Swedish punctuality: a story of trust and respect

19:29:59. The countdown has already started! One second to go!

The news bulleting kicks off. 19:30:00 sharp. No way it is one second late. Or something extremely serious must have happened. All TV programmes on Swedish television start at the exact right time. When scheduled. To the minute and second.

So, do all the business meetings in Sweden. And kids arrive at their daycare centre at the exact right time. At school too. Not to mention the opening and closing times of the shops.

It is a country run on punctuality. And efficiency. Punctuality is respected, tardiness is frowned upon. Nothing and no one has the right to be late. This is why planning, schedules and timetables are for.

Go to a bus stop and pick a time for departure. Then go again at this specific time. The bus will be there ready to depart. Or already departing. If it comes earlier, it will wait until the right time to depart. If it comes later, then… Well, no, chances are that it will (almost) never come later than expected.

What is it that makes the Swedes so punctual? How do they manage to do it and manage time so effectively? Read on!

The Swedish time and space

Swedes have a proverb that says “One can never wait too long for something good”. So, unless it is about a life-changing discovery, you’d better be right on time. Patience is another Swedish virtue (queue culture!) but we will focus on this in another daily email, later this week.

Today, it is about not being tardy. Swedes don’t do it and they don’t like to be surrounded by others who do it too. Treating others as you want to be treated yourself is another rule that Swedes stick with.

So, why do the Swedes have this thing with punctuality?

respect. Equality comes hand in hand with respect. Swedes respect other people’s space and time. They don’t like to intrude. They respect that time is precious and has to be used to everybody’s benefit. When there is a date or appointment, it means that other people have planned their lives accordingly. Not being in time disrupts their lives, so nobody wants to be the one being frowned upon.

efficiency. Swedes are known to be productive. Effective and efficient in their work, too. Meetings and appointments must start and end at the scheduled time. Not later, in any case. But not earlier too. You are not expected to arrive at a meeting much earlier, as this may mean you are not productive (you could still be working on something else, instead of waiting or chit-chatting!). Start at the right time, discuss efficiently and to the point, end the meeting in time. Let’s go for a fika then!

DID YOU KNOW that the Swedes (and most other Nordic people) prefer to use the week number when planning? So, it’s not the week commencing June 24th but week 26. Get a proper calendar!

trust. At the end of the day, it is all about trust. When you say you are going to do something like coming for a date or appointment at a specific time, then you must honour your word and come at this exact time. If you cannot commit to that and deliver, how can you be trusted with other more serious and important things?

5 punctuality tips

These can be used anywhere: from your home to your office, from work to personal relationships.

1. Plan ahead. This is what calendars and daily schedules are for. The Swedes are very organized and they like to plan things ahead. In detail. That helps with both seeing the big picture and knowing the details that can make it or break it.

2. No multitasking. Being used to take on many different tasks at any given moment makes it more probable to lose track of time or get lost into a rabbit hole of errands. Focus on one thing at a time and again, check your schedule.

3. Say No. It is not easy but learning to do so can really help you be more efficient and control your daily life. If an email pops up 5 minutes before the time you set as the departure time for a meeting, then say no and leave it for later on.

4. Scrap perfectionism. Paying attention to detail is good but don’t exaggerate. Perfectionism can easily make you get hung up on every small detail, getting you out of schedule altogether. Being good enough is um, good enough. And this is lagom!

5. Time to breathe. Allow for cushions in your schedule, things do not actually run smoothly 100% of the time. Also, taking breaks and allowing for time to breathe before appointments or meetings can help you be less stressed and more relaxed, to perform at your natural best.

Which one of the 5 tips do you find the most useful? Join the conversation online!

Image: Ulf Huett Nilsson/imagebank.sweden.se