Being late every now and again likely won’t hurt you, but chronic lateness can be severely detrimental to so many aspects of your life. It can hurt you in interviews, jobs, friendships, and more. And since simply willing yourself to be on time doesn’t work for most chronically late people, we’ve got five steps you can take to improve your on-time skills.
1. Find a Pattern
First, take a step back. Look at how often you’re late to things. Are you always late by 10 minutes or does it vary? Those that run late at a consistent pace are most likely late due to a psychological hurdle, according to professional organizer and productivity extraordinaire Julie Morgenstern. Always being late a similar amount of time is likely indicative of something else you’re avoiding, such as personal time or confronting another aspect of your life you may be pushing to the wayside—something you might say you “don’t have time for.”
However, for those whose late times vary, lateness is a chronic issue due to do a “mechanical” reason, and so it can be fixed by time management training. Once you identify which one it is (fixed or variable), you can move forward accordingly.
2. Keep Track
Start to take note of how long it takes you to do things. This can be done by writing down each activity you do for a couple of days and the approximate amount of time it took you to complete each one. Do this with everything, from how long it takes you to do the essentials in getting ready to the length of your commute to work. By tracking each activity separately, you will get a clear idea of how long you can accommodate for this each day. Once you have a true understanding of how you operate with tasks, you can start to plan out how your schedule can change.
3. Remind Yourself
Set reminders, either as alarms on your phone or your computer, that will notify you on your phone or through your email. But instead of just setting an alarm for when you have to wake up, also set an alarm for when you have to be finished with breakfast, when you need to be out the door, when you need to catch your train, etc. By having an alarm for each activity, you’ll be able to keep track of your progress and will be given a deadline on each activity.
4. Find Some Breathing Room
Those that are chronically late don’t plan to be late, but they don’t plan for possible delays, such as a slow train, heavy traffic, or even bad weather. All these things can make you late, so when planning things, always add an extra 15-minute cushion. So instead of planning out just the amount of time you need, add some room to breathe by adding the extra minutes. When setting alarms, start 15 minutes earlier, with a focus to think of this as “on time.”
Right before leaving your house, make sure to not check anything on your phone besides the time. Do not open an email that just came in, don’t reply quickly to a text, and certainly don’t open your podcasts to choose what you’re going to listen to on your commute/drive/walk/etc. Replying to an email can turn into dozens very easily, and scrolling through any app is known to be a time suck, so train yourself to not look at anything on your phone or computer or TV before leaving. Any and all distractions should be left untouched 30 minutes prior to leaving for wherever it is you are going, and can be great incentive for having some “down time” if you get there early.
6. Plan Ahead
A key characteristic of people who are early or on time is they plan ahead—and not just for the next few hours but for the next day and even week. This characteristic is also often prevalent in smaller details, such as planning meals or outfits. By segmenting parts of your routine, it can be easier to understand the entire day and not feel overburdened by all the “things you need to do.” Start small, such as planning out how the next day will look, with rough ideas for morning, noon, and night. By having an idea of what will occur in each part of the day, it can be easier to deal with your day, especially when you feel pressed for time. Although this might seem mundane, try it the next time you have a busy day. It’s likely you’ll find that doing this will help give you an idea of where you need to be and when you need to be there. Ultimately, you’ll subconsciously train yourself to imagine being where you need to be and when, which will help you move things around to make being on time a reality.
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