I was a band geek in high school.

My band class was during "zero period," so I showed up to school at 6:30 every morning for practice. The early hour led a lot of students to be late, though, so our instructor implemented a pretty innovative attendance incentive.

You were charged a quarter for every 15 minutes you showed up late. This applied to class, marching band practice, and sporting event performances. At the end of the week, during whatever event was happening Friday, every member of the band received a playing card. Our instructor would then draw a card at random from another deck, and the students with the matching card split the tardy box.

I think the most any one student was ever "fined" for late arrival was a dollar. Oddly enough, that' the exact same amount that student "won" later in the week.

Come to think of it, the only time I ever "won" was also the week I was late. I'm pretty sure my take of the pot was the same amount I'd been fined earlier, too.

The entire system, though, instilled in all of us a strong desire to always be early - many of us continue to recite that particular instructor's mantra to this day:

To be early is to be on-time
To be on-time is to be late
To be late is unacceptable


Often, we attribute somewhat arbitrary due dates to our projects and individual deliverables within them. These dates are communicated to clients and tracked by project managers, but few have any resemblance to our actual work schedules.

When we're busy, we schedule simple tasks as far out as possible. These tasks won't take much time, so completing the 2-hour project a week from now feels easy enough.

Unfortunately, this also leads to project slippage - particularly if an estimate was too ambitious for reality. The number of times I've quoted an hours estimate, only to discover the project is considerably more complicated and demands twice (or three times or four times) the effort is ... an embarrassing number.

My goal first and foremost is to be early with my deliverables, and I often find myself apologizing profusely if I merely deliver on-time. The rare times I'm late - and I do hope they're rare - are humiliating, and I do whatever I can to make up the difference whenever and wherever I can.

In business, our clients often don't care if "something came up." They're paying us to do a job, professionally, at the level of quality and in the timeframe we promised when scoping the project out originally. Consistent tardiness won't result in a $0.25 fine, it will result in lost clients, lost revenue, and impaired ability to acquire both in the future.

Are you late with your work? Routinely on-time? Or silently early?