Managing Your Lifespan

How to achieve commitment integrity

Your time is your life span; to lack control of your time is to lack control of your life.

Running late is often referred to as a time management issue, but try thinking of it as life span management and commitment integrity. It has impact on many areas of your life but especially on your relationships. Your ability to arrive and depart according to your commitments is one of the ways people ascertain if they can rely on you or if they will respect you. I used to be a late person many years ago. I habitually ran late to both business and social commitments until I was about thirty-five years old. I ran an average of twenty minutes late and would nearly always feel stress and guilt from doing so, and I would do this almost every day. The pivotal event that caused me to seriously reassess this negative habit was when I ran a full hour late to what was, at that time, the most important business meeting of my life. Upon arriving to the meeting, I was so stressed, embarrassed, and angry with myself that there was no other way I could interpret what happened other than call it a clear case of self-sabotage. The surface cause of my lateness was that I had not accounted for heavy traffic on a route I had never driven. In other words, I did not prepare whatsoever for things going wrong on the roadways in Los Angeles en route to the most important and potentially beneficial meeting that could influence the course of my career. I was saved from humiliation and damage to my career as the man who called the meeting was running five minutes later than I was. But after that humiliating event, I vowed to change my ways and end the cycle of stress and guilt.

In my case, my habit of running late was a form of self-sabotage as it caused me to suffer as well as inconvenience those waiting for me. But for some people the cause of this issue is different. I know someone, for example, who is chronically late, but it causes no stress in her whatsoever. Running late may be a passive-aggressive way of controlling those around you. But whatever the cause of your lateness, there is always damage done to others and to yourself. I have noticed that with only a few exceptions, it is the most successful and busiest business people I know who are almost always the first to arrive to my workshops. In other words, those with the busiest, most complex, and high-pressure careers, who have the best excuses for running late, understand the value of promptness and live by it.

Here are some of the common excuses and myths for running late:

  • I don’t want to interrupt the flow of what is going on, such as a great conversation.
  • I can’t stand arriving early and having nothing to do.
  • I don’t remember to plan out how much time it actually takes me to get somewhere.
  • People really don’t mind so much if I’m late. The only people who mind are people with control issues; so it’s their problem, not mine.
  • I am very spiritual and am concerned with higher things.

What you may be unaware of:

  • You have probably lost friends over this issue and are not aware of it because they did not tell you.
  • You have definitely lost business because of it.
  • Most people resent and are offended by being kept waiting. They feel like you do not respect or care about them. Or it makes them not trust you.
  • People feel that if you are unreliable in this way, you are unreliable in other ways.
  • If you cause your spouse to be late with you on a regular basis, your husband or wife will probably feel that you are not only disrespectful of him or her by running late but you are also embarrassing your spouse by causing him or her to be late as well. This syndrome can be a source of great irritation to an otherwise compatible relationship.
  • You may have a fear of success, and running late is a form of self-sabotage.

Techniques to break the habit:

  • Set all of your clocks to the correct time. The exact correct time. Do not play games with the clock to trick yourself into being on time. You must realize by now that the technique of setting your clocks to the incorrect time does not work.
  • Don’t plan to be on time anymore; plan on being early. Figure out the actual amount of time it will take you to get to your destination—also factor in time for bathing, dressing, walking to your car, driving, finding parking, and walking to your destination. Now add twenty minutes to the total allowing for unexpected hindrances and so that you will arrive not on time but early. This extra window of time gets you used to being on time and arriving in a relaxed manner as opposed to a stressed and agitated state.
  • Bring a book, a magazine you enjoy, or your laptop to work on so that if being early causes you to have to wait, you will be happy, relaxed, and engaged.
  • Use alarms, such as the one in your wristwatch or phone, to alert you when it is time to get ready.
  • Motivation: Ask your friends and colleagues (who you consider successful) how they really feel about your being late all the time. Encourage them to be frank with you and not spare your feelings. Listen to them without getting defensive.
  • Fill your gas tank at the end of the day on your way home so you never have to stop for gas on your way somewhere. Similarly, stop at an ATM on the day before an event where you may need cash.
  • Know your local traffic congestion patterns. Also, when planning your travel, even if it is just a mile away, take into account the weather and other events. Holidays, marathons, etc., could extend your travel time. In some big cities, parking can be very time consuming. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was once late because I had been looking for a parking place for forty-five minutes.
  • Keep your wallet and keys in exactly the same place every day at home and at work. Always. That way you can never “misplace” them, creating a last-minute self-sabotaging problem. I knew a man who misplaced his keys almost daily at the office. Whenever he left the office, he spent a stressful five minutes searching for his keys. Of course, he was always running late anyway, so this just made him even more late and more stressed out. Finally, I pointed out that he always knew exactly where he hung his jacket, so why not put his keys in his jacket? I am happy to say he now always knows where to find his keys.
  • If you are in an interesting discussion with someone and then you realize it is time for you to go to your next appointment, do not be timid to end the discussion. People understand and will let you go. One thing that makes a more graceful exit is to alert them in advance that you are on your way to a meeting; that way when you announce you need to leave the conversation, they aren’t at all surprised. Also, you might say something like, “I need to go to my meeting; is there a time I can call you to continue our talk?” This way you are letting them know that you are sincerely enjoying the discussion so much that you wish to continue it. Remember, if you are polite, it will not harm the relationship, but if you are late, it will most likely tarnish the relationship of the person waiting for you.
  • Perhaps you overbook. I knew a CEO who crammed so many meetings in and out of the office that he was late for nearly everything and ended up canceling meetings at the last minute every single day. The result? He irritated every person that he kept waiting and angered every person he abruptly canceled on at the last minute. I knew few who truly respected him.
  • Create a consequence that will impact you, an electric fence-type of boundary. Give money to a charity each time you are late. Choose an amount you can barely afford losing so it really hurts if you are late. If you lower the amount so it is insignificant, then the exercise becomes pointless.

In his new book, There Is No App for Happiness (out from Skyhorse on August 15), Max Strom argues we’ve traded actual lives for virtual equivalents, and offers a guide to trading back. This is the third of four Medium excerpts; find the others here.

Note to Medium users: Leave your queries and comments in Notes, and Max will respond in a follow-up post!