Stop Trying to Be on Time!

Stop Trying to Be on Time!

Victor Borge, the Danish humorist and musician, was well into a 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, 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.”

While Borge might have been trying to get a laugh from his audience, his obvious annoyance speaks to the principle of Preparation in Mark Sanborn’s newest book, The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do, which I’ll discuss in this brief article.  In the 16 years I’ve been speaking professionally on the concepts of personal productivity, one of the biggest complaints I hear from leaders who bring me in to speak to their employees on performance is something around “the inability to meet deadlines, always being late, constantly running behind, or being forgetful”—a performance that is hardly remarkable.

People are much more irritated by lateness than you can know or they will admit; it can dampen everything from promotions and raises to friendships.  Late people crowd you, physically and mentally.  When people show up late, it undoes your schedule and disrupts your day.  Showing up late or sending something in late—no matter how well done—still means a black mark against you.

I consider myself blessed to be close friends with Mark and his wife, Darla.  Since we only live a few miles apart, our families frequently enjoy spending time together.  At a recent 4th of July barbeque at our home, Mark joked with me about the already-cut-up plates of tomatoes, onions, pickles, and lettuce, wrapped in plastic, and waiting in the refrigerator.  I joked back, “Why, I’m just following the principle of Preparation from your book!”  Does a simple act of slicing burger fixings in advance make for a better barbeque?  I think so.  Being unprepared would have meant trying to cut everything up while the burgers got cold.  I still would have been “on time,” but I’d be half listening to them and missing pieces of conversation while focusing on my task.

This is the source of many people’s lateness, I believe: they are trying to be on time.  On page 17 of The Encore Effect, Mark defines average performance as, “the best of the worst and the worst of the best.”  He says further, “These performers are the best of the mediocre middle, neither hot nor cold but lukewarm.  The problem is that average performance doesn’t get you noticed.”  Simply being on time doesn’t get you noticed, because it’s fairly typical.  It just doesn’t stand out.  It’s okay…it’s just expected…yawn. Don’t be simply “average”!  So don’t be on time: be EARLY.

Mark’s principle of Preparation—planning in reverse—speaks to this concept. I had to chuckle at his story of the fishermen on page 61.  It reminded me of cutting up tomatoes before the barbeque.  Being prepared means you do things EARLY.  Not on time.  Early.  Done in advance.  Proactive.  Forward looking.  With a long-term focus.  We’re not talking ridiculously early here, in a way that inconveniences your host when you arrive for a party.  It’s a way of thinking, a way of being, a way you frame your behavior.

The process of finding and seizing “The Crucial 5 Percent” (page 64), applies Preparation to people in this way:

1. “Late” people are perpetually behind on everything.
2. “On time” people arrive or finish a minute or two ahead or behind the goal.
3. “Early” people are remarkable and are prepared for everything.

Imagine how life would be if you were always so prepared that you arrived early everywhere, for everything.  You would:

• Get the first choice of many things,
• Gain admiration and respect,
• Are able to relax and not sweat,
• Get good press and publicity, and
• Have a bit time to relax, read, or return a call.

My point is that you can never really be on time…just barely on one side or the other…so you’re never totally trusted, no matter how skilled you are.  Being early makes you look remarkable and demonstrates to others you can be depended upon.  Being late, however, makes people wonder if you’ll be on time next time.

Mark distinguishes between “routine” and “remarkable” on page 18.  I couldn’t agree more and would frame it in this manner:
• Routine “on time” people communicate through their actions, “I might not make the next deadline.”  “I’m barely in control.”  “I’m not looking beyond the moment.”
• Remarkable “early” people communicate through their actions, “I don’t need deadlines.”  “I’m in complete control.”  “I look ahead.”

(We won’t discuss late people, since that belabors the obvious.)  In trying to be early, don’t go out and simply set your watch five minutes fast to try to fool yourself, because psychologically, you know it is five minutes fast, and make up for it anyway.  Keep your clocks on the correct time.  Preparation is all about planning.  Instead of thinking, “I have to be there at 9:00 AM,” think, “I will plan on arriving at 8:45.”  Then work backward.  How long should it take you to get there?  Add a buffer in case there’s traffic.  What time would that require you to drop off the kids at daycare?  What time would you have to get them up in order to make that happen?  What time do you have to get up to make that happen?  And what will you do if you arrive even earlier than 8:45?  Be prepared to pay bills, make calls, read a report, or write thank-you notes.

Before you close shop for the day, ask yourself, “What’s coming up next week?”  “What can I get out of the way now?”  Before you retire for the night, go over the next day.  Know exactly where you need to be, what you need to have with you, and have everything laid out.  Have clothes selected, school papers signed, lunches made, briefcase packed, and schedule outlined.  As Mark says on page 58, “The future we experience depends on the preparations we make today.”

By preparing in this way, you enable yourself to be early.  Soon, you won’t have “deadlines,” because they will be unnecessary.  Deadlines eliminate all the job of accomplishment as you work for the deadline, not the completion of a project or task.  Deadlines were made for people who would not get things done without one.  You, on the other hand, are prepared, a remarkable performer, deserving of an Encore performance.

Stop being on time!
© 2008 Laura Stack.  Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.  She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations.  Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces.  She is the bestselling author of three works published by Broadway Books: The Exhaustion Cure (2008), Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). Subscribe to her free productivity newsletter at



  1. During the leadership part of drum major tryouts, the outgoing drum major taught us the following:

    For a leader:
    early is on time
    on time is late
    late is dead

    We need to be ready to listen/work/lead at the start time, not just slide in at the last second to be physically preset “on time”


  1. WWPYCBW: Productivity and Effectiveness (September 1, 2008)

    Productivity101 Nicholas released his 101 ideas about productivity post … a great summation of many good ideas in one place. Eg, #66, “E-mail simply brings into sharp relief how devastating regular interrupts are to your greatest asset: your thinkin…

  2. […] Stop Trying to Be on Time! By LauraStack She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, … […]