Punctuality is a basic social contract. It’s a visible demonstration that you do what you say you’ll do. Or that you don’t.
When I was 18, my late father, who was a lifetime sales guy, simplified the fundamental importance of punctuality for me. I was about 10 minutes late to meet him. When I arrived, I apologized for my tardiness and asked him what time he got there. His succinct reply: “At the appointed time.” I got it, and have never forgotten it.
An appointment is a promise to answer your phone or appear at a meeting on a specific date, at a specific time. Not 10 minutes late. Or five. Or even two. At the appointed time.
“Come on,” you might think. “Is two minutes really that important?” Not literally, no. However, the optics of being late aren’t good. Might others interpret our dependability on the little things as indicative of our dependability on the bigger ones?
Lawyers are usually late
Working with thousands of lawyers over the past 25 years, I’m continually struck by how consistently, as a group, they’re late for calls or meetings. It’s gotten to the point that when one is on time I thank them and joke about the fact that their punctuality puts them at risk of getting kicked out of the Lawyer Club. They ask what I mean and I explain that they’re outliers. They chuckle and either explain that being on time is important to them, or they’ll deflect my praise and tell me that I merely got lucky today, and admit that they’re usually the one who's late.
Kidding aside, what does being late signal to a client, prospect, or colleague?
My father explained the facts of a salesperson’s life to me early on: “The buyer can do whatever he wants; the seller has to be on time.” Maybe my experience with others’ punctuality is colored by the fact that, as the seller, I’ve self-selected into the People Don’t Have To Be On Time For Me club. However, I’ve also been included in lots of calls and meetings organized by lawyers for their own purposes, where I’m not the driver. Lawyers are late for each other, too.
More than just arriving on time
Honoring an appointment isn’t limited to being on time. It also includes being truly present, prepared, and engaged. If during the call you’re still thinking about the call you just ended, or searching for the background email you should have read, or asking the other party to bring you up to speed on items that you should have absorbed beforehand, you’re late.
You can fix this easily
Here’s how I make certain that I’m never late (and try to raise the odds of the other party being on time, too).
When I send a calendar invitation, I set two Alerts, for 10 minutes before and two minutes before. When others accept my invitation, those same alerts are usually on their computer. If they’ve forgotten their appointment with you, the 10-minute alert gives them plenty of time to disengage and get ready for you. At the very least, they’ll be able to send you a cancellation email or text beforehand so you’re not wasting your time waiting for someone who’s forgotten the call.
The 10-minute alert cues me to wrap up whatever I’m doing and access any preparatory information I’ll need. The two-minute alert causes me to open the calendar item on my phone, and prepare to connect. I call at one minute before the appointment. That way, if it fails, I have time to call again and still be on time. (This is important if you’re calling into a conference line. Connecting can sometimes take more than a minute.)
Usually, your call will connect promptly, and nobody minds getting the call 30 seconds early. People notice, and often comment, that my call is always exactly on time or a teeny bit early. I say, “I promised to call you at 2:00. Why wouldn’t I make sure of doing just that?”
If you’re connecting to a web-based video conference such as GoToMeeting or Webex, begin connecting at the 10-minute alert so you can make sure that everything is working properly. If you run into a problem making the audio connection via your computer and speakers, you’ll need time to make that work or use the call-in number. If you’ve never used that video conference service before, or if it’s been a long time since your did, you may have to download software updates that can take more than a few minutes to complete. You don’t want everyone else waiting while you do that.
Thanks, Dad. I like having a reputation for always being on time.
Last week, my friend, David Ackert, published a blog post about punctuality; it triggered me to write this one. Thanks, David.