On more than one occasion I have heard this conversation during the planning of an event: “The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m., but let’s tell the Latino guests that it is at 6:00 p.m. so that they arrive on time.” Are these types of ideas based on stereotypes, or are we really a culture that likes being late?
The arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century dramatically affected human beings’ relationship with time. In predominantly agrarian societies, time was a concept associated with long periods related to the sun or the moon. For new industrial societies with established schedules, it became an economic factor, hence the phrase “time is money.”
Many countries took almost a century to transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy. This slow process of change brought certain cultural practices, such as the informal conception of time. But the decades have passed, and our societies have evolved. It is hard to think that today, in the 21st century, we continue with a mentality that justifies lateness as a characteristic of national identity. From a cultural perspective, there aren’t unpunctual countries; there are people with archaic mentalities.
If you do not think that lack of punctuality is cultural and yet you have trouble arriving on time, there may be another factor at play, which has been studied by psychologists.
In 1979, researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky theorized for the first time about the tendency of some people to underestimate the time it takes them to complete a task. They called this the “planning fallacy.”
This refers to people who, with good intentions, think they will get more done than they really can in a period of time. Have you known a contractor who offered to complete a job in two days, but after a week still hasn’t finished?
Furthermore, there is a psychological factor regarding lateness that must be considered. A person who arrives late is not just showing that he does not respect others’ time, but that he does not respect himself.
In her book “Never Be Late Again,” Diana DeLonzor warns: “Tardiness affects your self-esteem. Most tardy people suffer from feelings of guilt and embarrassment. Although we struggle to rationalize-- blaming the kids or the commute-- deep down we know we’re responsible. Chronic tardiness doesn’t just sabotage our relationships with other people; it whittles away our own self-esteem. It can make us feel as though we are not in control of our lives.”
The good news is that there are various strategies that can help us change this behavior. If you have trouble predicting how long it will take to complete a task, divide it into several detailed steps. For example, instead of saying: “I have to arrive at 7:00 a.m., so I need to get up at 6:15 a.m. and leave home at 6:30 a.m.,” ask yourself how long it takes you to do certain things such as getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, and having breakfast. Once you have all that information in mind, decide what time you should get up.
Do not plan to arrive exactly on time, as there may be factors beyond your control such as heavy traffic. Plan to arrive 15 or 20 minutes ahead of time.
Be an example in your home. Be on time to church, sporting events, and social and family gatherings because they are no less important than work meetings. It is in our hands to break stereotypes.