punctuality and timeliness, part 1

I was inspired to post these thoughts when a mailing list discussion focused on regulations created thoughtlessly and likewise enforced, even to the detriment of the organization involved. The case in question involved a valuable part-time employee who couldn't always successfully integrate his part-time and full-time schedules, and this put me in mind of my own Job Experience From Hell.

But first, another comment in re airline schedules. I always give myself far more than enough time to get to the airport, just in case of a flat tire, traffic jam, whatever. And I almost always arrive early because those problems rarely occur... and I've never missed a plane. Some time after I posted this message, I arrived at an airport early, as usual. The plane schedules were all messed up due to bad weather somewhere far away, and my scheduled flight was going to be delayed for two hours... which would have made me miss a connection in another city, delaying me even further. But because I was somewhat early (timely!), I was able to take an earlier flight which had been delayed and was just about to depart, much later than scheduled yet just a bit earlier than my scheduled flight. I thereby made my connection as planned, and arrived at my destination on time (punctual!).

Unfortunately, the co-worker with whom I was travelling was punctual, not timely, so I got the rental car and ate an airport dinner and read a bit and watched television in the lounge while waiting for him to arrive on his scheduled flight, and we both arrived late at the jobsite.

From: William W Patterson
Date: Sat, 09 Jan 99 11:27:36 EST


...though I'm probably not a good person to ask about punctuality. I'm consistently-punctual only when it's timely. And for most of us, it usually isn't. Many managers, unaccustomed to logical thinking, find this difficult to understand.

   punctual: arriving or acting at the time appointed

   timely: occurring at the appropriate time

Timeliness, not punctuality, is the key. Sometimes timeliness and punctuality coincide, sometimes they don't; wise is the manager who can tell the difference!

Timeliness does not mean "Because I say so.". Timeliness means I have to pick my daughter up at the train station in the middle of the night because the Amtrak schedule sucks and the station is in a bad part of town, so I get there well ahead of time. Timeliness means the plane leaves at noon and if I'm not there it goes without me. Timeliness means that the only time I can do a system rebuild is at 22:00, and if I'm doing a system rebuild at 22:00, then I am not going to be at my desk at 08:00 unless something goes majorly wrong. Timeliness means I'm the guy who unlocks the office in the morning or greets the customers.

I quit a job a couple of years ago due in large part to a punctuality conflict. It was a small company, and the bigboss/owner insisted that we be at our desks by 08:00. Now, the thing to remember is that except for meetings and airliners, punctuality is almost completely unnecessary for my work. Most of my work can be done at any time of day or night, and most of my contact with the world outside the office is through the telephone and fax and voicemail and email.

I didn't try to be tardy, but for various reasons I was often tardy. I'd arrive sometime between 07:45 and 08:15, walk past the guy flirting with the secretary, and the engineer reading the sports page, and the other clipping his fingernails, and the manager checking his stock values on his favorite financial website. I'd sit down and tardily begin my work, still managing to get down to business before those who had arrived on time!

Of course, the big boss never recognized this because he was too busy watching the parking lot for stragglers.

Oh, yeah, we were also required to work through lunch if necessary, and on weekends if necessary, and as late as necessary, without compensation. (Oh, theoretically we could get quarterly bonuses, but that's a whole nuther story. For example, one of the criteria was unpaid overtime hours worked, but since we were not allowed to record these hours on our timesheets, management didn't know how many extra hours we had worked.) But... Monday through Friday you had to be at your desk by 08:00. Even if you just got home from the airport at 06:00. Instead, you could take a sick day or vacation day, which was often the only solution. But we were only allowed one sick day per six months and had to use vacation time if we had no remaining sick time.

I had to take vacation time to attend my grandmother's funeral.

I left for this and many other reasons. My new job is somewhat closer to home, there's no construction zones between here and there, I get to use Unix again, and I've got flextime... I can arrive anytime between 07:00 and 09:00, and work ten hours one day and six (or twelve!) the next day if I want to, as long as I average at least 40 hours per week; and I get paid for overtime.

But I'm still late sometimes.

- William Walter Patterson, 1999.