Don't Be Early


The early bird gets the worm—that's true. However, I don't believe it's true for appointments. It's true for getting up early to get a head start on the day. True for being one of the first to get to an idea or a concept. True when it comes to standing in line for something.

Not true for when you've set a specific time to meet or talk with someone about something.

The early bird may get the worm, but not when he inconveniences people who could help him get it.

Here's why: When you arrive more than five minutes early, you put pressure on the person you're planning to meet and the people around them.

Let's say that someone comes to my office for an interview or a meeting at a time we've appointed. We've set an appointment, so I'm looking forward to seeing him. But let's say he arrives thirty or even fifteen minutes early. I get notice that he's sitting in the reception area, waiting.

Like many people, I have pretty hectic workdays. It's quite likely that I’m in another meeting, on a phone call, or trying to work on or review something that has a tight timeframe. Now that I know he's waiting, I feel bad not being responsive, not being able to meet right away—even though it's not time for me to meet with him. I know he knows it's not, but it’s this nagging, tugging feeling in my mind that he's there, waiting.

It makes the person in reception feel awkward, as though he needs to make the visitor feel comfortable by talking to him, bringing him drinks, ensuring there's reading material, or—whatever. That takes him away from work he needs to be doing. On top of that, other people in the office wonder who's waiting all this time, and why. (Is there a problem? Is someone being rude and not showing up for a meeting? Who is that? Why is he here?)

This goes even for appointments outside the office. If I take the time to leave the office to meet with people at a coffee shop, I try to book multiple appointments at one time in the same location. (Coffee shop meetings still happen, although I'm trying to get away from them.) I try to guess how long the meetings will take, to ensure I leave some cushion. However, if my next meeting shows up fifteen or even thirty minutes early, she doesn’t know what to do—"That’s her, but she's with someone else, what do I do now?"—and I see her sitting a table away, starting at me or trying not to stare at me. Awkward. And I feel like I need to rush away the person I'm still meeting.

Early is a fact of life, if you don't want to be late. So here's what to do rather than walking into a meeting location more than five or so minutes early:

  • Go to a nearby coffee shop. When meetings are pretty far out of town or are in a complicated area of town, I always leave extra early. This often means I arrive early. I'm pretty savvy at finding nearby places to perch. And I always have something to read or a to-do list of calls to make.

  • Wait in your car. If you're only a few minutes early—not enough time to go to a coffee shop—read your meeting-preparation notes or agenda, get a few to-do list calls made, or read something.

  • Go into the building, but not up to the office. Wait in the building lobby. If it's a freestanding building with no lobby, tough luck. Or, to be the least inconveniencing, go in and tell the receptionist not to announce you yet, as you're quite early. (It's still annoying to the person in reception, who has to babysit you, and potentially disrupting to the staff, who wonder who you are, but it's better than bothering them and the person you’re scheduled to meet.)

  • If it's a coffee shop meeting, and you're there early, and the person you're meeting with is clearly meeting with someone else, sit out of the line of sight for you and for her. (Don't sit at the next table over and stare at her. Yes, this happens.) Then you can concentrate on your reading material or to-do list without feeling watched, and she can concentrate on the conversation she's having.

Other ideas? Or am I being unreasonable?