“Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat”, the English officer Lord Horatio Nelson said it best way back in the 19th Century. Even though you might think that back then, life was much less hectic than today, but in actual fact Nelson coordinated brutal battles against Napoleon and his allies and hence had to be one of the smartest time managers of his era. But what happened between 1800 and 2018 to render the word “appointment” empty of meaning and to cause people to spend their lives rushing from pillar to post in a notoriously non-stop rush?
Everybody is on the go nowadays. Not only do we have a whole bunch of emails to answer and appointments to make, we also have to find a way to shoehorn interpersonal obligations into the structure of our daily lives. We are taking on more commitments than ever before and at the same time leaving ourselves less time to fulfil these commitments effectively. In short, we are busier than ever.
This change is felt by all of us, each and every day and manifests itself in a high level of stress. Frequently, this stress results in health problems, bad moods and the unpleasant need to apologize if you find yourself unable to make an appointment punctually or even need to cancel it completely. At the same time, the health and social benefits of punctuality can be easily derived and integrated into everyday life. This article should both convince you of the social relevance of punctuality and at the same time give you the skills you need so you don’t have to see it as being an unpleasant monkey on your shoulder.
More than an old virtue
The logic behind the idea that punctuality is a virtue is as plausible as it is banal. The aforementioned negative consequences faced by unpunctual people are reversed and become the advantages of punctual people. A reduction in stress helps to strengthen the immune and cardiovascular systems and to prevent the widespread affliction depression, thus it increases your overall well-being. This, in turn, affects interpersonal relationships, increasing your success in general.
The importance of punctuality was also recognized by William Makepeace Thayer long before overpriced guides and self-proclaimed coaches even existed. In “Tact, Push, and Principle,” the writer discussed the importance of this positive trait in 1882 and found that it affected virtually all areas of life:
“The habit of being prompt once formed extends to everything – meeting friends, paying debts, going to church, reaching and leaving place of business, keeping promises, retiring at night and rising in the morning, going to the lecture and town-meeting, and, indeed, to every relation and act, however trivial it may seem to observers.”
It has to be said: The gentlemen from the smartphone-free time were a few steps ahead of us, at least with regards to time management. “They didn’t have the internet…” I hear you say, and indeed the World Wide Web does play a catalysing role when it comes to timing. Whether that’s enough of an excuse for you is, of course, a question of character. If it’s not, check out this range of reasons in favour of bringing more punctuality into your life.
Integrity is not a brand of perfume
Integrity – it’s a strong word and you hear it a lot in perfume adverts, but what does it actually mean? In principle, nothing more or less than that you have ideals such as discipline, humility and respect and that you actively live them. Suppose the feisty bartender from your favourite club has finally agreed to one of your innumerable requests and the big coffee date is finally here. Even though they’re still recovering from yesterday’s shift, they have to head behind the bar again in two hours time. You message them that you’re on your way and you’ll be just 10 minutes late. Bad move. If your date is actually still there when you arrive, there’s no perfume in the world that’s going to disguise the bad smell of a broken promise and the lack of integrity it shows. These are exactly the sort of situation in which the other person will consciously or subconsciously ask themself if they can rely on you. After all, if you are not interested in being on time for your first date, why would your date think that you have any serious interest in them?
To make matters worse, you also leave the people waiting in an unpleasant, social situation. While the person is waiting for you to make your appearance, they already feel that they are selling themselves short in any case. Now, they have to deal with the looks from the next table as well. Somehow it’s a bit strange that the girl at the next table is sitting there looking so alone. Everyone knows what’s going on. The end result is that they feel uncomfortable. Incidentally, the same applies to the children who are not picked up after their Karate class, even though all the other kids are already on the way home.
The push for your self-confidence
You see, by turning up on time, you can spare yourself the need to make bad excuses and “heard-it-all-before” apologies. The most important thing is that people around you will trust you, but keeping your life on schedule can also be beneficial to you personally. Every time you are punctual for an appointment, you prove to yourself that you can rely on your own promises. This form of self-control gives you control over your life and helps to put an end to bad habits and limiting constraints.
The best version of yourself
This mindset will be of particular benefit to you when you find yourself in high-pressure situations. For example, suppose you have to deliver an important presentation to a prospective customer, but you’re being held up by traffic which is throwing you off schedule. You want to catch up on the lost time, overtake like a madman from the wrong side, speed forward when the lights are just turning orange and pierce the air with your horn. When you arrive at the customer, your adrenaline level means your balance is turning somersaults and your stress level is at its absolute maximum. This is a very bad starting point from which to prepare mentally for the delivery of your presentation. Secretly, you know you could do better, but time pressure robs you of the ability to make the most of yourself and your talk. If you had had just had a few more minutes to come down and think about your grand entrance, everything would have gone much better.
Don’t be a (time) thief
Being late doesn’t make you a thief, does it? Actually, yes it does, because the moment you make others wait for your arrival, you’re stealing their time. That’s time the other person could use to earn money or simply do something fun. When making an appointment, both parties reach an agreement which may even be accompanied by compromise or a disclaimer. Even if it’s “just” a minute or two of deep sleep or gym training, you’re robbing the other party of an important asset – one that is getting rarer nowadays.
Punctuality indicates that you place an appropriate value on time in general and, more particularly, that you appreciate the time which the other person has set aside for you. As the old saying goes, “Time is money”. Just imagine that the time you let someone wait was worth a ten pounds to them. Would you take money out of someone’s wallet without permission? Exactly.
Nobody likes the person who’s late for the film
One issue with delays, which often stays under the radar, is that it often has a negative impact on everyday situations. How often have you been to the cinema and someone come in after the film has started forcing you to move out of the way so they can get to their seat? How often did fellow students arrive late for lectures and disrupt the professor’s speech (which does not bother anyone, but still)? In many situations it is simply annoying when people cause problems by coming late. This is particularly true when a situation requires your attention or, alternatively, when you want to turn off mentally, the delay often results in a negative experience – which could easily have been avoided.
Right on time!
“Let’s cut to the chase!” How can you avoid mental stress, failed dates and missed job opportunities? The answer is, drum roll, to have a realistic daily schedule.
The major issue with day-to-day planning is that we often schedule our time based on best-case scenarios we have experienced. If we manage to have breakfast, shower and get dressed within 20 minutes on a day when everything was going our way, then we assume that we can schedule a maximum of 20 minutes for it the next day. We managed to pick up lunch last week after only 10 minutes, so we don’t need to schedule 15 minutes for our lunch break this week. In other words, we calculate what we want to happen – not what is realistic.
Unfortunately, everyday life doesn’t always run smoothly, in fact it tends to be characterized by unexpected disruptions and delays, which ultimately lead to time pressure and therefore stress. Therefore, a helpful rule of thumb is to schedule 50% of the expected time for each activity as a buffer for overrun. If we then find that we are running ahead of schedule, we have a positive experience and the excess capacity can be used to answer emails, make phone calls or carry out other meaningful activities. At this point, the Internet and mobile devices which were previously criticized will start being useful again!
What to do against everyday time-wasters
Before you take your new intentions out into the world, take the time to include the following notes in your daily schedule:
- Plan your outfit in the evening. How often have you found yourself unhappy with what you’ve seen in the mirror in the morning, or hastily ransacking your wardrobe for something to wear? You can safely put an end to this time-stealing activity if you put out your outfit the night before and just pop it on in the morning.
- Use two calendars, one analogue and one digital. In the first, you write down all the appointments and activities which you need to do, then transfer these appointments into the second and use the notification and “busy” functions.
- Limit the time you spend on your smartphone. Facebook, Instagram, emails and other malefactors take up a lot of time each day, this has even been scientifically proven. But since we use these time-wasters for short periods throughout the day, we do not notice how much time is we are actually spending on them (at least until Apple started tracking it for you). By sticking to a fixed time-slot, you can ring-fence these activities and limit them to a specific point in each day, instead of having your eyes glued to your phone screen throughout the day. Besides, then you know how much time you really waste on these activities.
- Make your plans based on worst-case scenarios. If you believe in Murphy’s law, then anything which can go wrong will actually go wrong. Remember the aforementioned 50% time buffers. These come into play when you find your shirt has developed a coffee stain or you took a wrong turning at the junction.
- Schedule a fixed date to pay invoices. Every month you have to fulfill a lot of payment obligations. With a fixed transfer date, you keep track of all the bills you pay and make sure they’re all paid in one go. Ideally, this date falls on a date on which you already have your income on the account. You can also use recurring payments, of course, for example standing orders.
- Delegate activities: This does not necessarily mean work-related activities, it can also mean leisure activities. It doesn’t always have to be your job to make sure that there’s a table reserved for you and your friends when you go for a night out at the pub.
- Learn to say no. Additional tasks which were not scheduled, can quickly disrupt your daily routine. The little word “no” can have an unexpectedly liberating effect. Just be sure to think about the cost of the opportunity before you ask someone else for help and think about what compromises you ought to make.
The importance of time will grow steadily for each of us – because the time we live in is moving faster and faster. This makes it all the more essential for you to have a healthy grasp of the time which is available to you. Because, and you should also keep this in mind every day, your time is limited. Even if those around you disagree or take a relaxed attitude to fulfilling their commitments, stay true to your principles and observe the positive changes this brings. You’ll come to thank yourself for it.