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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Bad Habit That's Killing Your Reputation at Work

Be on time. It’s a simple command, and one you’ve probably heard since you were a child. And, of course, one you’ve likely ignored before.

But, as an adult, if you’re habitually late, you run the risk of undermining your professional reputation—no matter how smart, competent, or capable you might be. If you think punctuality doesn’t matter, think again. Here are some reasons why it definitely does—along with my tips for making punctuality a priority.

It Shows You Care

Tardiness is understandable. We live in an extraordinarily busy world. We schedule meetings and appointments back-to-back, haphazardly fitting the rest of our lives into half-hour long time slots here and there. We’re always plugged in, constantly inundated with phone calls, emails, and texts that need to be answered “immediately.”

But, if you can be punctual despite these obstacles, you implicitly acknowlede that you value other peoples’ limited time. Getting to a meeting or appointment on time shows that it’s important to you, and something for which you’ve planned.

Being chronically late, on the other hand, sends the message that whatever you’re doing is simply more important than the task at hand—and that your time is more valuable than everyone else’s.

It Shows You’re Responsible

Your co-workers, clients, and partners want to know that they can trust you to get the job done—and being punctual is an easy way to demonstrate that you can. It inspires a sense of trust and indicates that you’re organized, responsible, and in control of your time.

Conversely, flying down the hallway, showing up breathless to a meeting, then fumbling for your papers and notes gives an impression of chaos and disorder—not exactly the message you want to send.

It Reduces Stress

You know how stressful being late can be. But constantly rushing and scrambling to catch up not only makes you feel lousy—it also makes everyone around you anxious and uncomfortable.

Making sure that you show up on time prevents all that angst in the first place (yours and theirs!). Instead of panicking about the clock, you can focus your attention on what really matters—your job.

How to Do It

OK, so punctuality is important. But that doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to achieve, if it’s not your strong suit. So, here are some quick tips to make sure that you’re always on time, no matter what’s on your plate.

1. Don’t overbook: Make sure to pad your calendar with an extra 10–15 minute “cushion” between appointments just in case something unexpected, like a traffic jam, a phone call, or a long meeting, should arise. Because—let’s be honest—it usually does.

2. Don’t leave the “extra” tasks to the last minute. Fill your gas tank, grab your coffee, and return all necessary phone calls well before your next scheduled appointment. And don’t try to knock out just one more thing before heading off to that meeting. Also, if you’re doing something that will require cash payment, check your wallet well in advance to make sure you have enough money.

3. Schedule events for off-peak times and avoid time-wasting nuisances like trekking through rush hour traffic, which can also make it difficult to organize your schedule reliably.

4. Set your clocks ahead by five or 10 minutes. Even though you may know you have a few extra minutes, the visualized perception of lateness will trick your body into gear.

5. Set reminders in the calendars on your computer and phone to alert you half an hour before meetings so you’re not suddenly caught off-guard.

6. Prepare for tomorrow. Set up your materials, lay out your clothing, and review your appointments for the following day. Keep your essentials (keys, purse, wallet, sunglasses) in the same spot in your home so you’re not scrambling to find them when you should be walking out the door.

7. Just say no: You don’t need to agree to unexpected or unnecessary tasks—especially ones that require immediate attention and re-prioritization of your other work. Agreeing to too much can prevent you from being on time for the stuff that really matters. Remember, your time is valuable, too!

Are you chronically late?  What punctuality strategies have worked for you? 

Photo courtesy of Yuhan Chiueh.