The importance of being on time cannot be overstated. Many people, however, have difficulty being punctual. In fact, 20% of the population struggles to be punctual, according to research.
The negative effects of being late are numerous. Among them are:
- Lateness signals a lack of self-control to others. Furthermore, punctuality demonstrates incompetence.
- It is rude to keep those waiting for you when you are late. It conveys the message that you don’t value other people’s time. To put it mildly, it’s disrespectful.
- In any meeting or appointment that you’re late to, you’ll probably feel flustered and insecure, which will reflect in your behavior.
- Chronic lateness can result in losing clients, losing your job, and straining relationships with your closest family and friends.
- When they’re late, your stress level increases. Why? You’re always worried, anxious, and racing.
The good news? It’s never too late to learn how to be punctual. And, to get you started, here are tips you should implement today.
1. Get to the bottom of why you’re always late.
It is crucial to understand why you are late in the first place if you want to improve your unpunctuality, said five experts that Daryl Austin interviewed for Popular Science.
“Being chronically late is not necessarily always due to poor time management,” according to Pauline Wallin, who teaches workshops on procrastination and chronic lateness. “If it were, people would learn from their experiences and change their behaviors for next time.”
In fact, according to experts, chronic tardiness is the result of emotional and motivational factors, as outlined by six types of procrastination-prone personalities. By understanding which one you belong to, you can reverse-engineer your tardiness and stop it from growing.
According to Wallin, procrastination is deeply linked to anxiety. As she explains, finding an excuse for why you can’t do what you’re putting off is the quickest way to ease anxiety. If you are anxious about your doctor’s appointment, you may subconsciously delay your arrival to reduce the anxiety you’ll feel once you arrive.
In her book How to beat procrastination in the digital age, Linda Sapadin, a clinical psychologist on Long Island, says perfectionists are often late because they can’t leave tasks undone until they’re satisfied with them—and that may take longer than planned. In order to ensure you’re happy with the outcome of your tasks, give yourself extra time between them.
Those who are distracted.
In contrast, Sapadin defines “dreamers” as those who are unable to achieve reality. Wallin says they’re “the easily distracted ones,” prone to losing focus when something as common as an email alert distracts them. According to Isip, dreamers should cultivate awareness of how distractions can easily derail their focus and prepare accordingly.
The overachievers tend to believe they can juggle all the balls at once, juggling all the tasks at once. However, they are unaware of their propensity for dropping one or more.
Isip suggests reminding yourself that you have the same number of hours each day as everyone else and that you won’t always be able to complete that “one last thing” without leaving your others waiting.
Lawrence White, professor emeritus of psychology at Beloit College in Wisconsin, says many people underestimate the amount of time they need to complete a task. According to Isip, the solution for people who plan poorly is to understand that sometimes a multitude of small delays can pile up without their notice.
As Wallin explains, a defier is a person who just doesn’t want to go to certain places, so they give themselves various excuses and rationalizations to avoid them. To overcome this behavior, you need to understand why you may want to rebel against the person or task you’re supposed to meet.
2. Say “no” to last-minute requests.
Five minutes before you have to leave for work, your son asks you to review his homework. It’s 30 minutes before dinner and your boss wants you to finish that last document, which takes an hour.
In short, it’s possible to be late by different amounts of time if you are unable to say no to other people.
Are there ways you can preemptively strike down these people throwing you off your schedule? Absolutely.
You can, for example, tell someone at work at 3 that you have an appointment at 5 if they always ask you to do something as you’re getting ready to leave. To be more proactive, you could also ask them if there is anything they’ll need from you earlier in the day.
3. Analyze how long certain tasks take.
Often people who arrive late to work, struggle to determine how long it takes them to perform specific tasks. For instance, it may take them 30 minutes to get ready in the morning when the reality is it takes them a lot longer than that. One way to break through may be to identify all the tasks that you need to complete in the morning to arrive on time for work.
An alternate way is to invest a week tracking how long it takes to complete each of these tasks, to determine accurately how much time is required for you to arrive at your morning destination on time. Set up reminders for appointments an hour before you must leave and incorporate a 15-minute reminder before you must go. Timers can be gold as a prompt to keep you focused on where you need to be.
4. Create a time cushion for yourself.
Regardless of how long it takes you to do a particular task, give yourself some extra time in case unexpected events occur. We cannot expect everything to run smoothly 100% of the time.
For example, you may encounter a variety of problems as you attempt to reach your meeting across town:
- You spill coffee on your shirt just as you’re leaving the office, so now you need to change into your spare shirt.
- Currently, the route you usually take is closed for construction, so you will have to take a longer, alternative route.
- There is a heavy downpour, which slows down traffic.
The habits of punctual people include not just giving themselves enough time to get to their destination on time. But also giving themselves additional time to do so. As a result, they also give themselves a time cushion in case of problems.
The rule of thumb is to always add 25% to your time estimate when getting somewhere or doing anything. In other words, if it takes you 30 minutes to get to work, give yourself 40 minutes.
5. Check the clock.
Did you know that clock-checking predicts punctuality? Washington University researchers asked people to press the Z key every five minutes while doing a distracting task.
As the target time approached, younger people checked the clock more frequently. Checks were not increased by older people.
What is the takeaway? If you think you understand how long five minutes are, you’re mistaken. Put your pride aside and check the time.
Similarly, in a study published in PeerJ in 2015, researchers found that watch wearers are more conscientious (defined as driven, hardworking, and reliable) and arrive for appointments significantly earlier.
You think and act differently depending on how you dress according to the science of enclothed cognition. Wearing a watch, for example, signals to your brain that you are conscious of time.
You are more likely to check the time when you wear a watch because it is easier to do. In addition, your watch won’t distract you when you check the time, unlike your phone
6. Under-schedule yourself.
Those who show up on time are not necessarily less busy than those who are prone to being late. Instead, they are just more realistic about their abilities. According to Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and behavioral scientist, if you’re constantly late, you might be overextending yourself or overestimating your abilities.
“If possible, examine the degree of [your] tasks, deadlines, [and] requirements that are time-contingent and try to reduce some of them so that you are not overloaded,” he said.
What can you do to improve your delegation skills? Can you let go of a time-sucking responsibility? Is it okay to say no to certain projects? If you under-schedule yourself, you will be able to “get the hang of being on time so that it feels manageable,” Klapow explained.
7. Stop doing “just one more thing.”
Just as you’re about to leave, you notice one last task. Your phone rings, you answer it, or you notice a plant that needs to be watered or the table that needs to be cleared. As a result, you run late.
Experts call this “just one more thing syndrome.” You can prevent this by refusing to squeeze everything in right before you depart. What’s more, you may also be able to do something en route or while you’re waiting. For instance, if you have a doctor’s appointment, you can respond to emails on your smartphone in the waiting room.
Another trick you can try is using the Stop Working On Everything Else Time, or SWEET for short.
Divide your leaving time by the amount of time you will need to finish the next task and you will find your SWEET. Make sure your phone alarm goes off at this time.
Be sure to set a warning alarm 10-30 minutes before the SWEET so you can wrap up your work. This is called “Stop Working On Everything Else Time”. You’ll be late if you treat it as “Start wrapping things up time.”.
As soon as your first warning alarm goes off, don’t do anything engrossing. No deep work, Twitter replies, or YouTube videos. Choose a task that you can drop easily.
8. You may want to set your clocks ahead by a different amount each.
This may not be for everyone. But, it’s definitely worth trying out if you’re chronically late.
In this situation, you would set your alarm clock to five minutes fast, watch only one clock, and set your car clock to three. Various times are unknown, so you have to take each clock at face value.
You might want to take a look at the Procrastinator’s Clock, which shows a random amount of time ahead of up to 15 minutes. It’s available for Mac and PC.
9. Don’t be afraid to be brutal with your to-do list.
It is impossible to be on time if you have an unrealistic schedule. There are times when it’s better to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes’ just to please others. When you’ve identified your priority list, get rid of everything that isn’t important.
For organizing tasks and acting, the Eisenhower matrix can be used.
The matrix allows you to separate your actions into four categories:
- Important and urgent tasks need to be done first.
- Tasks that are important but not urgent can be scheduled later.
- Tasks that are urgent, but not crucial, such as those that can be delegated.
- There will be tasks that you can eliminate, as they are neither urgent nor important.
Consequently, you can use this matrix to plan your week in broad terms, such as ‘how do I spend my time?’ All the way down to smaller, daily tasks, such as ‘what should I do today?’.
10. Leave on time every time.
When you walk out of your door, you determine whether you’ll arrive late or on time at your destination. In order to arrive on time at your intended destination, reverse engineer the time at which you must leave.
To make it ten minutes early to your board meeting, you need to leave by ten a.m. It is therefore imperative that you get up at ten o’clock sharp. You may want to take a look at:
- Emails arriving after 9:59 a.m. should be ignored.
- Tell a colleague you can give them two minutes if they walk into your office two minutes before you need to leave. As soon as the two minutes are up, excuse yourself and leave the room.
- You need the discipline to stop yourself, grab your things, and walk out if it’s 9:58 am and you feel like you need one more task before you leave.
- If you get up to leave and you notice that you need to dust your bookcase, make a note to do that later. It is never a good idea to start looking for a dusting cloth before you leave.
You’re practically guaranteed to make it on time if you leave for your appointments on time. And if you give yourself a time cushion in case something goes wrong.
Image Credit: Ono Kosuki; Pexels; Thank you!
John Hall is the co-founder of Calendar a scheduling and time management app. He’s also a keynote speaker that you can book at http://www.johnhallspeaking.com.