Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late. --William Shakespeare
Many people like to equate time with money. There is a lot of truth to that notion, such as the time value of money, being able to use one's time to earn money, opportunity costs, and so forth. I think many of these concepts make sense when the issue is between a person and a project, such as an investment decision or a question of how I allocate my time and resources among many different projects.
However, when the issue is between two people, I think an additional useful notion is, "Time Is Respect."
At the most basic level, what I mean by this phrase is that being punctual and showing consideration for people's time is a form of basic respect. Even small dents in this respect can, over time and many instances, erode a relationship considerably.
When two people choose to work together, there are actually three entities involved: the two individuals and the one project. If either person feels disrespected, even slightly, the project is likely to suffer. In addition, it is rare that two people in this world who collaborate or work together will only do so once. In fact, many people hope to build relationships and friendships that can be mutually beneficial over people's entire lifetimes. Therefore, it's likely that the long-term damage to the relationship caused by disrespect will be a lot more harmful than the short-term damage to productivity on the current project at hand.
Here's an example: Two professionals meet up to research a new business idea. One of them is late several times by a few minutes, and that slowly becomes the normal course of affairs. While they may not get as much done on their current project as they would like, the person who is always waiting will slowly lose faith in his or her colleague and will be less likely, even if subconsciously, to want to work with that colleague again on other projects in the future.
Some people might say, "Who cares? It's just five minutes. Chill-ax." Sure. It is just five minutes. For some ultra-busy professionals, every five minutes counts. For moderately busy people, I think the effect is still important as five minutes at each weekly meeting, for example, can quickly add up to a lot of lost productivity, loneliness, and subconscious dissatisfaction with the other person.
I often hear of various groups of people or races or entire countries where the culture is one of lateness. People say things like, "The party started at 7? Oh, he's on ______ Standard Time" (fill in the blank with your own race/background). I think that in certain situations lateness is not that big of a deal, like in some social gatherings where it's explicit that no actual special events will happen for a matter of hours. However, I think it's important for everyone to know this ahead of time and agree. If hosts of parties were more explicit in telling everyone when the party will open versus when important events (like a seated dinner) will actually happen, then more guests are likely to be on time when it matters. Nonetheless, I still think that blaming tardiness on race or culture is just an easy excuse because if there weren't others in that culture or group who were punctual, the entire conversation about why someone was late would never happen.
I'll close with some tips and some personal time management practices that help me be on time when it matters and also, as a side benefit, help me be more productive and efficient in getting my own work done. If others have suggestions of what works for them, I'd love to hear them.
Tips and Personal Practices