The Midwestern Time Zone
Since moving to Kansas City two years ago, I have experienced a cultural shift in how people work with schedules and deadlines. Maybe it’s accepted in the Midwest, but I prefer the no-nonsense iron clock of coastal metros.
There’s nothing more annoying than being late, especially when it’s not you being late. Since moving to the Midwest(*) two years ago, I find that I spend more time waiting for people than I ever thought possible. Worse, I find myself making people wait.
I’m not sure why, but there seems to be a pervasive acceptance around here that arriving late at a function, missing a deadline on a project or just being generally unresponsible toward any set timetable is okay. It’s a massive, cultural disregard, almost as if timelines exist just to be bent.
Maybe it’s my upbringing, or maybe it’s where I grew up, but just a few years ago “being late” was flat-out unacceptable. If you needed to pick someone up at an airport, you were there before the plane landed, not 30 minutes after. If you were given a project due in a week, “a week” was not an estimate. It meant five working days, and your project sure-as-an-elephant-shits better be finished before close of business on the fifth day.
Lately, it seems every project and event is governed by terms like “soon,” “later” and “eventually.” This unwillingness to commit to a definitive schedule is killing productivity.
What’s worse, I find these dirty little ambiguities filtering into my freelance work. At one point I was manic about meeting every deadline. I said tomorrow morning, the client had the design the next morning. I said the website will go live midnight next Wednesday, and Thursday morning the site was live. Now, tomorrow morning might drizzle over to tomorrow night and next Wednesday could easily translate to “sometime in August.”
It’s absolutely infuriating.
I work with clients all over the country. From my time on the East Coast, I know that being late is just unacceptable. If I took my current freelance attitude into NYC, I would be eaten alive. If I showed up late for work two days in a row I would get ripped a new one. If I failed to deliver that project at the end of the week I might as well spend the weekend looking for a new job.
The Midwest has a reputation for being “slower,” meaning life does not operate at the whiplash speed of New York or San Francisco. Call me nostalgic, but I prefer the whiplash. I would rather live in an environment that operates by a common clock, not in a clusterfuck of people “getting there when they get there” and delivering “when they have the time.”
Maybe I should have joined the military.
(*) Short history: I am an unapologetic Jersey boy. Went to art school in Philadelphia, lived in and around the metro area for a few more years and recently made the move to Kansas City for a host of unrelated but cumulative reasons.