Maybe it’s just me, but my generation (we’ll say current 13–30-year-olds) seems to be suffering from an epidemic of tardiness. I have given up on expecting people to be on time—I simply assume they’ll show up late to everything. Despite that, I’m a very punctual person and typically end up waiting for others. Sometimes my friends ask how I can so reliably be on time, and since my usual snarky response of “I show up on time” isn’t very helpful, these are 9 habits of very punctual people.
This means that if they need to be somewhere 15 minutes away, they don’t leave 15 minutes in advance. They leave 20 or 25 minutes in advance. Why? Because you never know what might come up. You could have to find parking, could realize you forgot something, could run into a friend on the way—the possibilities are endless. By giving themselves buffer time, punctual people ensure that even if something last minute comes up, they’ll still be on time or very close to it.
Punctuality isn’t just about showing up places on time; it’s a lifestyle. Punctual people will typically be reliably punctual because of their other habits, including being highly organized. They tend to keep up-to-date calendars of what’s going on, and know how long it’s going to take to get to those places. They also don’t schedule things too close together to avoid possible overlap, and design their schedules to minimize risky travel time.
This relates to buffer time, but it’s important that if you’re going to be punctual you know how long things will take. We tend to overestimate how quickly we can get somewhere, so a good rule of thumb is to add a few minutes or a certain percentage to how long you think it will take. We always imagine traveling in a perfect situation with no traffic or distractions, and that simply doesn’t exist.
Like I said, I pretty much always expect other people to be late at this point—and I’m rarely wrong. Luckily I carry my Kindle almost everywhere so I have something to read while I wait. Other punctual people will likely do something similar, either by working on their iPad, reading a book, checking the news on their phone, or responding to emails. Whatever it is, punctual people have to be okay with waiting for others since they’ll usually end up doing so.
Being punctual means being on time for others’ expectations of you, but it also means being on time for your own deadlines. That means that when a punctual person says they’ll wake up at 7am, they usually do. And conversely, people who are able to reliably wake up very early in the morning tend to be punctual. It all goes back to procrastinating—people who are punctual don’t procrastinate leaving for things, and they don’t procrastinate waking up.
Not only do they wake up early, but they sleep better in general. Like I said there’s an element of procrastination to showing up late, and there’s also an element of procrastination in staying up late. People who procrastinate leaving for things tend to be late, and people who procrastinate sleeping tend not to sleep well. People who are punctual, conversely, go to bed on time and wake up feeling well rested and ready to seize the day.
On that note, they don’t procrastinate in general. People who show up on time and are comfortable with waiting will also be the ones to turn their work in early and not have to worry about it as opposed to scrambling at the last second. They know they’ll be stressed if they’re running behind, so they avoid getting stressed out at work just as in showing up.
Ultimately what this means is that punctual people aren’t rushed. It seems odd that you could leave earlier for something and not be rushed, but it’s true. When you have no risk of not making it on time you don’t need to worry while you’re in transit, so you don’t feel rushed. It takes a lot of the stress out of getting around because you know you’ll make it there on time even if something comes up, so you don’t need to speed or freak out on the way.
This is less a habit, and more a reason to adopt the other eight. When you’re on time for everyone else, you hope for a similar courtesy. If someone is agreeing to meet up with you, the least you can do is not waste their time by being late, so naturally anyone who has to wait for you is going to get annoyed. And punctual people end up doing a lot of waiting. As a policy I’ll tend to leave after 5–10 minutes of waiting without being warned—it’s simply not worth anyone’s time to stand around waiting for someone who doesn’t have the courtesy to be on time.
So hopefully you can apply some of these 8 habits, and keep the 9th one in mind. Woody Allen said that “80% of life is showing up” but I disagree. It should be “80% of life is showing up on time.”
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