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Being Right on Time Leaves Positive Impression Every Time

CHICAGO — What in the world is going on? I’m beginning to think someone needs to offer a remedial trip to Marine Corps Boot Camp—you know, a quick lesson in courtesy and discipline.

People are starting to be chronically late for work and miss appointments. Excuses are growing faster than taxes are rising. As the old saying goes, “These folks will even be late for their own wedding.”

Being on time and prepared is one of the key ways that we can positively brand our organizations and ourselves. If you are late, be honest. Do not make up crazy excuses.

Whatever your appointment may be—a phone call or business meeting, dinner engagement or date, etc.—always strive to be on time. Remember that there is someone on the other end who is using valuable time waiting for you.


  1. It demonstrates that you are diligent and dependable
  2. It indicates that you honor your commitments and can be trusted
  3. It shows that you have respect for other people and that you care as much about their time as your own
  4. It sets a good example
  5. It builds self-confidence and success

All successful people view their time as a precious resource. When you are late for an appointment with one of them, you will have wasted one of their most valuable assets, so there is a good chance that you will be viewed as rude, possibly irresponsible and, most importantly, disrespectful. Is this how you want to brand yourself?

Not only should you make every effort to be on time for business-related appointments, you should do your utmost to be on time for personal commitments. Valuing the time of others and earning their respect is an important part of your individual reputation.


Not only should you strive to be on time for an appointment, I recommend that you set a goal to arrive at least five minutes early. Why arrive early?

  • To give yourself a buffer in case something delays you (you should know the probability of this happening in advance). Planning to show up at the exact time of your appointment leaves no room for error.
  • To be relaxed for the appointment. Running through the door stressed out because you were rushing never reflects well on you.
  • To make sure you are prepared for the appointment. Always arrive early so you will have a few minutes to relax, think about your agenda, and get organized.

If I am meeting with some prospective clients at a restaurant, I select a table out of the way. Being early gives me the opportunity to determine the best location for the meeting and ensure that nothing will distract my guests.

When I was working for the federal government, I would always arrive for my appointments five to eight minutes early to gather my presentation materials and review any notes I had taken. Then at the exact time of the appointment, I would ring the bell. This was an easy way to make a great first impression, and it always worked.


When you schedule a call, always be clear about who’s responsible for initiating it. When you don’t know who is supposed to initiate the call, accept that responsibility and make the call at the scheduled time. This puts you in control.

If you are the person responsible for initiating the call, what kind of impression will you make? Will it be positive, neutral or negative?

  • Negative — If you call five minutes late, you run the risk of making a negative impression.
  • Neutral — If you call one or two minutes early, or one or two minutes late, you will likely not make any impression. That’s what most people do, unless the call is a conference call (really no different than a meeting).
  • Positive — When you call at the exact time as arranged, you have the opportunity to make a positive impression. I have had hundreds of people tell me, “Wow, you are right on time!” That comment tells me that I made an impact!

When you schedule a call, write it in your appointment book and, if necessary, set your cell-phone alarm to notify you two minutes in advance. Then at the exact time, press “Send.”


Circumstances certainly happen and it won’t always be possible for you to be on time. If you are going to be late for an appointment, call as soon as you know you are going to be late. This allows others to plan their schedules accordingly. Cell phones, PDAs and other technology make this an easy thing to do.

When you are on time, you enhance your professionalism. When you are late, you devalue your brand. Being on time is a matter of choice. Remember, there is no downside in showing up early, but there is significant downside to showing up late.

When managing meetings, I used an hourglass (no kidding). Once the sand was gone, the meeting was over…usually. This method discourages those individuals who like to hear themselves talk (usually about nothing that is on the agenda).

And by the way, if for some reason you are out of the office on work-related travel, leaving an “out of office” message on e-mail or your phone leaves much to one’s imagination, especially if it indicates you cannot be reached and e-mail access is limited. This tells me you are on duty but just will not respond to messages or phone calls in a timely way.

This just does not make sense. You have a cell phone (probably) and can retrieve and decipher messages and well as respond to phone calls no differently than if you were behind a desk. So why say to everyone that you’re not available? I suggest that such out-of-office messages be reserved for those times when you are out of country with no cell service or on a long, well-deserved vacation.

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].