Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Being on Time: An Underrated Skill


In far too many university settings, being on time has become undervalued.  Professors don't establish strong norms for arriving to class on time.  They don't establish and enforce clear guidelines for attendance.  They don't enforce deadlines for key assignments.  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, we read about a school district's policy that limits teachers' ability to penalize late work (not an isolated incident... now common in many districts). An administrator defends the policy: "A piece of work that is penalized because of the timing of the work no longer represents what the student knows about that content."   That statement is pure nonsense. Unfortunately, many educators have embraced this nonsense.  

Showing up and being on time is a critical life skill.   Being chronically late at work will lead to poor performance reviews and perhaps even dismissal for an employee.  The same goes for absenteeism or failure to meet deadlines.  The most talented employee will not succeed if they cannot be present, show up on time, and meet critical due dates.  

Why does punctuality matter?   Certainly, others will evaluate your dependability and trustworthiness based on your ability to be on time.  However, keep in mind that it's also a matter of serving others effectively.  You are wasting others' time if you are late for a meeting, and you cannot serve your customers well if you are not present when they need assistance.  Bottom line: it's inconsiderate to make others wait for you on a consistent basis.  

There are many reasons why people struggle to be on time.  I will focus on two problems that students seem to experience regularly.   First, they succumb to the planning fallacy.  This cognitive bias means that human beings often underestimate how long it will take to complete a task.   Why do we succumb to this fallacy?  Well, we often picture the most optimistic scenario when estimating time to complete a task.  Moreover, we often remember fondly and proudly those times when we finished a task ahead of schedule, and we give ourselves credit.  However, we blame external factors for those past occasions when we failed to complete a task on time. 

Second, students often struggle to compartmentalize.  Something happens that disrupts their routine or causes some delay.  Sometimes, that is a very serious issue that warrants immediate attention.  It is a justifiable reason for being late.  All too often, however, the disruption could be compartmentalized.  One could say, "Ok, I have this problem, but right now, I have to get to class on time.  I will address that situation in two hours."  Yet, many students struggle to prioritize, and they cannot set aside one problem to address the work that needs to be done.   Employees struggle with the same challenges.  

What strategies help you improve your punctuality?  What can we do as teachers and as organizational leaders to help people value punctuality and consistently meet expectations in this regard?   To me, these questions deserve more attention.   It starts in school.  As faculty, we need to make sure that we cultivate this critical life skill, rather than enabling unproductive behavior.  

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