Show up on time

"Showing up on time is one of the greatest liberating acts you can give yourself" ~ Tom Hanks

“Showing up on time is one of the greatest liberating acts you can give yourself”

Tom Hanks, in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Jan 6, 2020

I like to be on time. In fact, I like to be early.

Being early has power in many ways

Early is on time, on time is late

Many years ago my oldest son started “mornings” as a nine year old competitive swimmer. This meant practice from 05:45 to 07:15 before school.

The coach had a mantra: “fifteen minutes early is on time, on time is late.”

To set the scene, though we lived only seven minutes drive from the pool and we fine-tuned the timings, this meant waking up at 05:10 then leaving the house at 05:22, often with my son napping in the car on that short drive.

We then arrived at that outdoor pool surrounded by chain-link fence. Yes, you may think how hot it is in the Cayman Islands, but at that time of day it is dark all year round and, having just got out of bed, it would feel cold and those were bodies with cores to warm up.

So, arriving fifteen minutes early gave time to change out of warm-up gear and stretch, fully, before being behind the blocks, ready to go from the first dive into the pool and first strokes.

“..because when the time comes, you have to hit the marks, and you have to ‘go there.'”

more from Tom Hanks in his Golden Globes speech

Now, I mentioned chain link fencing. At one stage several swimmers (who, of course, were taken to the pool in cars by sleepy parents) started to allow their timing to slip, some even arriving late. The car park was a short walk from the pool gate, but enough that rushing parents, knowing they were late, would race up, drop their swimmer off, then drive off.

In order to made their message loud and clear, the coach started to literally chain up the entrance at 05:45. Any swimmer arriving late would have to sit outside the fence, watching their squad swim, waiting until their ride to school came around 07:25, feeling the full brunt of any mosquitoes as the sun came up.

Now, I’m not sure if the coach ever made anyone sit out there all practice, but I know that coach well and he is truly a man of commitment and a man of his word, so if they were only “on time”, they would have to come in and sit in the stands and watch, rather than practice.

I also note at this point for those not from the Caribbean, that there remains a “soon come” culture that pervades every island to some degree, in that people often don’t like to commit to a set time or to show up on time. There are deep cultural reasons for that, but I for one have never been a fan, I like to be on time. Cayman has gradually changed to a place where being on time (not being early, though!) is being on time and being late is no longer acceptable.

Oh, and that swim coach back in 2003 was Dave Kelsheimer, who went on later that year to see Cayman qualify their first-ever Olympians in swimming, then becoming a USA Swimming Olympic coach himself in 2016.

Don’t blame the traffic

For a few years in my late teens, we lived in Scotland while my father led a UK-wide business based in London, so he commuted to London several days a week, having his own routine of jumping out of bed before 06:00 and getting to the airport on time for the 06:50 “shuttle” and then into the office close to the airport before 08:45.

As he started this routine, each Monday he used to lead a weekly team meeting starting at 09:00. It seemed that every week someone used to rock in late and give excuses about traffic on their drive to work.

Week after week this would happen, week after week he would say nothing. Eventually, after about a month or so of this, he waited for the inevitable late-comer at a Monday 9am meeting to make their traffic excuse, then he calmly told them that, for the last month, he had been commuting around 400 miles each early morning and he had always got to the meeting on time.

After that, there were no more excuses.

FYI, if I arrive at a meeting with you and tell you there were issues with public transport, no my deeply expressed feelings of apology and embarrassment are heartfelt, it is deeply ingrained on me to allow enough time so that I never use transport issues or traffic to excuse for being late.

Why be early?

So, I’ve made clear that I like to not only be on time but to be early.

If you are meeting with me you may not notice that I am early, as I will tend to walk into the place we are meeting exactly on time, but I do love to be early. Why?

Thank you today for the inspiration from my friend and one of the greatest coaches and mentors I have ever met, someone so many people in global swimming no well, Ian Armiger. Ian pointed me to Tom Hanks’ Golden Globes speech and this article in Inc about it, where the journalist drew their own lessons from what Tom Hanks (full speech here) said:

Being on time, or “early enough to settle down,” as Hanks calls it, is a key way to develop emotional intelligence, because of everything it does for you and the people you work with.

For example, being early gives you enough time to: get comfortable with your surroundings, get a drink of water, or use the restroom, and settle your mind and gather your thoughts.

These things may seem small, but they each help you to achieve more calm and confidence. But that’s not all. Showing up on time gives the added advantages of: showing respect for others’ time, demonstrating the abilities of good organization, reliability, and a good work ethic, and building your reputation as a professional.

Do you have the habit of always showing up late? If so, it’s time to make a change. If you’re trying to do too much, cut out the unnecessary. Don’t overbook. Start scheduling more time between appointments, and plan to arrive early–this will help when you run into the unexpected, like bad traffic or a missed connection.

For me, all of that I capture into the word “clearing”. Being early (“early is on time, on time is late”) gives me time to “clear” myself before any meeting, to clear my mind, check in with my energetic state, ensure I feel prepared. I can do this in the busiest of places, I can even be calmly meditating to clear myself in the middle of rush hour commuters charging through a train station. The secret is to be early.

How to be early

When I moved to London a few years ago, I would plan to allow at least fifteen to thirty minutes more than the app on my phone would suggest, allowing me both to take my time getting there, and also to then arrive early.

Taking time to get to where I am going allows time to flow with ease on public transport, never worrying that I may be late, instead allowing my mind to turn to whatever it wishes, including the meeting coming up.

These days, now I know my way around central London, allowing plenty of time allows me to take a route where I get to walk the last 10-20 minutes to my meeting, as I love to walk, I find it clears the mind wonderfully.

I could talk more about “How”, but instead I anchor you back to an adage of mine: “get clear on the WHY and the HOW is easy”.

I’ll give you just one “WHY” for me of many that matter, and that is about RESPECT. If you anchor on respect for yourself and the work you do, equally to respect for the person you are about to meet, respecting their time and who they are, then you won’t be late.

In closing, for those who know me well and who are always late when we meet, you’ll also note that I never comment when you give your reasons, I simply smile politely. What you communicate to others starts before you open your mouth to speak, and it includes when you arrive for the meeting.


Also published on Medium.

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