Saturday, November 05, 2005

Curiosity about Punctuality - Does It Help or Hurt?

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” - Louis XVIII

How do you feel about punctuality? And, how punctual are you? And, if you are a punctual person, does it bother you when others aren’t?

When I arrive early for everything - meetings, appointments, and gatherings - I often explain by saying, “I know I am a bit early, but I always allow extra time. You see, because of my father, we were always the first to arrive at parties.”

You could call me a punctual person. I admit that if I am running late due to circumstances beyond my control, I start to feel physically ill.

Therefore, it is amazing to me to know people who are chronically late for everything.

As I have mentioned before, I teach several group fitness classes a week. As long as one person is there on time, I start. Often I will start a class with only a handful of people in attendance and within ten minutes have a room full with as many as 35. For some reason, these late arrivals don’t bother me. I rationalize that they ran into extra traffic, or had to drop a child off at school, or just left work (some work through the night and others quite early).

What does bother me - and, I am sure, the class participants who are there - are those who always arrive as much as a half-hour late. They are disruptive while setting up their equipment and, because we are short of some supplies, cause even more disruption with their asking and looking for those supplies. These very same students tell me they are upset that we start too early for them and they wish the club would change the class times to suit them.

They might also agree with the following two quotes (the only ones I found that were semi-negative about punctuality):
  • Evelyn Waugh wrote, “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” I certainly know that this isn’t true. I can’t remember ever being “bored.”
  • Oscar Wilde described someone as, “He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”

What Waugh and Wilde are saying here, in my opinion, that those of us who are punctual don’t have anything better to do with our time. I prepare for being early and I suggest you do, too. Being a voracious reader, I always have a book, report and/or a publication with me so that the earliness gives me time to steal a few extra minutes of catching up.

Business successes have shared the following suggestions about punctuality:

  • Richard Cecil wisely states, “If I have made an appointment with you, I owe you punctuality, I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own.”
  • Thomas Chandler Haliburton points out that, “Punctuality is the soul of business.”
  • And Don Marquis wrote, “Punctuality is one of the cardinal business virtues: always insist on it in your subordinates.”

Charles Dickens extolled its virtues, “I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”

And, yes, I do have friends who are always late. I am always prepared with reading material, because I don’t want to have happen what William Hazlitt describes, “Few things tend more to alienate friendship than a want of punctuality in our engagements. I have known the breach of a promise to dine or sup to break up more than one intimacy.”

Let me leave you with an interesting and thought provoking quotation by George William Russell, “When steam first began to pump and wheels go round at so many revolutions per minute, what are called business habits were intended to make the life of man run in harmony with the steam engine, and his movement rival the train in punctuality.”

So, I ask again, “How punctual are you? Is it a help or a hindrance?”