Timeless Qualities, Like Being on Time

Photo by Ryan McGuire under CC0 1.0 license

This article was originally published for my (now retired) blog, The Polymath Lab, on Nov 17, 2014.

I haven’t been in the working world too long. But, in my short time, I’ve noticed something that seems true regardless of the size of the organization — labels.

Humans acquire labels throughout their career. Often, these are associated with qualities, skills, or personality traits.

What sucks about labels is how they are acquired. If the label represents something positive (e.g. turning in your TPS reports on time), it can take a long time before that label is applied to you. Often, the response is you did what you were supposed to, and that’s a trait everyone should carry.

But when it’s something negative (e.g. turning in your TPS reports late), you may only have to fail once or twice before you get known as the person who turns items in late.

As the way in which we communicate and interact changes, the labels applied to individual changes, too.

Be On Time!

In contrast to this idea are those timeless traits—labels that stick with you outside the working world. One example is being on time, in general. In the business world, this follows the same logic — and it’s been the same for a long time. If a coworker shows up to a meeting on time, GREAT!, they did what they were supposed to. You likely don’t even recognize when it happens. You’re in the meeting when it’s supposed to start, and you start. It’s simple. No one did a good job. And no one did a bad job.

But when you have a meeting scheduled with 10 other individuals and one (crucial) person is late, that frustrates everyone in the room. Do it once, you’re probably forgiven. Do it a second time, and the people in the room will start to expect it from you.

Little things like being on time are very simple tasks to complete. They don’t get (or deserve) praise when they are achieved, and the effect when they are failed is minimal. Yet it’s important to take these little things seriously because they label you as an individual. The more you fail with the little things, the less you are trusted on the big things.

I bring up being on time because it seems like it’s becoming less and less important, both in business and social settings. However, being late has never really been okay, and I don’t see that changing. Everyone is busy. Everyone’s time is equally important. And no one likes their time wasted because you couldn’t do what you said you would do. It doesn’t matter if it’s happy hour with a friend or a presentation to a thousand people.

In this case, be the person they don’t talk about.

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