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The Punctuality Paradox: The Ethics of Time

Time is our most valuable resource, yet it is finite and fleeting. It cannot be saved, paused, or rewound. It is constantly moving forward, regardless of how we use it. Therefore, we must use our time wisely and purposefully to make the most of every moment.

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
5 min read
An image of clock and child presenting to idea of time and how to use it.
Using Time Wisely 
"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend," said Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher.

Many say time is money, but I think it's more precious than mere money. It's a resource that cannot be bought or saved. Each day grants us a grand total of 1440 precious minutes. After accounting for the recommended amount of sleep, we're left with a total of 960 minutes to use as we wish.

I am resolute in maximizing my time, even if others choose to fritter theirs away. However, it's not just about them squandering their own time. Some view it as their duty to squander the time of others. A perfect example is the time wasted in most meetings.


Despite my efforts to remain patient, nothing quite frustrates me more than a meeting that starts late or drags on for too long. Why do we insist on scheduling every meeting for an entire hour, when 20 or 30 minutes would suffice? The individuals who schedule meetings often fail to realize the significance of everyone's precious time.

To ensure productive meetings that respect everyone's time, each participant must appreciate the significance of punctuality and become familiar with the agenda and objectives beforehand.

So, what is the value of the time wasted in a meeting?

As an experiment, our Chief People Officer computed the worth of an hour meeting for the executive team in terms of an hourly rate. When she disclosed the number to the entire team, it left everyone astounded.

It introduced a new vocabulary for meetings. Teams started questioning the value of discussing an agenda item in terms of the cost of convening a meeting. If we decided not to convene the meeting, we would delegate the decision to a smaller group. This way, we can ensure the most efficient handling of the matter.


Punctuality is a predictor of future success as it demonstrates reliability and accountability. However, for many, it remains a challenge. A range of factors can impact one's punctuality. While some elements, like traffic or bad weather conditions, are beyond your control, others are internal, such as mismanaging time or a lack of motivation.

Punctuality affects us more than we may realize. From missed opportunities to falling short of goals, tardiness has significant consequences. It's crucial to appreciate the value of time in every aspect of our lives.

I'm very focused on punctuality. I understand that life can get in the way of being on time, and I will always try to be understanding if someone is late for a meeting or event. When something holds great importance to me, I dedicate myself to being punctual, whether it be an appointment or a project deadline.

My punctuality obsession often leaves me with high expectations for others, which can create pressure and the feeling of being overwhelmed. My wife reminds me that I need to chill when it comes to my laser-focused on being punctual.

She has taught me to remain flexible in cases where there's nothing else I can do. In those scenarios, it's better not to stress about things I cannot control.

Ethical Time: Life and Death

Is time management the difference between life and death?

I can't recall the title or the author, but I remember reading a sci-fi story years ago where time is more than just a measure of hours and minutes. It carries a much greater significance: if you are late for something, the time you were late will be taken off your life expectancy and added to those who were on time. Time is of the essence in this world, and being punctual can sometimes be a matter of life and death.

It profoundly alters your perception of time, offering a new perspective on the value of time.

Punctuality Applied

Since taking on the CEO position in June 2012, I have made it a habit to call each Board member two weeks before each upcoming board meeting. The aim is to review the agenda, get alignment on any issues, and address questions they may have.

Their time is extremely valuable. Numerous individuals on my board manage multi-billion dollar enterprises while juggling countless responsibilities. One of the ways in which I showcase my appreciation for the invaluable contributions made by my board members is by respecting their schedules and being punctual on calls. This helps create a strong culture of respect, reliability, and trust, essential for any successful partnership.

I arrange these discussions well in advance and always assume responsibility for initiating the call. I make sure to call at the exact scheduled time, ensuring prompt and punctual communication. Initially, their reaction was one of surprise. By consistently doing this over the past decade, I have shown them my unwavering commitment to respecting their time.

Without fail, their office always grants me the opportunity whenever I request just 15 minutes. Why? My punctuality reassures them that their time is valued and respected. They entrust it to me, and I live up to that trust, ending the discussion on time.

My 3 Tips for Time Management

None of the following time management tips are revolutionary or groundbreaking. At times, we tend to overlook their significance in our daily lives. That's why it's important to remind ourselves of these simple strategies for getting things done and being productive with our time.

1. Focus On The Right Tasks:

One of the most effective techniques for managing time is to focus on the right tasks and get the others off your plate. This involves identifying and focusing on the most urgent tasks that are also critical. How? The Eisenhower Matrix enables you to focus on what truly matters and selectively neglect tasks that can be delegated or ignored altogether. It helps you avoid getting bogged down in less significant to-dos to make the most of your time and achieve more.

2. Learn to Delegate Work:

Delegation is a required skill for effective time management. Many people feel they need to do everything themselves to ensure it will be done properly, but this can be a mistake. Delegating tasks to others is an effective way to create breathing space for focusing on more important tasks. This can also help build teamwork and improve productivity.

3. Take Time to Recharge:

Taking breaks and making time for oneself is crucial to enhance overall productivity and well-being. Though it may seem counterintuitive, taking breaks can enhance efficiency and focus while reducing stress and preventing burnout. Taking extended time (vacations) away from work for rest and relaxation is crucial for our creativity and productivity. By doing this, you can return to work with newfound focus, heightened concentration, and more abundant energy.


We must use time wisely as it's a finite resource, critical in making the most of our lives. It is crucial to be mindful of how we spend our precious time and prioritize tasks wisely to ensure our efforts are centered on what truly matters. Sometimes, we may need to make tough decisions about letting go of certain activities. Yet, these choices will ultimately help us choose the path that leads to achieving our goals and success.

So let me ask you this: How are you going to make the most of your precious time?

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Phil McKinney Twitter

Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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