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Organization Tuesday: Being Late: What's the Big Deal?Views: 849
Feb 10, 2009 5:52 pmOrganization Tuesday: Being Late: What's the Big Deal?#

Julie Bestry
At the risk of sounding like I'm turning Organizing Tuesday into a 12-step program, the first step to combating chronic lateness involves acknowledging how being late adversely impacts others.  My NAPO colleague, Julie Morgenstern, writes in her new book When Organizing Isn't Enough,  SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life:

...the majority of the perpetually tardy are lost in their own web of turmoil and emotions,
their lives filled with harried moments, near misses and guilty apologies.  
They are so immersed in their own chaos that they rarely realize how inconsiderate
their behavior appears to the people left waiting.

Does this sound at all familiar?  If so, it's important to get a handle on how bad your chronic lateness has become, and how it's impacting others. The point isn't to get all "12-step" for the purpose of "making amends" (though that might be appreciated by your loved ones) or to beat yourself up over your past difficulties.  (And I say "past", because I'm hoping you'll take the advice in these posts to heart and put chronic lateness in your past).  

Last week, I asked you to weigh in on your feelings about lateness, both yours (if this is an issue for you) and those of others, so all of us at every point on the time continuum could contribute to the conversation.  Although we had few responses, we can see that there's a variety of frustrations inherent in having to be around someone who is late.

For example, Richard noted that "If someone is late coming to pick me up for a meeting or coming for an appointment with me I expect them to be on time. There is nothing worse then walking into a conference or seminar after it begins. It distracts the other people who got there on time."  In my own responses to the question, I noted that when someone is late, it causes anxiety for me.  I worry that there's been some miscommunication and that I, or the other person, went to the wrong place, or at the wrong time, that I've been forgotten, or that my time is not valued.

Richard's responses about how he treats others also resonated along the same path; he said "I am always ready an hour before going to a seminar or conference when someone is picking me up. I value their time in every sense. I expect them to be on time unless they have a compelling reason and notify me."  In other words,  Richard makes an effort to plan his time to avoid causing discomfort to others, because to do anything else would imply disrespect on his part.

Let's examine a few more examples in-depth.  In college, P. was perpetually sleepy.   He had no medical reason for being sleepy, had a fairly decent diet for a college student, didn't drink, wasn't suffering from clinical depression...for some reason, he and his family were just sleepy people.  Combine this with the fact that our friend P. was extremely meticulous.  He didn't suffer from OCD, but he did enjoy precision, so the combination of sleeping (and napping) well past his alarm and then doing everything during waking hours with precision (cooking, grooming, etc.) meant that he had less time to accomplish simple tasks and then spent more time doing them than the average person might.  P's friends were loyal, but frustrated.  They got hungry waiting for him to show up for dinner.  They wasted money on tickets for movies they didn't get to see because by the time he showed up, the last showing had ended.  

P's friends teased.  They cajoled.  Some stopped inviting him to things altogether.  Others just let him know that they'd no longer wait if he weren't where he was supposed to be. Some girlfriends left him, assuming he was lavishing attention on other girls in that "missing time".  Another bluntly told him that if he couldn't respect her time enough to show up at the appointed hour, then she couldn't trust him to respect her regarding other issues.  

P's college years rolled by, and then graduate school, and eventually the "real world" forced P to get a job.  Unfortunately for P., although his behaviors followed him into the working world, the cheerful, benign reaction to his behaviors did not.  His boss told him that his work was excellent and precise,  but his lack of awareness of how his chronic lateness was adversely impacting the team was unacceptable.  P's boss told him that his fellow workers wasted time waiting for him to show up to meetings.  Clients complained at having to cool their heels.  Morale, client satisfaction and team productivity were down.  P's boss warned him that if he didn't change his behaviors, he would be fired!  Only then, after years of not taking complaints seriously, did P. truly understand the gravity of the situation.  Only when other people's complaints led directly to an adverse outcome for him, did he understand how serious the issue had become.  His friends' annoyance, even his girlfriend's impatience, did not matter.  Losing his job, however, was serious.

Not every instance of chronic lately impacts the pocketbook.  In Morgenstern's book, she says that "the perpetually tardy stay in happy denial about the effect of their lateness on others."  That was certainly true with P until his boss called attention to something P actually valued--his paycheck!  

Morgenstern suggests inviting others with whom one lives or works closely to answer questions like:
  • What happens for you when I am late?
The answer to this is likely to be emotional in nature.  One of my clients asked her family this question.  Her teenager tentatively offered "Well, now, I expect you to be late.  I used to be bothered, but now I don't even rush to be on time and just hang out with my friends because I know you won't be there."  My client had actually complained to her teen that on the few times she'd been almost on time, that she had to wait five minutes for her daughter to show up!  Only then did she realize that her daughter had often waiting thirty minutes or more, and had finally recalibrated her own sense of Mom-time so she wouldn't be left waiting.  
[How similar is this to the experiences we have in everyday life?  The people who are perpetually late  cause our doctors, our dentists, our hair stylists or whomever to run off schedule.  Others, unwilling to sacrifice a moment of their own precious time, start arriving later and later. The less each person respects everyone else's time, the more the problem echoes through society, like a ripple on the water.]

By the way, the response my client got from her second grader was even more telling.  After many assertions that his mother wouldn't be angry, whatever his answer, he quietly said that sometimes, when she didn't show up on time, he worried that she has forgotten about him.  Wow! That's a trigger to reverse a situation, if ever there was one!
  • How does my lateness affect you?
The response to this question may focus on a variety of issues:  emotional, financial, political...For example, Morgenstern notes that her client Lynn's children's teacher said Lynn's children's late arrival to class was costing them "40 hours of learning time each year".  The teacher explained how hard it was to get a class of children to maintain focus, and how each late arrival damaged that focus--10 minutes a day multiplied by a full school year, and Lynn was causing the entire class to lose more learning time than a typical blizzard!  

A client of mine, "Joe", learned from a work friend that a rival at the office had begun to use the time before meetings to plant little seeds of doubt about Joe's competence.  The rival would arrive early, greet each person and acknowledge their participation and then say things like "Well, if Joe shows up..." or "If Joe can find the time to..."  Although the rival never said anything overtly negative, he used the time during which Joe was late to point out what the others had experienced, even if they had not verbalized their fears that "Joe" might not always be dependable.  Joe's friend pointed out that although he did, actually, always get his work done well, and usually by deadline, his inability to make less formal deadlines or show up for meetings on time allowed his rival to continue to sow seeds of doubt.  What might other business owners and professionals be saying about your chronic lateness?

Let's reflect back on the quote in the beginning, about the "perpetually tardy...lost in their own web of turmoil".  In a day filled with late starts, interruptions, lost items and lost time, it's easy to get caught up in your own drama and miss out on how lateness impacts those around you.  So, the exercise for this week involves some soul searching.  Be brave, and ask the people closest to you:

1)  How often do you think I'm late to meet you?  Measure this against your own sense of how often you are "late".  (Chances are good that you have a skewed perception of what others consider acceptable.  You might think arriving 15 minutes after the appointed time is "on time"; your loved one or friend might consider anything more than five minutes to be late.)

2)  What happens for you when I am late?  What are you thinking while you're waiting for me?  How do you feel about it?

3)  What impact does my lateness have on you?  Do you have to do things differently?  Do you have to change your schedule or plans?  Does it cost you anything in terms of money, productivity, stress?

Acknowledging the problem is the first step.  Next week, we'll walk through all of the common reasons why we tend to be late, and identify practical, proactive steps for working to eliminate the problem.  In the meantime, please use this forum to add your comments and thoughts about other people's lateness, your own experiences trying to make changes, and anything else you have to say about this particular time management peril.

Julie Bestry, Certified Professional Organizer®
Best Results Organizing
"Don't apologize.  Organize!"
Visit http://www.juliebestry.com to sign up for Best Results For Busy People:  Organizing Your Modern World,
a newsletter to help you save time and money, reduce stress and increase your productivity

Private Reply to Julie Bestry

Feb 11, 2009 2:39 pmre: Organization Tuesday: Being Late: What's the Big Deal?#

The Eagle: Motivating Champions Around The World
I believe there is No excuse for being late. Now before anyone says anything. I do know emergencies Come up. If you havean extreme Emergency then you should be courteou to let the person you are meeting know that you either will be late or want to reschedule.

I always acknowledge that I am late which may happen once in five years. The Person you are meeting should acknowledge their being late also.

Being in Business requires Responsibility. I really don't have a problem as I really only have one chronic Person that is always late when we are to do something together.

Have a Great Organizing Week. Today I am cleaning out and throing away old Paperwork that is over 10 year old.

Richard "The Eagle" Motivator
Live and Act Like a Champion Today!!

Private Reply to The Eagle: Motivating Champions Around The World

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