I grew up learning that punctuality is paramount.
Whether it was my trainer in a young leaders’ program telling me “LTSers don’t arrive on time, we arrive before time,” or my catholic school leaving ‘remarks’ in the diaries of late students, punctuality was drilled into my head.
We were told that it will serve us well when we grow older.
And it has, just not in the way I expected.
As I grew older, I found myself surrounded by people who don’t really care about punctuality. I’ve been told it’s an Indian thing — to arrive 15 minutes late no matter what time is given, and to blame traffic.
But even working with people from USA and a few European countries, I’ve seen that people are comfortable being a few minutes late.
With so many virtual meetings now, I’ve noticed that people will often join at 9.01, 9.02, or 9.03. Almost never do people err on the side of caution and join at 8.57.
Outside of professional contexts, people are late to events ranging from coffee dates all the way to weddings. They offer a short apology, and everyone moves on.
In fact, people who make a big deal of others’ lateness are seen as uptight prudes.
I myself have become much more comfortable being a little late, at least to in-person events, in the last couple of years.
So that raises the question: if everyone moves on, does punctuality even matter?
I’ve learned that it does. Just a little bit.
What I’ve learned is that punctuality isn’t paramount, like I was taught growing up, but it is a subtle sign of respect. Being on time sub-communicates that you respect others’ time — and your own. You don’t need to say it.
Punctuality changes the way you view time, and therefore your behaviour. It becomes a tiny aspect of your personality that people begin to accommodate.
Making punctuality part of your life has the same effect as caring about your grooming, or blocking time for focused work, or taking care of your mood and being gracious. It shows that you take that aspect of your life seriously.
When you make something non-negotiable, people will go out of their way to accomodate you. This doesn’t mean you need to be an ass about it, but repeatedly demonstrating that you care about something usually ends up in people molding around you.
And that’s why punctuality isn’t overrated. It’s just not a hammer; it is a pinprick.