Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Always on Time

A tweep recently commented that he always shows up 15 minutes early so people don't have to wait, and asked: don't other people do this?

This got me thinking about the psychology of tardiness. It is as straightforward as rudeness? Do people who are always late value their own time more than others?

Personally, I find it annoying when some smug early-comer who has been waiting 15 minutes for me acts slightly peeved when I turn up *on time*. And yes I do know people who do that. If you're going to some one's house, I think early is actually more rude than late. But in a public place, every minute standing waiting for some one feels much longer. So ideally you both get there within minutes of each other. At least there are phones to let people know whether and how late you are running - I remember meeting people as a teen and having to agree to an exact time and place before leaving the house and then that was it - no second chances - show up or stand some one up.

I am definitely sympathetic towards people who find lateness in others supremely frustrating. And certainly it may *seem* like they just don't value your time as much as they value their own. But just because *you* think it should be easy or at least achievable to be punctual the majority of the time, doesn't mean it's as easy for other people. You can't assume that something that seems logical to you, or even to them, translates into something that is easily done. Humans are tricky that way. Isn't there any annoying habit you have yourself that you're not overly fond of, that you know you should probably do better at, that seems easy for other people to just do/not do? I know, the difference here may be that this is something that affects others too, but that doesn't mean that it is easier to accomplish, or that the reasons for not being successful are selfish ones.

I think it's more complex than just feeling other people should wait for you. I think it's tied to personality to a degree. Latecomers tend to be disorganised - maybe they just don't manage to judge the time it will take to get somewhere correctly. Maybe they were distracted, lost in their own world. Perhaps they are trying to please too many people, have over-committed themselves elsewhere and are trying to be all things to all people. Maybe they have a pathological fear of being early - I know that my mum was *always* late when I was a child, and I hated waiting for her so  much that even now I feel anxious about waiting for people to arrive. I also hate to keep people waiting, so I try to be exactly on time. As you can imagine this can be a recipe for disaster.

I have to admit that I tend to be more often  late than early - due to any (and sometimes) all of the reasons above (and my track record is improving - those who have known me for a long time may have put me in the 'hopeless' category but these days I am just as often right on time). When I am late it is usually  not by more than 5 or 10 minutes. I don't even know if you would call that late - to me, a 5-10 minute window is acceptable. It doesn't bother me at all when others do this, however I do apologise when I do it because for some people it's firmly in the 'late' category. Again, this may be down to personality - your more exacting, A-type personalities tend to be sticklers for punctuality, and I imagine the more creative types among us tend to define it more loosely. Maybe there are some people who just meander along and don't care less whether they keep people waiting interminable amounts of time, turning up whenever they feel like it, but I don't know many people like that. Being late causes me no small anxiety.

When you throw small children into the mix, of course, the concept of being 'on time' has to be continually modified to suit the level of urgency. You just can't force it all the time - and if you do, you end up one very stressed out parent. Even then, the number of variables outside your control shoot up exponentially.

When some one is deeply, undeniably, frustratingly late, and often, I think that's a whole other ball game. When people invite you some where and tell you the time is an hour before the start to try and get you there on time, things are bad. I'm still not convinced that even this kind of tardiness is connected to pure arrogance though. I am sure there is a more complex psychological reason for their subconscious reluctance, even fear, of being on time. And each case is different. But as with any behaviour that affects the functionality of your life or those around you, if that's you, it may be time to do something about it.

Just for fun, and oldie but a goodie:

I also came across this interesting piece in Psychology Today.

How do you feel about lateness? Which side of the fence do you sit on? Do you think it's a sign of rudeness or are you one of the ones who can never quite get there at the appointed time? If so, why do you think that is?


  1. I'm an early to on time person and am not too fussed if people are a little late but there are serial offenders in my life who are an hour late regularly. That really bugs me! My Mr can never estimate how long something will take so we have affectionately dubbed it, "Jase time" as opposed to real time. I totally agree with you for the reasons people are late.

  2. I like to be slightly early / on time, The Husband is generally late so I have taken to telling him things start 1/2hr before they actually do and we tend to get places on time ;) I do hate it if people are coming over and they are early, although this is mostly because I am disorganised!

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