You Need to Show Up or Shut Up

Designers, let's talk about punctuality.

Every designer has some sense of the importance of deadlines - how you need to hit your mark in order to satisfy your client. It’s natural that designers understand this component of punctuality because the faster a designer is, the more he is earning per hour. However there are personal components to punctuality and that’s where too many designers fall short. Punctuality in all things helps establish a positive reputation. Lack thereof indicates sloppiness, lackluster effort, and irresponsibility. 

I previously wrote about one of my design teachers at FIDM, Kevin Reagan. The very first lesson that he taught us was the importance of being on-time. He ran a very tight operation with our classes. Day 1 he gathered everyone around and told us that if class starts at 9am, that means you are in the room, with your computer on, and your projects ready to show at 9am. Not waltzing in with a Starbucks in your hand. He then pointed at the door and said that it would be locked at the beginning of class and not to be outside once that happened. 

Now, you might think that he was being hyperbolic like a lot of teachers - which is why so few teachers can discipline a room - but he really meant it. When another student, Nicole, turned up the next day at 9:02 with a latte in her hand guess what happened? She tried knocking on one of the little windows by the door to be let in, but as Phillip got up to let her in, Reagan stopped him. He then gathered us around the window where we could see here and she could see us, while reiterating his lesson from the previous day. Nicole wasn’t allowed into class that day but she was also never late again.

I think that Kevin Reagan’s stark manner of teaching punctuality is important to reflect on. In professional settings, being late is a matter of wasted budget, and in your personal life constant tardiness tells your friends that they are second to something else. The long and short of it is that you don’t like your time to be wasted so you shouldn’t waste other peoples’ time either.

Why is punctuality a conservative value?

The essence of punctuality is acting as if your time belongs to other people rather than it being “me time.” Basically, ensuring that you will be on time for others is making the decision to put your personal desires second. Punctuality is outward-facing, selfless, and therefore a naturally conservative value. The opposite is what you find promoted in leftwing magazines. There are an infinite variety of self-help articles from that side on how to “take some time to focus on me.” In reality that never helps. The right question is, how can I be of service to others? It’s a quintessentially conservative thing to care about, and punctuality is a simple way of showing that whatever you can or can’t do for someone else, at least you won’t waste their time.

My tips for being punctual.

1. Plan ahead - know where you need to be and what you need to have prepared. When my wife and I are planning to go on a trip, a sure fire way to start a small argument is to leave our packing until the last minute. Scrambling may feel fast but it is actually very slow and sloppy. Then there is always the inevitable thing we forgot that we need to turn around to retrieve. Then we’re late. So get your stuff packed ahead of time. Decide your day’s outfit,  pack your bags, and load up your car prior to going to bed the night before. Another problem is not to know how you’re getting where you need to go. I hate relying on Google Maps - I want to see the map and have it in my head so that I’m my own commander. If I get onto a wrong turn, I want to know how to get back on my own. When you do these kinds of things you can make timeliness your superpower.

2. Give yourself some wiggle room. A baseball coach of mine used to say, “If you aren’t early, you’re late.”  Ironically enough, being on-time is not about being precise. You should try to anticipate the kind of things that might make you late and then budget some extra time to account for it. Living in LA, traffic is a constant factor and one of the things that thwarts my efforts all the time. Thanks to the lockdowns I can tell you that it takes about 20 minutes for me to drive to work with nobody else on the road. With traffic, that is usually an hour, and up to 2.5 hours. I can at least account for the hour or so that it usually takes and that way, barring anything really ridiculous, I make sure to be on time every day. The truth is that there will be things that you can’t predict which will make you late. However, you shouldn’t make that an excuse not to try accounting for them.

Closing thoughts on punctuality.

Punctuality is the best inroad for designers to become more conservative through personal responsibility because it’s what they already understand at a professional level. I want to stress that punctuality is not a valueless characteristic for a designer. It all comes back to the question of what kind of designer a person is: the one with a bunch of self-reflective work that nobody understands or the kind that brings value and order to the world? Respecting other peoples’ time tells them that you are the latter type. So the thing that any designer needs to square is if a conservative value like punctuality is critical to their professional success, wouldn’t a more conservative mindset be critical to their personal success as well?