The Social Contract of Punctuality

If you follow these principles, your friends, family, and colleagues will appreciate it. They'll be thankful that you appropriately respect their time. If you don't, just know that it annoys the hell out of them. They're just too nice to tell you so!

The Social Contract of Punctuality
Photo by Luke Chesser / Unsplash

This week we dive into some of the unspoken rules around punctuality. For some people, being habitually late is a way of living. For others, including myself, it's a modern version of one of the 7 deadly sins.

The 7 deadly sins are pridegreedwrathenvylustgluttony and sloth. Sloth is hard to define, but you'll often see it simplified as "laziness". Laziness and punctuality are an absolute dichotomy.

If you grew up like me, your family was 5-15 minutes early to everything. Soccer practice, school, family dinners, and even your morning alarm. It was a way of living. Some clocks were set 5 minutes fast and there were deadlines for getting out of the door. Legitimate anger and frustration came with running behind schedule in my household. Why? Because we all signed a social contract.

The inspiration for this article, other than the last 20 years of my life, comes from Van Neistat's video below:

It's rare that I agree with most of the points in a lecture, but I found myself nodding along with Van throughout his entire video (except for principle #6). See below for a quick summary.

Definitions and Goals:

Habitually Late: You're considered "habitually late" if you're more than 5 minutes late to anything at least once per week.

Acceptable Tardiness: You're allowed to be more than 5 minutes late to anything once per month. However, you can only be late when meeting friends once per year as a sign of respect for their time.

7 Principles of Punctuality:

  1. Estimated Travel Time: Use apps like Google Maps to figure out how long it will take to get to a destination. Make sure to check during "rush hour" the day before. Now, double that time! This is how long you should plan on it taking you, and it also gives you some wiggle room when trying to get out of the door by a specific time.
  2. Killing Time: Some people fall into the trap of having too much time on their hands thanks to good preparation. They'll start to do something else, then suddenly they're running late again. You should only kill time when you're essentially at your destination. Then you can hop on Instagram or whatever.
  3. Meet at a Specific Place: This only applies when you're meeting somewhere that isn't obvious, such as "at the Cardinal's game". If there are multiple parking lots, make sure to specify which one you are meeting at. If you're going to meet at the gate, make sure to specify which one. Don't call each other when you get there only to realize you're a 20-minute walk away.
  4. Communication During the Commute: If you're going to be late, you should inform the other person before they leave to meet you. It can be very hard work to be on time, and sometimes it requires sacrifices. There's nothing worse than doing everything you were supposed to in order to be on time, only to find out 30 minutes into your commute that the other person will be an hour late.
  5. Own Your Excuses: Everyone has a job, many of us have kids, we all recognize that traffic exists, and we all know that cars need gas to function. If you need to get gas on the way to a meeting and it makes you 10 minutes late, that's on you! If you didn't account for traffic, that's also on you (see principle #1). Life will always try to get in the way, which is why this takes effort. Still, you should respect others' time, and that makes the effort worth it.
  6. Be a Cop: Van sets a departure time when leaving the house that the entire household must abide by. If his wife isn't ready by that time, he will leave without her. I agree with setting a departure time, but I value my life too much to leave my wife behind. It can be helpful to remind your travel partners of when you'll be leaving by providing reminders every 10-15 minutes. For instance, "we're leaving in 45 minutes", "we're leaving in 30 minutes", "we're leaving in 15 minutes", and finally, "we're leaving in 5 minutes". They might hate this, but it yields good results.
  7. Allowances: You don't have to be on time for everything! Here are some exceptions: Dinner at a friend's house (10 minutes late is fine, potentially even courteous), parties (except for surprise parties, you can show up whenever), and dinner parties with drinks before food (be on time for the food, but you can be late for the drinks).

    You can also be late if the other person's schedule is not really altered. For instance, if you're going to play golf at 7:30 a.m. and you plan on meeting a buddy at the range to warm up at 6:45 a.m., you can be late! That person is going to be hitting balls at the range regardless. This also applies to meeting another family at the playground or meeting people at the mall. If they're not going to be waiting for you to start something, then it's fine. However, if your absence alters their schedule in any way, then you should ensure that you're on time.

    There are also qualifiers to consider. For instance, "Let's meet around 7" or "I'll pick you up at 8ish" are common qualifying phrases. This means you have a 15-minute window to meet that person from the agreed-upon time. "7ish" means that you should arrive by 7:15 at the latest.

If you follow these principles, your friends, family, and colleagues will appreciate it. They'll be thankful that you appropriately respect their time. If you don't, just know that it annoys the hell out of them. They're just too nice to tell you so!

*Information presented on RxTeach does not represent the opinion of any specific company, organization, or team other than the authors themselves. No patient-provider relationship is created.