Showing up late to every meeting and event makes you feel stressed out and leaves others questioning how reliable you are. You’d probably love to be on time wherever you go, but punctuality doesn’t come naturally to everyone. The good news is you can train yourself to be on time, every time, by changing your habits and the way you view punctuality. See Step 1 and beyond to learn quick tricks and long-term strategies for being more punctual.
Using Quick Tricks to Get Out the Door
Have everything ready the night before. If you’re not sure why you seem to chronically late, take a look at what happens before you leave the house. You probably set aside a certain amount of time to get ready to go, and end up scrambling to get through a checklist of tasks before you can leave. If you have everything ready to go well in advance, though, you won’t have a bunch of hurdles standing between you and getting where you need to go. Every single night, go through the following routine so that you’ll have a lot less to do in the morning:
Lay out the clothes you’re going to wear.
Complete any tasks you might normally leave for the morning, like writing emails or printing out documents.
Pack up your bag or briefcase with everything you’ll need the next day.
Have preparations ready to make a quick breakfast, or eliminate the need for preparations with overnight oats.
Keep your essentials near the door. Many people who are often late spend too much time searching around for their keys, cell phone, charger or wallet. If you keep all of your essential items in the same drawer or tray near the door, they’ll be waiting there for you when it’s time to leave. If you tend to walk in the door and leave your keys on the counter, your wallet in the bedroom, and your phone on the kitchen table, you’ll spend too much extra time looking for everything when you could be on your way. Every once in awhile, you’ll probably forget an important item and have to go back to retrieve it, making you even later.
Instead, the moment you walk in the door, empty your pockets of all your essential items and put them in the same place every time. If you keep everything in your purse, put that in the same spot in your house every time, too.
Anticipate delays before they happen. Are you full of excuses that seem legitimate? Traffic was bad. Or, The train got delayed. Worse, I had to stop and get gas. If you thought ahead and anticipated these mundane delays, they wouldn’t be making you late all the time.
Anticipate that these things are going to happen fairly often. Being on a stalled subway car is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Leave early enough to account for a delay and still get there on time.
Avoid completely unnecessary delays like needing to stop for gas. Fill up your car the night before. Make sure your subway pass is loaded with plenty of fare, and eat at home, instead of stopping at the fast food drive-through for breakfast and waiting in line.
Check traffic and the weather to see if anything might hold you up, and leave early enough to make up for the lost time.
If you ride a bus, know the route, have your fare, and keep cab money on hand in case of emergency.
If you are depending on another person for a ride—have a plan B!
Commit yourself to being 15 minutes early for everything. If you have to be to work at 8:00, don’t even tell yourself you can walk in the door right on the dot. Instead, say to yourself, “I have to be at work at 7:45.” If you do this, you will be on time even with little unforeseen interruptions. You will be on time even if you encounter a traffic jam. And on those rare times that you actually show up 15 minutes early; you will get kudos for being an enthusiastic employee.
If you can’t stand waiting, have something you can read in short segments almost everywhere you go. This makes it easy to be early, since in the 10-15 minutes you have before an appointment/event, you can get a few pages of reading done. It’ll feel like you’re getting something done (and you are) while you are waiting.
Overestimate the time it’ll take to get there. If you tend to have everything ready to go in the morning, and you show up late even when you don’t experience delays, you might be underestimating the amount of time it takes to get where you’re going. Optimistic thinkers tend to shave off a few minutes, hoping they’ll be able to get places faster. Unfortunately, all it does is make them late! Be realistic when you’re planning your commutes, and punctuality will follow.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know exactly how long it will take to get somewhere. If you’re preparing for an important meeting, like an interview, you might want to drive the route or do the train commute in advance of the meeting day. Time your trip so you’ll know what time you need to leave the house.
Don’t forget to add 15 minutes to the overall trip time to account for delays. If you figure it’ll take 40 minutes to get to your meeting site, leave 55 minutes early just in case something trips you up.
Forming Better Habits
Get up the second your alarm goes off. Don’t hit the snooze button, linger in bed, and watch TV at the very start of your day. You probably didn’t factor in an extra 10 or 15 minutes in bed when you planned out what time you’d need to wake up in the morning in order to get to your scheduled events on time. By getting up late you are setting a pattern of lateness for the rest of the day. Those extra minutes in bed will add up and push everything else back, so get up as quickly as you can.
Try stretching, splashing your face with water, and brushing your teeth right away to wake your body up more quickly.
If you can’t get out of bed on time, you may be going to bed too late. Go to sleep earlier to see if that helps. This makes it a lot easier to get up on time and helps you stay on task during the day. Unless you know otherwise, assume you need eight hours of sleep every night.
Re-examine how long your daily tasks really take. For example, you might be under the impression that you take a 15 minute shower, assuming that starting at 6:30 you can leave at 6:45. But, what about the time you spend before and after the actual shower? It’s quite possible you really spend 20 or even 30 minutes in the bathroom, and that’s why you can never leave by 6:45. So, think about the things you do every day, and try and keep an estimate of how long it takes you.
Time yourself a few days in a row to see how long it actual takes you to perform certain tasks. Use a stopwatch and record the times over the course of a week, then average the times so you’ll have an accurate indication of how much time to plan for each activity.
See where you often waste the most time. What do you get caught up doing that prevents you from getting out the door? “Time sinkholes,” like getting distracted while checking emails, spending too long curling your hair, or stopping at a coffee shop on the way to work are often unnoticed by us, and can throw off daily planning.
When you discover a sinkhole, try to change your habits around the activity to make it faster. For example, standing up while quickly checking your emails makes it hard to lose an hour randomly surfing the web.
Make a note of where you should be in regards to time. For instance, if you have to leave your house at 8 for work, tell yourself, “It’s 7:20, I should be getting in the shower.” “It’s 7:35, I should be brushing my teeth.” This will help keep you on track. It is useful to think up a morning schedule to get used to this habit.
Consider printing out a schedule you can reference throughout the morning. Post it up in your bedroom, office, kitchen, and other places where you’ll be sure to see it.
Don’t overbook yourself. Maybe you’re often late because you schedule back-to-back appointments without leaving enough time in between to move from place to place. Examine your schedule and make sure each activity is buffered by several minutes before and after so you can spend that time traveling, resting, eating, and doing other things you need to do between appointments.
Surround yourself with timepieces. If you tend to space out and forget what time it is, you probably need more clocks in your life. If you don’t like wearing a watch, have your cellphone on hand at all times. Wall clocks are attention-grabbers that help people stay on task, too. Make sure all your clocks are set to the same time, so you don’t get confused.
Utilize timers, alarms and reminders throughout the day as well. For example, you might want to set your phone to vibrate or ring when you have 10 minutes to go before your next class or meeting.
Some people intentionally set their clocks several minutes fast in order to trick themselves into getting to places early. You could try this to see if it works for you, but many people find that they just mentally adjust their concept of what time it is to account for the extra minutes, and they end up late anyway. Knowing what time it really is will help you stay grounded and punctual.
Changing Your Attitude About Lateness
Acknowledge that you have a hard time being punctual. If you have a chronic problem with punctuality, you might be prone to making a lot of excuses. Some of them might be valid, like if you’re late to a meeting because you had a flat tire, or a winter storm stalled traffic for an hour. But if it seems like you’re constantly trying to explain away your tardiness, it’s time to own up to your problem. As with any problem, you cannot fix it if you’re in denial that it’s a problem at all.
If you’re not sure whether your issue is chronic, ask your friends and family to tell you honestly whether they consider you a punctual person. If punctuality is truly an issue for you, you won’t have been able to hide it from them.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have trouble being punctual, though. According to a study conducted in San Francisco, 20 percent of the US population has the same issue.
See how being late affects others. You probably really want to be on time, and when you’re late, you feel genuinely sorry for inconveniencing others. But if you’re late again and again, people will feel that your behavior is inconsiderate. Being late puts other people in the position of having to wait for you. It’s seen as a statement that you value your time more than you value theirs, even if you really don’t feel that way.
Think of how you feel when someone else is the one who’s late for a meeting. Do you appreciate having to sit alone in a restaurant while you wait for your friend to show up half an hour late?
Eventually, being late all the time will erode people’s faith in your reliability, creating a negative impression that could eventually extend to matters other than punctuality.
Get your adrenaline rush in other ways. Do you feel a little buzzed when you’re rushing to beat the clock? It’s like a game, and if you can get there before the timer runs out, you win. However, this exhilarating habit can have bad consequences when you lose your gamble with time too often. If you like the rush of adrenaline you feel when you’re down to the wire, stop putting your appointments on the line and try to get it some other way, like by playing timed computer games, taking up track and field sports, or — if you really like the rush — parachuting from a plane.
Make punctuality one of your core values. It doesn’t seem as meaningful as honesty or integrity, but punctuality is intimately tied to these important values. When you say you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, and you don’t show up, what does that say about you? When it happens over and over, might it affect others’ impression of your integrity, or cause them to think twice about what you say? Try to take punctuality as seriously as you take other values you strive to uphold. If you care more about being punctual, you’ll start being more punctual.
Examine the areas in which you’re more likely to be flippant about punctuality. If there are certain people you don’t bother meeting on time, or a certain class you always come to 15 minutes late, it’s possible that the people and the class just aren’t that important to you.
Try to spend your time doing things you care about doing, and do them with intention. Show up on time and be all in. When you care about what you’re doing, and you’re living with integrity, it feels right to get there on time.
Enjoy the rewards of being a punctual person. After a few weeks of rearranging your habits and thought patterns so you can be more punctual, it won’t feel as difficult — and you’ll start reaping the rewards of being the sort of person who’s never late. Here are a few examples of the benefits you’ll experience:
You’ll be much less stressed out on a daily basis, and you won’t have to make excuses and apologize all the time.
You’ll probably experience a professional boost, since you’ll no longer be late for work.
Your personal life will be uplifted as people begin to see you as a reliable person and trust you more.
Being habitually punctual tends to have the effect of actually allowing you to be late from time to time, since people will start giving you the benefit of the doubt.
Old military adage: If you’re not 5 minutes early, you’re 10 minutes late!
Kids are really good at making their parents late. Follow all the above tips, not just for yourself but also for your kids. Have their clothes ready (including coats and mittens), make sure they get baths the night before, etc. Take a few minutes the night before to make sure their books and homework are in their backpack, then place it by the door. Check for any permission slips that need signing. If your child is very young, make sure their diaper bag is always fully stocked. But some organized twelve year olds can definitely help you out!
Quick thing to remember. “If you are 5 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, then you’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
If you take your lunch to work, pack it the night before.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking nobody notices the latecomer. If you think you are more than occasionally late to work, school, church, appointments, etc., you can be sure others have noticed too.
Lateness is corrosive to good relations with friends, work colleagues and of professional standing. Having a strong personality and being able to smooth over individual instances of lateness still leaves a building resentment. Holding people up who have planned and prepared work, journeys, meals, entertainment etc. generates a cumulative irritation and devaluing of you personally.
Remember your reputation is on the line. The power of showing up is limitless.
How to Wake Up On Time
How to Make Time by Prioritizing and Scheduling
How to Do Your Homework on Time if You’re a Procrastinator
How to Manage Your Time
How to Save Time in the Morning
How to Get in the Habit of Working on Your Blog
How to Be Early
How to Keep Children from Waking up Too Early
How to Be Early for School
Sources and Citations
SF Gate on Cures for Chronic Tardiness
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