My column was late. Not to you, but to my editor. It is surprising, really, that my column was late, because the time zone difference is in my favor. But this week I would have needed my editor to be in another galaxy.
I will not tell you why I was late because the only thing worse than being late telling why you were late. I am not talking about being late because your family's house burned down. I am talking about being late because of slow traffic, a late babysitter, a presentation that ran too long. Upward mobility requires that people can depend on you to be on time.
If you are a person who is always late, you will get in trouble. People who are always late think they are only sometimes late, so if you think you are sometimes late, you are probably in trouble.
There is no need to give advice on how to be on time, because everyone knows how to be on time. (Here's the proof: If the President of the United States invited you to dinner would there be any risk that you'd be late? No.) But perhaps there is a need to show why *all* deadlines and appointments are as important as dinner with the President.
The basic problem with being late is that you reveal too much about yourself. In the end, being late reveals either disrespect or incompetence, both of which are important things to not have at work, and if you do have them, hide them by being on time, always.
If you are late to a meeting, for example, you are disrespectful to everyone in the room. If your boss is there, forget the promotion. If your direct reports are there, imagine ten years from now when everyone has new jobs at new companies, and your bonus depends on cutting a deal with someone who used to report to you, and that person remembers how disrespectful you were. No bonus.
Sometimes people are on time to the meeting but they don't have the report. Forget the excuses because everyone in the room will see you as incapable. There are shades of incapable. There is incapable of doing the report so you procrastinate. There is perceiving that you are incapable even though you are capable which makes you incapable with low self-esteem. There is overloaded and did not get to the report which really means you cannot set limits at work, which translates to low self-esteem, or worse yet, no knowledge of your own limits.
How can you fix the problem? Being honest with yourself goes a long way in the late arena. Once I was late to dinner and someone at the table said to me, “You must be a time optimist.” I had no idea what he was talking about. But then he explained that most people are late because they are too optimistic about how quickly they can do things — which is a nice way of saying that people are late because they are not honest with themselves about how long things really take. So if you really want to be on time, you will start being a better judge of how much time tasks really take — and you will add some time to each estimate.
I used to teach a college-level business class, and some days I would give a pop quiz during the first five minutes of class. The quiz would be easy but it would count for a significant percentage of a student's overall grade. Some students would approach me after class to tell me that they had an excuse for lateness and that my surly pop quizzes were ruining their chance of getting into law school. I told the students that the quiz was my way of emphasizing that it doesn't matter how much you know about business, if you're late, you will undermine your success.
Luckily, my editor does not quiz me, and luckily, I am not applying to law school.