Let me start by saying that being late sucks. It’s stressful, unproductive, and generally makes you feel like a crappy friend/employee/person. But being late is not an inherent trait that some people were born with and there are things we can do to be on time, whether it’s meeting your partner for dinner or being at your desk before 9:00am, these 9 strategies can help you in your quest to becoming an early bird (or at least an on-time owl). In other words, they’ll show you how to not be late, especially for people who always are.
1. Being on time is a habit. Charles Duhigg has a great three-minute video about what habits are and how to break them. For us chronically late people, being tardy is not in our blood – it’s in our minds. Think of it as a bad routine you’ve put yourself in and then work to change that routine. We create routines for nearly everything – from the way we sign our name to the route we take to work. Being on time is just a matter of changing the routine and habit of being late that you’ve created in your head.
2. Not all clocks are made the same. Er, actually that’s not true. All clocks are pretty much exactly the same, but an individual human being’s perception of time is not always the same as another’s. The reason I am usually late is because if I have to be somewhere at 9:00, I’ll tell myself I need, say, 45 minutes to get ready and leave, but then after showering, which felt like it took only 10 minutes, ended up taking 20 and all of a sudden I’m in a mad panic. This happens constantly and I know I’m not alone here. Sometimes it amazes me how incorrect my assumption about how long things take is. How can you fix this? Well, recognizing that your time intuition is off is a big leap in the right direction. Stop assuming you know how to keep track of things perfectly and breathe in the fact that some people just have better “time intuition” than you. Once you’re past this, move on to #3.
3. Figure out how long things really take. Exactly how long does it take you to shower? Eat breakfast? Pick a shirt to wear? If you don’t have solid answers for these basic questions, maybe it’s a good idea to start timing yourself. Once you figure out how long things take, it’s much easier to plan accordingly. Think of it this way – if you make the same salary each month, but also have bills that equal about as much as your salary, you’d want to make a budget to ensure that you can pay each expense without winding up in debt, right? Being late is the equivalent of going into time debt. Budget your time, stay out of debt.
4. Do all the morning prep the night before. And I mean all. I even put my coffee mug and coffee on the counter, ready to go. All I have to do is press a button to heat it up. I used to just leave my life a mess before going to sleep and would do it all in the morning – from packing my computer bag and choosing what to wear to making breakfast and taking out the trash. The little things add up and ever since I started prepping everything the night before, I’ve saved tons of time and stress in the morning. I actually like mornings now.
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5. Write down why you were late. A lot, and I mean A LOT of things in our lives could be improved if we took more time to evaluate why they occurred. Often, we spend our time observing things like dazed catnip kittens who assume life just “happens.” Of course it happens, but there’s generally a reason, even if it’s small. Not only will analyzing your tardiness help you figure out the patterns and thinking behind why you’re always late, but analyzing the things that happen in your life can even make you a happier person.
6. Jump out of bed. You read that right. This suggestion is aimed at people who have trouble getting anywhere in the morning. In junior high, my lateness started to hit a peak. I was constantly tardy and would always miss the school bus. Once this became a big enough problem, I knew things needed to change. I decided to start leaping out of bed. Yes, leaping. The second I heard my alarm, I would jump out of bed like someone just tickled my butt. It worked extremely well and the best part was that when I woke up, I really woke up.
7. Set all your clocks to the same time and possibly later. First, it makes sense to set all of the clocks in your house to the same time (generally I make sure they match the time on the clock at work!). If the clocks in your house are off, then it can create confusion and time illusions. Another variance is to set all of your clocks to a slightly later time. I know someone who does this and it works well for her. Even if you are aware that it is actually ten minutes earlier than what your clock reads, it still creates a brief emotional response that causes us to assume we’re running late and then get moving quicker.
8. Being late is a product of valuing other things more than valuing being on time. For example, if you’re late for work, it might mean you value sleeping for 15 extra minutes rather than being on time to your job. In order to be successful, we need to constantly ask ourselves – “what do I value more?” If your answer is “sleep,” then focus on why being on time to your job (or whatever it may be) is more important. It’s a matter of re-working your mind and what really is important vs. what your subconscious deems to be.
9. Prioritize. Nowadays, it feels like everyone has about 30 to-do lists with a growing list of items left uncrossed. If your problem with punctuality comes from doing too much, then be a little kinder to your planner. Figure out what’s important and get that done first. It’s not worth being late to an interview because you wanted to cross off a few bottom feeders on your master list.
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