My friend Claire is great, but she’s never on time.

Whenever we agree to meet and she gives me a time, I always figure she’ll be a half hour late. I’m rarely wrong. And there’s always an excuse. A meeting ran on too long. Traffic was terrible. Things got out of hand that morning. Claire is that last, harried-looking person who gets on the flight right before the doors close. She’s the person whispering apologies as she takes her seat in front of you 10 minutes after the movie started. She’s the one rushing into the meeting after everyone’s introduced themselves. You know her, right?

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It doesn’t stop there, does it? Claire is the person who you have to email five times to get a reply. She’s the customer that you have to remind to pay her invoice. She’s the partner who misses a deadline and the supplier who delivers materials after the due date. You deal with people like Claire all the time. You may like them. But their actions aren’t cute or quirky. They’re selfish. These are people who essentially don’t do what they say they’re going to do, and in the process they keep everyone waiting and cause headaches. Is this you?

Are you like Claire? Are you always late or not delivering the goods as promised? Do you find yourself blaming the weather, the kids, the car, your computer, your boss, the economy? There are always reasons. I’ve heard every one of them from Claire. The good news is that I can help you solve this problem. Just put yourself in Claire’s shoes and pretend you’re the person who was kept waiting.

When this happens, ask her this question: “Claire, what if I told you that there was a million dollars in cash with me and it’s all yours as long as you arrive on time for our meeting tomorrow? Will you arrive on time now?”

Of course the answer is yes. If there was a million dollars waiting for Claire she’d be an hour early. She’s plan her journey ahead of time. She’d end the phone conversation to give herself enough time to make that meeting. She’d bring a book or paperwork with her in case she was early.

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Oh, and she’d respond to that email. She’d pay her invoice on time or make that deadline, come hell or high water. She’d do what many of us do who do what we say we’re going to do: we leave cushions of time in our schedules, we arrive early and do busy work in advance of an appointment, we answer emails from people we know (even if it’s a quick and polite “I’ll get back to you shortly”), we consider things such as traffic, weather, our gas tanks, the lines at security and busy parking lots ahead of time. We’ll do this every single time if there was a reward of a million bucks in it, right? So why is Claire late?

It’s because Claire is choosing to be late. It’s completely in her control to be on time and if she had the right motivation (like a million bucks) she would be. But she doesn’t. So she isn’t.

Do you never want to be late again? You don’t have to be. You can just ask yourself, “what if there was a million dollars waiting for me if I make that appointment, that flight, that phone call, that meeting on time?”

If you think of every commitment from this perspective, you’ll find yourself making the choice to never be late again, so you never will be. For now, you’re choosing otherwise. You’re choosing to inconvenience others, delay projects and disrupt peoples’ schedules and lives. And that seems like a pretty selfish choice, doesn’t it?

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