Some people are never on time and have just never figured out how to be punctual.
If you’re someone who finds it next to impossible to be punctual, even if you hate other people being late by even a millisecond, is there hope for you?
- 1 So, how to be punctual?
- 2 Do your time calculations
- 3 Don’t underestimate your timings
- 4 Double check your directions
- 5 Be prepared ahead of time
- 6 Pretend that the meeting won’t wait for you
- 7 Make a resolution to be early for everything
- 8 Stop hitting snooze on your alarm
- 9 Do a time and motion study on yourself
- 10 Don’t put too much on your schedule
- 11 Use a clock as a screensaver
- 12 Add in buffer time to your day
- 13 Have something to do in the extra waiting time
- 14 Conclusion
More and more things in our society require you to be on time.
OK, there are times when it’s fine to be “fashionably late”, but those are usually reserved for social occasions.
If you’re late for a business meeting, you could lose a deal or not make an important sale. Which could make the difference between keeping your job or not.
If you miss your flight because of your bad time keeping, that has all sorts of knock-on implications.
So what can you do to be more punctual in the future?
Short term, you could set your watch fast. But your mind will soon start to allow for that and you may even find yourself being later than ever.
Unless you live somewhere like Los Angeles where being on time seems to be almost unheard of, you need to take steps to become more timely.
Do your time calculations
Unless it’s the first time you’ve gone from A to B (wherever those two points are) then you’ll know approximately how long it takes to get there.
That could be a minute or two if it’s from one room in your company offices to another, a five minute walk, a ten minute commute or several hours if it’s a train ride or plane flight away.
If it is the first time, Google has a directions option and it even allows for traffic at different times of day.
Which means that there’s really no excuse for being late most of the time – you know (or can find out) how long it takes you to get to your meeting, you know how long it takes you to get ready for the event and your phone has a reminder option that you can set ahead of time. Short of unforeseen circumstances (and you can’t use that excuse every time!) you have a precision schedule that you can check.
Don’t underestimate your timings
It’s easy to underestimate how long things are likely to take.
We all do it.
But you’ll probably instinctively know how much you underestimate your timings by. And if you don’t know, ask an honest friend or colleague to gently tell you the figure. They’re the ones who’ve been hanging around, twiddling their thumbs, on more occasions than either of you would care to admit and they’ll probably be glad to tell you.
If you’re going to something together, it may even get to the stage where you remind them that there’s an extra 10 minute (or whatever) buffer built in to the timings to allow them to faff around before setting off. That can work – so long as you’ve known the other person long enough for it not to appear rude.
Double check your directions
Sat nav’s aren’t infallible – ask the people who’ve used them and ended up on the “blue road” that turns out to be a river or the lorry drivers who’ve had special signs erected on their behalf because the sat nav doesn’t know the height of all the bridges on the route it’s suggesting.
Most sat nav’s also don’t allow for time of day although with route planners on your phone it’s getting more common for expected (or actual) traffic to be allowed for.
Even then, it’s worth bringing up the overview map on a desktop computer so that you can get a better idea of your route, especially if it’s unfamiliar.
Be prepared ahead of time
Five minutes before a meeting isn’t the best time to print off that 20 page presentation or pick a shirt and iron it.
Apart from anything else, leaving things to the last minute will stress you out more than is good for you – whether or not you acknowledge the stress or show any outward signs of it.
It’s easy to procrastinate and think you’ve got enough time. Then something unexpected happens – because it seems to know you’ve got lots of other things to do – and your schedule is put further and further back.
That could result in something trivial like your hair not being perfectly brushed or it could result in something more serious such as not winning a bid or your date going badly.
Being prepared does take some effort – you may need a checklist, you might need to organize things more than you usually do, that kind of thing. But it does mean that you’re not scrambling around doing a good impression of a blue arsed fly or a busy fool.
Try it next time you have an important meeting that you need to be punctual for.
Pretend that the meeting won’t wait for you
Unless you’re on Air Force One, there’s a very good chance that a flight wouldn’t wait for you. It would take off at the allotted time whether or not you reached the departure desk by the stated time.
OK, airlines allow roughly an extra hour in their schedule to allow for people to be late or delayed.
But there’s still a cut-off time after which no amount of pleading will get you on board.
Treat your next meeting like a flight, with the start time set the same as the absolute latest you could get on board a plane without being clipped on the heels as the door closes.
Chances are that you’d turn up on time for that.
So do the same for the other things you need to be punctual for.
Make a resolution to be early for everything
If you know that you’re traditionally 15 minutes late and everyone sighs when you arrive, flustered, then make a resolution to be that amount of time early. Maybe plus an extra few minutes – you’ll know whether the extra added time makes sense for you.
You don’t have to wait until the New Year to make resolutions – you can make them at any time of the year and they’re probably better done individually than as a bucket list anyway.
Of course, there’s no point in making a resolution to be early unless you stick to it, otherwise you’ll just be your usual lateness but probably more flustered because you’ve effectively missed two deadlines.
This option can work well alongside going public with your intention. Announce to anyone who’ll listen that you’ve given up your tardiness and will be early in future. Then challenge yourself to prove almost everyone wrong who’s listened to you and silently said “Yeah, right”. Because if your punctuality has historically been poor, that’s what they’ll be thinking. So challenge yourself to be early just to see the look on the faces of the people who thought hell would freeze over before you arrived for anything early.
Stop hitting snooze on your alarm
I know, you need your beauty sleep.
But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t go to bed slightly earlier instead of getting up on the umpteenth press of the snooze button.
Commit to getting out of bed just before the alarm first goes off – that’s actually quite do-able (personally my alarm is there as a backstop that I almost never use) and will give you a sense of achievement. Set yourself an initial target to beat your alarm clock once a week, then raise that challenge to twice, three times, etc.
Or – if that’s completely impossible for you – work out how you can rearrange your day so that you can have that extra time in bed.
Of course, you may not have that luxury in which case you’ll need to look at the timings involved and work out whether there’s anything you can do more efficiently or move so that it’s not in your own personal morning rush hour.
Do a time and motion study on yourself
OK, you’re probably not going to follow yourself around with a clipboard and pen and stopwatch. But get as close to that outsider view as possible.
Yes, it will take a bit of extra time to jot down each task and the time taken. But you probably know your own routine well enough to be able to put the tasks down in some semblance of order before you begin noting the times each one starts and ends.
This works well for anything you do on a regular basis, whether that’s getting to work on time, getting to meetings on time or anything else.
Chances are that the areas where you waste time will leap out at you from the sheet almost as soon as you write them down.
If they don’t, go back over the sheet a day later.
And if they still don’t, ask a friend to help you figure out where time could be saved to change you from being permanently late to being punctual.
Don’t put too much on your schedule
This can be difficult to do.
Your schedule may be partially or totally dictated by other people. If that’s the case, let them know that they’re trying to schedule you 28 hour days and that you’ve no chance of those happening because your name isn’t Jack Bauer – we’ll forget about the fact that the TV show is fiction and that each 40-ish minute episode that claims to cover an hour takes a lot longer to write and film.
This can mean working out what is and isn’t important on your schedule because it could mean that something has to get dropped.
Explain to the people concerned that you can’t fit everything into your diary – that’s the main reason that you’ve historically not been punctual – and that you’re going to do whatever it was less often but for the actual amount of time you’re booked for.
If they don’t understand, maybe you need to re-think your relationship with them.
And if it’s a work issue then a quiet word with HR once you’ve calmed down might help to iron out the problems. If not, decide whether it’s time to freshen up your CV and work somewhere that doesn’t expect you to be superhuman,
Use a clock as a screensaver
Wearing a watch is almost a lost art but almost every phone and computer has the ability to have a clock as a screensaver.
If you’re constantly forgetting the time and in turn that’s affecting your punctuality then change your settings so that you’ve got a clock every time you look at your phone or leave your computer unattended for more than a few minutes.
Add in buffer time to your day
Diarize blank periods in your day. The amount of time and the amount of blocks is up to you and you can always change the “settings” as the days go by.
These can be used as and when meetings over-run and you can’t get away from them.
Or they can simply be used to catch up on all the small day to day tasks that can get neglected and can mount up to devour more time than you ever imagined once you finally get to them. A bit like trying to keep a teenager’s bedroom tidy.
Buffer time is time that probably only you will know about.
To everyone else, a meeting or other time slot will be that number of minutes longer.
And if someone else’s meetings always seem to run over-time, build that in to your schedule as well so that you’re not playing catch up just because something outside your control forced you to be late and had a knock on effect during the rest of the day.
Keep a note of how this works for you and adjust it as the days and weeks go by and you gradually become more punctual, even when other people seem to conspire to prevent you from managing that.
Have something to do in the extra waiting time
This may turn out to be your most productive time!
There are always things to do and there always seem to be less hours available than they need.
Keep a brief list of things you can do in the time you’ve shifted by being early for things.
It could be thinking time – something a lot of us don’t do enough of.
It could be a simple relaxation technique so that you’re refreshed when the meeting starts.
It could be actually interacting with the other people who are early – taking a bit of time to get to know them outside the environment of the meeting that’s about to take place.
Or it could be a folder with a bunch of things that you’re really like to get completed and that will survive being finished in fits and starts.
There’s a good chance that you need to work on your mind. Otherwise you’ll get more and more stressed as you miss more and more meetings and deadlines.
Plus if you make too much of a habit out of being permanently late, you’ll begin to find people either cancelling meetings with you or just not setting them up in the first place.
Or the meeting you’ve called will be cut short because it still needs to end on time even if you started it late.
One way round all this is to download a hypnosis track that will help you to become a more punctual person.
Just listen to the track (it’s OK to be late for this listening session! So long as you start at the beginning and listen to it right through) and it will work with you to help you to improve your punctuality.