The late Jon Swanson

“You’re late!”

“I was born late!”

I was, in fact. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I was born two weeks after the due date. And for the past fifty years, I haven’t done much to catch up. I am consistently late.

Today I finally realized that I am highly skilled at being late. I can arrive  5-10 minutes late to almost any appointment, any meeting. Regardless of the distance to the meeting, regardless of the time of day, I can hit that 5 minute window with remarkable precision.

I realized this while traveling to a mentoring appointment, to which I arrived 10 minutes late. I also realized why I was realizing it. I am talking with this friend about life management, as a spiritual director of sorts. And to be helpful that way, there must be some personal integrity. And showing up late consistently lacks integrity.

I also realized it because I am looking at deliberate practice, at seeking to improve the weakest points of what I am good at. I am reasonably good at conversations. A weak point is starting them late. So I need to work on that particular skill.

My friend Kay helped me sort the problem through a bit:

Here’s why she’s right, at least for me.

I often show up late, I explain,  because someone catches me with a question on my way out the door, or I need to grab something from the printer, or I need to grab a couple books for my briefcase or I remember one last thing I needed to ask.

If I’m honest, however, I’ll acknowledge that although the last 10 minutes before I walk out the door are a flurry of activity, they are preceeded by plenty of time of doing…or not doing…other things, things that can be adjusted, things that could be better planned.

In previous periods of my life, I was late because I had meeting after meeting, each one running a bit late. It is easy to blame others for making them run long. However, I’m the one that believes I have to stay to the bitter end because I might miss something or they might miss my significant input.

However, whether it’s because I want the attention of arriving late or the attention of being thought extremely busy or the attention of the last statement at the previous meeting or the attention of rushing about getting out the door, it all comes back to what I want.

And that is arrogant.

And so it’s time to start working on the skill.

In about 10 minutes.


So, how do you make sure you are on time? And are you an on-time person (in which case, I don’t care 🙂 ) or are you a late person by nature who has changed your behavior?


14 responses to “The late Jon Swanson

  1. After reading this post–I started to laugh you see I am never late,even when I try. Having a dad that retired from IBM and drove me to school each morning taught me to always be on time-not because anything dreadful would happen but because making my dad late to work would have been unthinkable. I can however be very arrogant about being on time! Off to twitter your post…

  2. my first job while in still in high school was as a computer operator on an
    IBM mainframe. We had an IBM customer engineer who worked our account who
    became part of our work family…and who always wore the white shirt no
    matter the time.

    I can imagine the discipline it imposed on the family.


  3. Once again, Jon, your words resonate with me. A few years ago I went through the Personalized Leadership Development Program through the Leadership Trust

    During that program, I learned how my actions made other people feel. THAT was a huge turning point for me. People who are consistently late know all the reasons they shouldn’t be late. They even know it’s a form of arrogance or control or whatever their issue is. Only when I heard in their own words how my actions made people feel, did it make a huge impact on me.

    You might ask a few key people – when I’m 5-10 minutes late for a meeting, an appointment or …, how do you feel? What do my actions communicate to you. And then listen with open ears and an open heart.

    I still struggle with punctuality. In my best moments, I get it right.

  4. cheryl…or take a walk with my wife after she read this post? A very
    helpful, insight-bringing walk?

    And I want to offer another word. While arrogant, rude, and insensitive all
    may apply, each carries an attack in it. unsensitive or unaware is a bit
    more descriptive and allows for some non-combative interaction.

    People who are late are often unaware.

  5. Teaching my kids has helped me work on being late…can’t convince them that it is rude to others when they are consistently late if I am tardy without regard myself. My lateness is usually caused by the one-more-thing syndrome, which is usually caused by prior poor time management. The most practical thing that has helped me to not be late is to determine what time I need to leave to be somewhere EARLY and then work backwards from that in planning the things that must be done before the appointed time of departure. I have to be thinking of the other person enough to be motivated to go to the trouble of making it all work.

  6. I am one of those on-time (early) people. I can think of two incidents in my life that may have contributed to my punctuality. The first goes back to kindergarten. I was late (something I could not avoid since I was dependent on my parents for transportation) and the teacher made a huge deal about how my tardiness was a disturbance to the class. I was asked to sit in the corner of the room for a period of time. I was incredibly embarrassed. The second incident was during college days. I was serving as an intern in a local church and was in charge of a worship service with about 250 people attending. I started the service 2 minutes late. The senior pastor leaned over to me when I sat down and said, “You just wasted 500 minutes.”

    While I think I am naturally wired to be on time, those two events reenforced the value.

    I don’t like the embarrassment of walking into a meeting and all the attention focusing on me because I am late. And I don’t like feeling responsible for wasting someone else’s time.

  7. I’m a little of both. On time when i know it’s important and late when I feel it’s not. I get to my office late because it’s my time but if i have a meeting i’m on time.

    I do this by having an alarmingly good sense of how long things take. I can get to work in 27 minutes. Knowing i need to be on time means i have to be in my car by 8:03 and if that means no coffee so be it i’ll just be usless for the first number of hours.

    What i found has really helped is packing before. If i have a meeting in the afternoon one of the first things that day i do is pack so when i see i need to leave in 2 min thats ok ’cause i’m packed and ready to go.

  8. When I took a new job in LA and arrived at meetings on time to find myself the only person in the conference room, people would eventually arrive and say, “Oh – are you from the East?” It made me furious. I still hate waiting for people. Must be the German in me.

  9. Amy – the integrity thing is huge, the consistency between doing and saying.

  10. Tom – Those two examples are hugely formative, coming as they did at the
    beginning of school and the beginning of paid ministry. ouch. Thanks for
    being willing to talk here.

  11. Philip – you need a coffee maker with a timer.

    I realized this morning that I don’t have that sense of how long things
    should take. I’m always optimistic. which doesn’t help.

  12. I am consistently late. The arrogance angle makes a lot of sense. Of course, *I* am not arrogant, it’s too easy to say. I always underestimate how long things take, I also get distracted or caught up in things very easily, I have an uneasy relationship with time, yadda yadda yadda. Whether or not I am intending to be arrogant, that is the result…and on some level, perhaps that is the cause.

    To avoid being late, here are some things I do:
    1. Set a firm time of when I need to be out the door.
    2. Plan time to get ready to get myself out the door.
    3. I usually miss my time to get out of the door, so…
    4. Plan to arrive 1/2 an hour early. Since I am always leaving late, I usually arrive right on time, or slightly early. My reward for actually leaving (and arriving) on time is a good book and a coffee as I wait for my appointment. Sometimes a good book and the promise of a cozy cafe can motivate me to get moving more than anything else.

  13. Pingback: rest, again « (thin)worker

  14. i know i really do. i have a great coffee/espresso maker that will steam my milk and everything but apparently a timer was to much to ask for.

    next one for sure.