time to leave, but haven’t factored in time to prepare. If it’s a business meeting – prepare days in advance, including printing anything you may need, doing any research etc. Leaving things to the last minute is asking for trouble; your printer malfunction will likely occur then.
6. Factor in others. When my kids were little, I knew it would take longer to get out the door; that’s just a fact of life. Plan that into your timing and buffer some extra time for those things which are more difficult to control. If you have an elderly family member to pick up, they won’t just ‘hop’ into the car; everything takes longer; so be prepared for that.
7. Be firm. I have a business coaching client whose boss is always late for meetings. My advice is simply to start the meeting on time, regardless of who is present or not. Meetings are the worse time bandits and waste not only one or two people’s time, but many. If you always start late, people learn that and adjust their arrival time accordingly and arrive late; It goes from bad to worse.
8. Don’t overstuff your schedule. I’m talking from experience here as an (almost) reformed serial stuffer. Allow extra time for every task and if you have a spare few minutes or even half an hour, rather than stuffing it, just plan to arrive early. You can always check social media or cash up on the news on your phone whilst you’re waiting. Or simply take the spare few moments to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy not feeling rushed and constantly on the go.
9. Block out time in your schedule. Some organisations share their schedules internally; so if your schedule says you are free, then someone may well book an appointment in. Instead, block out chunks of time so that you can work. If your internal clock makes you most effective first up in the day, then it may be ideal to block out chunks of time for productive work first up, perhaps 8am to 10am.
10. Saying no will save time. This might be not accepting multiple event invitations on a single day (or even within a week). You don’t have to read every single newsletter that comes into your inbox. Start saying (nicely) no to people, and you will get back a good amount of time. It might be having to say “sorry I have to finish this meeting shortly; I’ve got another appointment straight after this one.” Better yet – alert people in advance of the duration of the meeting, so everyone knows.
11. Batch activities. I was sharing this one only the other day with a business coaching client. Going out to appointments should be done in batches. This will save you time on dressing, grooming, travel etc, especially if you can schedule appointments in a geographical area at one time. If you are not driving all over the countryside, then there is less of an opportunity for you to become late, or have to schedule in too much buffer time.
12. Utilise technology. I talked earlier about Google Maps, plus there are alarms on phones. Use these things to ensure you are aware of the time and don’t let it get away from you. It’s simple technology, but many people are still using paper diaries, so unless they look at their diary, there may not be an alarm, alert or reminder. There are also reminders in Outlook as well as in most CRM’s. Really there is no excuse for time to get away from you.
Best of luck with your time. If you are habitually late; you can learn new habits and change this around. Check out my coaching services so that I may assist you.