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What Messages Are You Sending?

Judy bustled into the meeting juggling her iPad, handbag and portfolio. Her cell phone, into which she was speaking rather loudly, was perched between her ear and raised shoulder. As she ended her conversation, she dumped her belongings on the conference table and slid into her seat.

Judy apologized to her now silent and waiting colleagues, "So sorry I'm late. I had a very important conference call with the Dallas office that just couldn't wait. Where are we? Does someone have an agenda I could borrow? I don't seem to have mine."

Almost every office has a Judy. She is the person who is late to practically every meeting, client appointment, conference call, and to her daily job. She has great excuses. Her busy life keeps her running constantly. She complains about how much she has on her plate, her children's many activities, and her busy social and volunteer life. Judy does a great job. However, she tends to turn in her work assignments just slightly late or, on a good day, right at the deadline. She is constantly putting out fires. Judy lives in reaction mode.

Are you a "Judy?" Do you find it nearly impossible to be on time as you run from one activity to the next? Do you constantly make excuses, albeit completely legitimate ones, for being late? If you do, have you ever thought about the messages you are sending to friends, family and colleagues?

There are four reasons that people are chronically late:

  1. They have a different ideas of what "on time" means. Take us for instance. Polly wants to arrive at events at least five to ten minutes early. This gives her a little cushion in case of unexpected traffic, not being able to find convenient parking, getting from the car to the destination at a leisurely pace. If she arrives too early to go into the event, she can sit in the car and check her e-mail. This eliminates stress for Polly. However, it creates stress for Doug. It must be the engineer in him that causes his need to be precise. If we get to an event early, Doug makes comments about wasting time. In fact, one of his favorite sayings is, "If you never miss an airplane, you are spending too much time in airports." Different people have different perceptions of time. If you are a boss, a spouse, or a partner in business, you should make sure that those important people around you understand your expectations and desires and that you find a way to compromise on these differences.

  2. They have problems planning. Sometimes, people are late because they just can't seem to figure out how long it actually takes to get places. They plan around perfect circumstances. We call it, "Sunday Syndrome." They calculate the time it takes to reach their destination as if it were Sunday morning and no other drivers were on the road, the lights were all in their favor, there were no school buses driving slowly through the neighborhood, and no trains causing delays at crossings. They have in their mind that it only takes "X" minutes to get there. Well, that might be true if it were the perfect Sunday morning, but it is Thursday morning at 7:55 and different forces are in play. They are destined to be late.

  3. They have a problem with procrastination. As we discussed in an earlier article, sometimes people procrastinate because they don't like something. If you are nervous, fearful or dreading a meeting, a reaction from your boss, giving someone bad news, or any other reason, you may put off the event causing lateness. Do a little self-examination. Ask yourself why you are late handing in work assignments, going to family events or attending the night out with friends. You may discover what is really behind the lateness. This is the first step in correcting the problem.

  4. Being late makes them feel important. Before you dismiss this out of hand, let us explain a bit more. Sometimes people feel that being very busy, stressed by their demanding schedule, and having to juggle too many tasks makes them look important to others. Similarly, for some, it may feed their ego that they are significant enough that people will wait for them. Somehow, they are allowed to be above the rules of polite society. It is true that the most important person is often the last to arrive at meetings, social occasions, etc. Unfortunately, even if you are the person of consequence for that specific event, being late just makes you look unorganized - not special.

Don't be Judy. Whether it is because you have a different idea of what "on time" means, fail to plan properly, are prone to procrastination or just need an ego boost, being late is rude. Lateness is also extremely expensive. Time lost due to waiting costs businesses billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. In addition, chronic lateness can cause dissension and a loss of respect between coworkers. Being on time demonstrates courtesy and regard for others. It shows you care about their most precious commodity - time. While we are all guilty of lateness occasionally, letting it become a habit can send the wrong messages to those around you.

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