Last week, I talked about struggling with being on time, and the spiritual and social benefits of doing so — how it’s dishonest to tell someone you’ll be there at a certain time and then not do everything you reasonably can to make it; how it’s disrespectful to them to value your own time and convenience over theirs; how you create so much unneeded chaos and anxiety, both for yourself and for others, when you’re always scrambling. I know about all this because I’ve been chronically late my whole life. (I encourage you to read Being On Time for a lot more about the spiritual principles involved.) Here are six powerful tips that I’ve found very useful for changing my lifelong pattern. I hope they’re helpful to you too:
First of all, plan to get places on time. Many people who are chronically late don’t really try to get places on time. To fit as much in their schedule as possible (or play power games), they aim to steal a little from each appointment, from each person they meet. Just the intention to stick to your schedule can make a difference.
Make an honest schedule that can be met. Many people make plans that aren’t really viable, because they want to be able to do more, or avoid making choices between things. The starting point for a plan is reality. If you make plans based on anything else, they will probably fail.
Be honest about how long travel takes. This one’s a challenge for me. My whole life, I’ve made commuting and travel plans that made no sense. They were based on the most optimistic possible scenario, and they left things out. I was amazed the first time I heard someone else mention not accounting for those last few minutes it takes to get from the train station to the building. I thought it was my own little mental game.
So, for example, for a usual route of mine, there’s 15 – 20 minutes of train time, and a train arrives every 10 minutes or so. If I add the maximum 10 minute wait on the platform, 10 minutes to and from the station, add a buffer of 5 or 10 minutes, I should plan on 45 minutes. I’ve typically allowed 20 or 25 — run to the train, prayed one arrives right away, run from the train and often still arrived 10 or 15 minutes late, out of breath and blaming the trains (but cursing myself privately.) I wouldn’t think I was lying. Like the gambler who remembers their wins and dismisses their losses, it would feel to me like the train not arriving for 10 minutes was “train problems.”
When it’s time to leave, leave. Don’t then go into a “wrapping up” mode that takes 10 or 20 minutes. Or if you are going to need to wrap up, then plan that into when you have to leave. Lots of times, people could get to their next appointment on time if they just left when they realized it was time to leave.
If things go smoothly and you are ahead of schedule, don’t squeeze in extra tasks that eat up that buffer time you’ve built into the schedule. The buffer is there for a reason. Next thing you know, the buffer is gone, something goes wrong and you’re scrambling again. Just enjoy the luxury of being ahead of schedule!
Finally, if you start falling behind, get back on schedule. Don’t let it become a cascading problem, making everything late for the rest of the day. You may have to omit or postpone something or cut something short. Which is more important, stopping to buy donuts for everyone or getting there on time? It’s case by case. I’m just saying be honest about the fact that there isn’t enough time. Again, making plans based on anything other than reality doesn’t work.
How about you? Do you have any tips to share that help you keep on schedule?