Archive for September 2012

The cult of early says never is better than late

September 7, 2012

“Better late than never.” They’re wise words, because they undermine the demotivating power of the cult of early. If you think that failing to do something early means you’ve failed, you’ll get a lot less done. It’s the same category of mistake that says you have to achieve perfection or give up. Both serve to demotivate you. Personally, I have enough problems with other people criticising my achievements for not being done early enough; I frankly can’t be bothered to add my own inner voice to that chorus. So I tell myself: “Better late than never.”

Needless to say, you will take the opposite view if you subscribe to the cult of early. You might say “better late than never”, but only in a tight-lipped way that makes it clear you think the other person has failed already. And your actions will show what you really believe: never is better than late, and early is next to godliness.

I’d say that most workmen are part of the cult of early. Starting your day at dawn for no reason is a blue-collar behaviour, just like the insistence on parking as close as possible to the site of your work, even if it’s illegal or antisocial.

Over the past few weeks, to my great annoyance, I’ve had to arrange for various workmen to do jobs in my house. And that got me thinking about patterns of workman behaviour I’ve observed over many years. In my experience, they’re almost always early. Early in the sense of “early in the day” and early in the sense of “arriving earlier than agreed”. The guys who most recently completed a job were here for three days. The first two days, they arranged to arrive at 8:30am but actually arrived at 8am. On the final day, they made a big fuss in advance about how they were going to be “late”, not arriving until 9:30am at the earliest, then turned up at 8:45am anyway. Sometimes I wonder if workmen think all middle-class householders are permanently half-dressed, wet-haired and bad-tempered.

This doesn’t mean I’ve never had to wait around for a workman. On the contrary, I have spent many unhappy hours sitting in the house waiting for plumbers, locksmiths, BT engineers… you name it. But what dawned on me recently is this: they’re rarely actually late. If you’re waiting around for them, it’s because they’re not coming at all.

Others may have had different experiences, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever waited around for a workman who subsequently turned up an hour or two later, full of apologies. When I actually examined my past experiences, I realised that all the “late” workmen I’ve ever dealt with were workmen who had no intention of turning up at all. In my mind they’re late (“He should have been here an hour ago… oh, now he’s 90 minutes late”) but in their own minds they’re not. Because they know they’re not coming, but I don’t. And they don’t have the consideration, or the theory of mind, to think of telling me until I get hold of them on the phone and ask.

On Tuesday this week I arranged for someone to come round on Thursday (yesterday) and quote for a job. He said he would let me know what time. Wednesday came and went without him specifying a time. Then he contacted me at 7:24am on Thursday morning wanting to come round at 8am. No, I said. It’s too much like short notice and it’s too sodding early. I didn’t want him arriving while my partner was still trying to get ready for work and leave the house. So we arranged for him to come round in the afternoon instead. He said he would let me know what time. He didn’t. So I waited from noon to 6pm. He wasn’t technically late because he’d failed to give me a time, but at the same time I felt as if 6pm was pushing the boundary between afternoon and evening, and therefore officially “late”. Anyway, you guessed it. He wasn’t really coming at all. When I got hold of him, he said he couldn’t make it.

We rearranged for 9:30am this morning. And do you know what the weird thing is? I realised he was going to miss the appointment when I looked at the clock and saw it was  9:10am. Twenty minutes before he was due to arrive, I knew he wouldn’t turn up.

A friend who’d arranged to come round at 9:30am might arrive at 9:45am or even 10am, but at no point would I doubt the fact of their eventual arrival, even if they didn’t send me a “sorry, running late” text. But with this workman, once I realised he wasn’t going to be at least 20 minutes early, I knew he’d chosen to waste my time by not coming at all.