A to Z of Soft Skills: P for Punctuality

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I still remember this incident from almost a decade ago. My husband had just started working for a US based company and was in Portland for his first regional meeting. He reached the meeting room at 8.35 am instead of 8.30 am which was the time given in the official schedule. The President of the company took him aside and said, “You are late!” To this, my man replied, “I’m just 5 minutes late” and pat came the reply, “You are 5 minutes late!.”

It doesn’t end there. I went along 6 months later for another version of the regional meetings which included spouses and some leisure activities. The guys were in meetings the first half. And then joined the ladies for fun activities like whale watching, visit to the aquarium etc. If the schedule said that the bus would leave at 1pm, we made it at 1 and were proud of being on time. Only to find that everyone else in the team was already seated and ready to go by 12.55pm. And we were greeted by looks that said – Ah! The suspected late comers! And for a supposedly leisure trip!!! In fact, everyone would be down with drinks in hand by 6.30 pm when the dinner was scheduled to actually start!

 Such adherence and respect to time is a cultural shock to Indians. Because being late is a national tradition in our country. And why not! We believe in Indian Stretchable Time, which we invented and follow for our own purposes. It’s a given everyone around us will accommodate tardiness. If a wedding card says 7pm, no one takes it seriously. A delay of 10-15 minutes is a given for any office meeting. And a client doesn’t care how long he makes you wait for that 10am meeting.

We always have a bunch of excuses up our sleeves. There’s bad traffic, someone sick at home, the maid turned up late, the location wasn’t easy to find. And these ensure that we can nonchalantly saunter in any time we like. We just take it for granted that it’s okay to be late.

This is really strange since being on time doesn’t require any talent. One has to just plan better and make it a point to keep up time bound commitments.

What is being late bad?

  • It shows disrespect
  • Strains relationships
  • Shows you in poor light
  • Adds to stress and anxiety
  • Ruins your first impression.

Why is being on time important?

If you ask me, in a country like ours, punctuality is the trump card one can use to make a good impression on seniors and clients. No one expects you to be on time. And when you actually are, you’ll get noticed just for that. And this simple thing can do wonders for your image:

  • It reveals integrity
  • Shows  that you respect others’ time
  • Shows that you are dependable
  • Wins confidence
  • Gains credibility
  • Builds trust

How to be on time?

This is the BIG question – how do we turn around a life long habit which is actually ingrained in our culture? In my experience, even though some people still respect time, there are others around them like spouses, friends, colleagues etc who take time for granted and cause delay. How does your punctuality matter when your boss always starts meetings late? But then it is hard to change the world, easier to alter our habits! So, we can still change the world, one person at a time!

Here are a few tips:

Make it a matter of principle to be on time: It doesn’t matter whether it is a formal meeting or just catching up with friends, go by the rule that being late is not an option. Once you begin turning up on time, others will take you seriously too.

Prepare in advance: If there are notes to be put together or presentations to be looked over, try and do it the night before. Anticipate delays and try to deal with them before hand.

Find the venue/location: If it’s a meeting at a new place, make sure you look up Google Maps, figure out the time and traffic involved and leave home accordingly. Modern technology has actually made it easier to be punctual. Imagine inventing a story about bad traffic while one look at Google maps can prove how wrong that excuse is! Throws your credibility out of the window.

Prioritise your tasks: Punctuality is not just about showing up on time. Finishing your tasks on time also helps be more timely. If you are always grappling with too many things to do, it’ll be hard to meet deadlines. So organise your to-do list and set time lines to finishing it. This will ensure you are in control of time and not the other way round.

Set a timer: The world we live in full of distractions. Even if you set to finish 3 important tasks in a day, there will be distractions and unexpected work to derail your plans. To stay focussed, set timers on your phone or laptop to work in disciplined blocks of time. This also will help you stay on top on deadlines and be punctual for meetings. One of the most popular techniques is Pomodoro – working in chunks of 25 minutes and then a break for 5. I set shorter timers too depending on my focus limits on a day.

The best thing about habits is that we can change them. It takes some time and effort but it is possible. What do you think about our culture of being late? Should we try and change ourselves or is it just so comfortable to have one thing less to worry about – punctuality?

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