Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock …

I come from a family who are notoriously relaxed about time-keeping. We were brought up overseas where, if invited to someone’s house for drinks at 7.30, arriving at 7.30 would be considered rude. Dinner invitations were no less fluid, and so we became used to time being a flexible concept.

Of course, my father worked in an office and once we returned to the UK, commuted to work by train. He was never late, for he was able to separate the two… yet the rest of my family struggled. I spent long years squeaking into work only just on time. To me, arriving early was a waste of time. What I never understood was the level of stress it added to my life when I allowed only just enough time to do anything or get anywhere. A life of missed trains and stressful car journeys was something I assumed everyone experienced.

But then I met Dave. He was the sort of man who was always early. And not just a little bit. He had a horror of being late and so always built in a lot of extra time, routinely taking something with him to do/entertain himself with while he waited. After months of eye rolling each time I rolled up late, he decided to have a chat.

He and I’d had some quite spectacular rows when we’d – briefly – dated, yet had moved beyond that to a solid friendship. As my friend, he asked me why I was always late. I did my usual waffle, until I caught his eye. Then I took a deep breath and thought about it: “I never leave enough time” I admitted. Nodding, he raised his eyebrows, a clear sign that he expected more. “I don’t think it through beforehand” I offered, and this time I didn’t need a facial cue from him to add “It’s because I don’t make a plan”.

Asking me if I found being early a waste of time, I cringed as I admitted to this train of thought, for it was the first time I realised what I’d actually been thinking all along was that it was a waste of my time. Yet every time I was late, I was wasting another person’s time expecting them to wait for me, and that simple fact had never occurred to me before. With firm kindness he explained that my behaviour was both rude and insulting, and he thought way better of me that to believe that was my intention. He was right, and I was never late meeting him again.

I’d like to say that I’m never late now with everyone, but that wouldn’t be true. I was in my fifties when I learned this important lesson, so there have been slip ups when I’ve not planned properly. But it is relatively rare, and I nip it in the bud as soon as I spot my mistake.

Himself is like Dave – always early – and he finds my family absolutely maddening. This is a behaviour which drives the better halves of my siblings crazy too, and even though I’ve shared with each of them what I learned from Dave – sadly it’s fallen onto stony ground.

I’m not sure why it clicked with me when it did, but I am glad it happened.

Where do you fall on the time keeping spectrum?


ยฉ Debra Carey, 2021

22 thoughts on “Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock …

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  1. It is a military maxim that if you are five minutes early you are late. And a clergyman friend of mine insisted that if you are taking the service you need to be there half an hour beforehand. Otherwise you are late.

    I have often arrived an hour early for a meeting (or sometimes late – I’m not perfect! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) because the vagaries of public transport, especially where I now live (‘train cancelled because of a cow on the line, next train 45 minutes or more) make having time in hand essential.

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  2. Iโ€™m usually early to on time. If I am going to be even five minutes late I text the person Iโ€™m meeting so theyโ€™re not standing there waiting. Sometimes Iโ€™m at the mercy of transit system

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  3. Iโ€™m definitely on the early to ontime end of the spectrum. Good thing, since I donโ€™t think being late for meetings would have gone down at work, especially when chairing. Also would not have been good to be late for a class one was teaching! We make allowances for loved ones who donโ€™t seem to be able to be on time and who keep others waiting, but nobody waiting would deny that itโ€™s rude – and selfish, if truth be told.

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  4. And then there are the managers/co-workers who call a meeting and think the universe revolves around them. When they finally show up then the meeting begins. It is a rather strange universe and there is no one rule.

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  5. I prefer to be a little bit early to all events. That way if I want to dawdle a little before I go in, I can. As an introvert it helps calm my nerves before I have to people.

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  6. Alan, a very good point – both from the military perspective and that of a clergyman. Vagaries of public transport & traffic aside, I still don’t build in quite enough time, but I’m getting better. I now regularly sit outside my chiropractic appointments with a kindle, or find I have time to pick up some groceries and so kill two birds with one stone. It is much less stressful this way.

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  7. Alan, I may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, as the reason for the change was I got peeved with WordPress for removing my chosen font & putting it behind an even more expensive paywall. I reserve the right to revert in due course as that was what I liked about it too ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. LA, I’ve become better at being a little early. I still haven’t reached the levels that Dave, Himself – and Alan – achieve. But I am a word in progress, on this as in everything.

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  9. Jane, I’ve never been late to a meeting, but that’s usually because I’ve been the one setting up the room ahead of time. But I agree, when my daughter had a teacher who consistently arrived late first thing in the morning, us parents did harumph! Odd that I never saw the double standard at the time. I am grateful that the rudeness of my thoughtless behaviour was pointed out, and feel hugely embarrassed by my decades of it.

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  10. John, that’s dreadful, but all too common sadly. It was that fact which hit home – by being always late, I was making a statement that I was the important one, that it was my time which mattered. I shudder at that. You’re never to old to learn, or to grow up eh?

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  11. Interesting Ally, I never considered it from the perspective of introvert as opposed to extravert. I’m the latter, but have been steadily been moving to the former. Maybe that’s what helped me to see the error of my ways. Planning to be on time does certainly remove unnecessary stress.

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  12. I set all our clocks 10 minutes fast because I want to make sure I have enough time. Even though I know they are fast, it still helps. I am usually early, but not too early.

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  13. And I have just recalled a quotation that I saw in my weekly magazine some 60 years ago:

    “Punctuality is the politeness of princes and the condescension of kings.”

    I don’t now recall the source of the quote, but apparently some attribute one form of it to Louis XVIII

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  14. Like your dad, I was able to distinguish between personal and career punctuality. But even there I found gray areas. For instance, over a 32 year career I came to understand that getting to a meeting too early made myself vulnerable to many a landmine: who might walk in and decide to sit next to me, having my boss look up from her notes and decide to query me in front of others, etc. I never minded showing up just seconds before it started and grabbing a seat near the door. ๐Ÿ˜‰ – Marty

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  15. Hm, interesting thought Marty. Both Dave & Himself are early, but remain out of sight until just before time. It looks like you all share the same good sense.

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  16. I do have to say that I consider being late to be a bit rude because you’re not considering the other person’s time; however, I also see being too early a waste of my time. I like to pride myself on arriving not too early and not late at all.

    I’d also like to add that a lot of this is cultural (as you’ve noted at the beginning). For example, islanders are notorious for never being on time for anything, while the Japanese railway system prides itself on leaving right.on.time lol

    Anywho, I enjoyed reading this. It’s made me think.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Kathy, so nice to see you here. I’m glad my post made you think, but delighted that you’ve always been on the right side of the practice. I was about to say “it’s still tough”, although the last year hasn’t been awash with going anywhere. But I know it’s easy for me to slip up, so I try to keep on top of it.

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