Punctuality: Why Time Matters


Imagine a friend who always finds himself apologizing for arriving awkwardly late to scheduled events. Maybe you don’t have to imagine this scenario, because the person described is one of your friends. Maybe you’re thinking, “It doesn’t happen that often…” In that case, maybe you’re the friend who others mumble about while they look at their watch wondering why you aren’t there yet…again.

Much like money, the use of time requires discipline to avoid mismanagement. In all of our lives, time is a finite commodity. We’ve probably all heard someone say, “You can always earn more money.” However, time is non-regenerative. Unused time doesn’t roll over to the next day. We can’t earn more time. Unlike money, we can’t save up an account full of time to be spent on days where we come up a bit short. Our own time needs to be managed well, and the time of others should be respected. When we mismanage our time we send clear signals to others, especially those close to us.

Time, money, respect, and trust are all related. A friend who is often unprepared to make good on a debt he owes is seen by his peers as unreliable and untrustworthy. When it is a common occurrence, it also shows disrespect to those whose must absorb his debt on a regular basis. In much the same way as money, time is a resource which can, through proper management, be used to establish reliability and trust. Punctuality builds a pattern of respect for others’ time.

When we schedule an appointment with a professional, we can and should expect them to respect the timetable they quote. However, in personal relationships, that same expectation is not always shared by both parties. Punctuality can be a difficult subject to address with friends, as not everyone’s concept of “on time” is the same. Across different cultures, for instance, the variations in what is considered punctual widely differ. As examples, in Switzerland, if you are thirty seconds late to the platform, you will likely find your train has come and gone. In Mexico, it is considered acceptable to arrive hours after the stated beginning of a social gathering. While these variations are extreme, and major cultural differences are unlikely to be the culprit of frustration in our friendships, we need to acknowledge that personal differences in the definition of punctual also exist.

Different stages of life often foster differing views of time. As a college student, I had a floating view of my time outside of class. To my own detriment, I also had this view toward punctuality within the classroom. A floating view of time is a concept wherein very little is “nailed down” to a schedule. It is a “go with the flow” mentality toward time management. Everything within a floating schedule is subject to rescheduling or deletion with little or no notice. While my view of time was accepted by my peers, it was a source of conflict between my professors and I. Read through any college syllabus and you’ll certainly find a section that enumerates the expectations and consequences for punctuality and tardiness. This partially because, without strict parameters and clear consequences, young adults tend to view time as a flexible resource.

As an adult member of the workforce, I now find myself subject to punctuality expectations that affect more than just a grade on a test. My paycheck depends upon my being consistently punctual (or at least providing proper notification of the rare delay). Maybe your job has “flexible hours”, but it’s more likely that you also find yourself subject to expectations with regard to time in the workplace. These expectations may come in the form of shift-work start times, or as hard deadlines for the completion of a project. I’ve found that respecting time constraints is much easier to do when there is something of consequence on the line.

In our close, interpersonal relationships punctuality doesn’t earn a monetary reward. It does, however, convey respect and it instills a sense of reliability and trustworthiness. Evaluate your view of time, as it relates to these values, in your interactions with close friends. Do you schedule meetings for a specific time, only to arrive 10-15 minutes late? Do you overbook your schedule, which inevitably leads to someone getting rescheduled at the last minute? Consider what these choices convey to your friends. If a friend asks you for an hour to grab a coffee and discuss an issue, and you both agree to a time and place for that meeting, what does it say to your friend if you are fifteen minutes late? They have agreed to budget a portion of their limited time to invest in you, and you should respect their investment. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like an egregious offense, I’ll admit that. But, look at it from a different perspective. Fifteen minutes is 25% of the time you and your friend agreed to. By being late, you’ve squandered a quarter of what time your friend budgeted for you. We don’t view this as acceptable or prudent in the professional world. How much more so should we strive to be respectful of the time of a friend with whom we have a deep relationship, beyond the scope of any professional interaction.

Certainly, emergencies do happen. And, when they are infrequent, they are understandable. However, when “emergencies” are common and excuses abound, there may be an underlying habit that needs to be addressed. How do you use your time to convey respect to your friends? What are some ways that you can become a better steward of the time you have, as well as the time others have invested in you?

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One thought on “Punctuality: Why Time Matters

  1. I don t like being kept waiting, especially in the doctors office. Why do they give you an appointment for a certain time then make you wait 45 minutes? Whey didn t they just make the appointment for 45 minutes later? Now this infuriates me. With friends, I m more apt to overlook it.

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