Article: "I'm Going To Be On Time If It Kills Me"

A quiet amusement of mine is to watch the expression of people who arrive late for my time management seminars. (Now you’re going to be worried every time you go to one of my programs!) The look resembles a child who just got caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Tail between the legs, these people shuffle in sheepishly mumbling something about traffic, while their friends jibe, “How can you be late for a time management class”?

The number one complaint I receive from managers who bring me in to coach their folks on performance is something around "the inability to meet deadlines, is always late, is constantly running behind, or he/she forgot." There are actually three types of people I see: 

“Late” people are typically perpetually late, for everything. 

“On time” people typically arrive a minute or two ahead or behind the goal. 

“Early” people are rare and are generally early to everything. 

Victor Borge's famous comment in concert sums it up nicely. He was well into his performance when a woman came in late, fighting her way through the rows to her seat near the front. Borge stopped playing and as she proceeded—trampling over people, embarrassing, rustling, and disturbing her way to her seat—he said (much to her chagrin, as all eyes focused on her ill-timed arrival) "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me." After she sat down, he walked over near where she was sitting and said, "Where are you from, Ma'am?" "Fifty-Seventh Street," she said. "Well, Lady, I'm from Denmark and I was here on time."

People are much more irritated by lateness than we ever know, it can dampen everything from promotions and raises to friendships. Late people crowd us, physically and mentally, all the time. We all hate the fact that their lateness undoes our schedule and disrupts our day. Showing up late for work or sending something in late, no matter how well done, still means a black mark against you. 

For example, let’s say that you hired me to speak at a conference you were planning. I was slotted to be the opening speaker, and I was scheduled to speak at 9:00 AM. At 9:05, I came rushing in, exclaiming that I was trapped in a major traffic jam. Would you care? NO! You could care less about my reason. You only care about your conference at the time. People expect you to honor their time and your commitments, just as you expect that from them. After I gave an incredible speech and everyone loved me, would you ever hire me again? NO! In fact, you would remember how embarrassed you felt when I was late. You would probably even tell other people about my tardiness and recommend they don't hire me either!

So I’m an Early, not because I'm soooooo productive, but because I’ve discovered the benefits in doing so. For one of your New Year’s productivity goals in 2003, I’d like to encourage you to become an Early. Why is it important?

You get the first choice of many things 

You gain admiration and respect 

You are able to relax and not sweat 

You get good press and publicity 

You get the rest of the time to relax or read 

Being an Early makes you look competent and lets others know you can be depended upon. Being a Late, however, makes people wonder if you'll come through this time. You'll always be bringing up the rear, never totally trusted, no matter how skilled you are. Even if you're on "on time," that's fairly typical...boring? It just doesn't stand out. It's okay...just expected...yawn. Don't be simply "average"! 

LATE says, "I can't make deadlines." EARLY says, "I don't need deadlines."

LATE says, "I'm out of control." EARLY says, "I'm in control."

LATE says, "I can't look beyond the moment." EARLY says, "I look ahead."

Convinced? So how do you become an Early? It has nothing to do with setting your watch five minutes fast and "fooling" yourself, because psychologically, you know it's five minutes fast, and make up for it anyway. Keep your clocks on the correct time. It also doesn't really have anything to do with time management, but with planning. In fact, this simple, inexpensive principle will actually *prevent* 50% or more of your "time management" problems. 

So instead of thinking, “I begin speaking at 9:00 AM,” my thoughts rather go something like, “I should plan on arriving at 8:00 AM to set up and get prepared.” Then I have to figure out how long it should take me to get there, a buffer in case there’s traffic, what time I would need to be dropping the kids off at daycare, what time to get them up, so what time I’d have to wake up in order for all that to happen. And I have lots of things to do once I have arrived and set up...bills to pay, magazines to peruse, that report to read, or thank you letters to write.

Here's a quiz. If you had a speech to give in March, and it's January now, when would you begin preparing? The week before? If you started now and researched over time, you would be much less stressed and have prepared much more when the time came. If you have a trip coming up, do you pack the night before? Why not set the suitcase out and drop things in it over the week ahead? If you have to run to the store for something you're out of, no problem. You won't be in a last-minute rush and picking out clothes at midnight, starting your trip tired and grumpy. When did you think about your holiday cards????

Before you sit down to relax each night, ask yourself, "What's coming up next week?" "What can I get out of the way now?" I can never go to bed at night without going over the next day, knowing exactly where I need to be, what I need to have, and everything laid out in front of me. I have clothes selected, school papers signed, lunches made, briefcase packed, and schedule outlined. Each month, I plan for the next month and look ahead at what needs to be done. 

Become an Early, and you won't have "deadlines." They will be unnecessary since you complete things early. Deadlines were made for people who would not get things done without it. Deadlines eliminate all the job of accomplishment as you work for the deadline, not the completion of a project or task. Deadlines are often irrelevant anyway, because the task is often put off until the deadline, but it could have been done much sooner. 

It will take a bit to catch up, but once you're on top of things, stay one step ahead. You will experience a new peace of mind. If you are early (no extra cost, no strain, no explanations), you don't have to worry about deadlines. So make working ahead and early your style, convert "later" to "now," and you'll be much more efficient in 2003. 

Make it a Productive Day!™ 

© Copyright 2003 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,"® a cutting-edge thought leader on how to leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at