In his book 18 Minutes, Peter Bregman tells the story of a rabbi who never goes anywhere without a book. You see, according to the Talmud, if people are late, they are committing the sin of stealing others’ time, and it’s one of the worst sins because time can’t be replaced. Therefore, the rabbi takes a book so his late friends won’t be guilty of sin since his time has not been wasted.
I also take a book wherever I go, not because of any charitable nature. But over the years, I’ve learned that people do tend to be rather free with others’ time. Like most of us, I have waited for people to show up for meetings, dinners, and other appointments. Having come from a family who showed up at every appointment at least thirty minutes early, I have little understanding or patience with the inability to show up on time. Still, over the years, I have developed some habits to keep myself engrossed while waiting for the Tardies, as I call them:
- Have a book with me at all times.
- Keep a notebook to list all the ways this person annoys me so that I get all the anger out before she/he finally shows up. Actually, I’ve found lists of all types helpful in the waiting process.
- Tell the person the meeting is 15 minutes earlier than it actually is.
- And in actual work meetings, start on time and let the person catch up.
Tardies are very resistant to change. They have in their mind that they are so extraordinarily busy that they simply can’t be held to a schedule. They are generally not malicious creatures who take pleasure in holding others up. They simply don’t understand the irritation they cause:”I would be on time if I weren’t so busy, but I am so busy, so it can’t be helped.”
And if you are the person who is chronically late, here are some tips for you as well:
- Although you may never completely change, realize that people don’t find chronic lateness charming. It will improve all your relationships if you can be more punctual.
- If you must be late, then don’t make things worse by telling people why you’re late in great detail. You think you’re impressing them with all you had to do that day, but they’re thinking, “Yeah, I had a lot to do too, but I made it on time.”
- Do say you’re sorry. Making people wait for you, good reason or not, is rude.
Perhaps there is a perfect world somewhere where the Tardies only have to interact with other Tardies, and the Punctual meet up with other Punctuals at the precise moment a meeting is scheduled. But it’s not this one.
Still, if we all thought of being late as stealing time from others, maybe we’d be a bit better. But I’m not counting on it. I’m keeping that book in my purse.