Time-Related Stress: It is Simply not Worth It

What is the time? Yesterday I read an article by a time scientist. Until yesterday I did not even know that you can become a time, scientists. Well, the real reason why I read the article is that the headline said: “Being on time is completely unnecessary”. Am I looking for excuses for being late? No, I simply like the approach of questioning our current concept of time, clocks, minutes, and seconds.


Around two years ago I visited a seminar held by two dutch scientists. I was late. Being late in Germany is not that much fun. The funny thing was rather the difference in reactions between the German participants and the Dutch seminar facilitators. On the one hand, many of the German participants looked at me with some kind of a surprised and shocked face. The face you make when you know someone is doing something he is usually not allowed to do.

Nevertheless, the Dutch guys reacted completely different to how the German guys reacted. While I entered the room with a smile on my facing saying: “Hey how are you? Sorry for being a little bit late”. The Dutch guy replied: “It’s all right you don’t need to feel sorry”. I looked at him with a surprised face. He continued: “Otherwise you would’ve been on time.” He said that in a very calm voice, without any signs of irony or aggression. He didn’t care if I was late.
Dutch people are in general not so strict when it comes to punctuality. Nobody even notices if you are 5 or 10 minutes late. Simply cross the German-Dutch border and you experience a completely different attitude towards time. I love the Dutch people for this. My personal attitude towards time is pretty similar. I don’t mind if you are 10-20 minutes late.
Back to the story.

His remark stuck in my head: “Otherwise you would’ve been in time”. I had to agree, he was absolutely right. Being on time on that day was not my priority. Instead of a fast-track breakfast and a race against the time on the Autobahn I took everything more relaxed. I enjoyed a short breakfast and started to drive to the seminar with an average speed. So I asked him: “What do you exactly mean by that?”. He replied: “Whether someone is on time or not is determined by the importance of his appointment”. He made a short break and everyone in the seminar got excited about his philosophy by now. “Just imagine that I promise you that you can meet Bill Gates for a coffee tomorrow morning at 7 AM in Amsterdam”, Amsterdam is around 2 hours from where the seminar took place: “I bet my whole fortune that you will stand in front of the coffee shop at 6:30 AM.” He is absolutely right and everyone in the seminar room knew that he was absolutely right.

Dealing with Punctuality and Time

The reality is that not every of our meetings and appointments is with Bill Gates. So how should we deal with punctuality and time? In the end what exactly is time at all? In the end, it is just a scale we use to measure the day. Some people look at it and they get stressed. They try to beat the time, sleep less, skip breakfast, drive too fast, everything in order to be on time.

Shouldn’t we change our attitude towards time? Wouldn’t you prefer your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, daughter, or son to slow down on the highway? Wouldn’t you prefer them to calm down, take 4 minutes for a coffee and a croissant? I bet that you would love to wait these 5 additional minutes when you know that she is going to arrive safe and in a good mood.

Of course, punctuality is still extremely important when it comes to important business meetings and appointments. It is also important on your first date, second date, and third date. But as soon as the relationships with our partners deepened they should remember that time is only a scale. Let’s not condemn being late as a crime.

Calming Down

Let’s all calm down a little bit, enjoy our breakfast a little bit more, drive carefully, and be happier every morning and in every situation. Time-related stress might help you to stick to a deadline. But if we create stress ourselves only to be +/- 10 minutes on time we are doing something fundamentally wrong.

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