Dear Lifehacker, Lots of people are chronically late, and one big reason is the habit of always trying to do ‘one more thing’ before heading to an appointment. I suffer from this, and I’ve asked enough people to know that I’m not alone. Such people plan their day carefully, they know what time they have to leave, but they think ‘I’ll just do this one more thing before I go’. And that turns into another, then another, all small and probably non-urgent tasks that should only take up a few seconds but end up taking minutes, and then they end up late! Is there any way to deal with this? Thanks, One More Thing
It’s definitely a good idea to break the habit of constantly running late. In addition to making you feel unduly flustered, it can lead to negative judgements of your character. After all, there are certain things you would never turn up late for (such as a plane flight), so why is it okay to treat certain people or organisations this way? All it takes is a few tardy arrivals for you to get labelled as selfish and unreliable; especially in a business context.
The first step is to diagnose the problem. In your case, it seems to be an issue of priority — whether you’re wrapping up a work task in the office or simply ironing your shirt, you currently value small, unimportant tasks over punctuality. This is a habit that needs to be consciously broken.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders, authour of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, offers the following advice on how to re-prioritise punctuality and know when it is and isn’t okay to be late:
Look below the surface of the activity to the underlying priority. For example, if you feel the need to wrap up one more work task before heading out the door, the underlying value could be “a sense of completion” or “being able to let go mentally.” Once you have pinpointed the underlying value, you have three options:
Find a way to satisfy both: This could look like setting an alarm for 30 minutes before you need to stop working so you can wrap up and leave on time and telling those around you how much time you have before you need to leave.
Elevate the importance of timeliness: Sometimes you can’t uphold your other value and be on time. In those instances, if you want to arrive at the agreed on time, you need to increase the relative importance of being on time above your other values.
Be late — without guilt: If you can’t meet both values and you don’t want to elevate timeliness above your other value. Accept the fact that you will be late. Although this may not make other people happy, you have aligned your time investment with your highest values.
According to Saunders, you should also plan mobile tasks you can complete on-the-go while you wait for something to start. Otherwise, you’ll be constantly trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before you head out the door to avoid wasting time.
“In this scenario, you put a high priority on the value that you could extract from each minute,” Saunders explains. “So the solution lies in having ideas for what you could do with any extra time that you have before something starts. This could include answering e-mail, returning texts, reading a blog post, calling a friend, thinking about a complex problem, or even meditating.
“The activity doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you need to feel comfortable with the fact that any minutes of waiting can be well spent on an activity you find meaningful. This lowers the resistance to giving yourself enough time to arrive slightly early.” (You can read a bunch more tips from Saunders here.)
On a similar note, try putting as many appointments as possible in a block so that once you have left the office, you can’t get sidetracked. This is a hack that my boss Angus lives by — he’s constantly out of the office but rarely leaves for just one thing.
Naturally, it’s also important to schedule a buffer to ensure you have enough time to reach destinations. If it takes roughly ten minutes to get somewhere in ideal traffic conditions, give yourself twenty. Otherwise you’ll regularly be at least a few minutes late despite the best of intentions.
One final piece of advice: in today’s digitally connected world, there’s really no excuse for not giving a heads-up if you do find yourself running late. While this wont give you a complete pass (especially if you’re a repeat offender) it’s better than just slinking in and mumbling a halfhearted apology.
As always, we’d also like to hear from readers who have punctuality tips of their own. How did you get over your chronic tardiness? Let OMT know in the comments section below.
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