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How to Be On Time Every Time

How to Be On Time Every Time

In my last post, I talked about why being punctual matters. The short version: people who are habitually late (or are late even once, when it counts) project incompetence, self-centeredness, and even a lack of integrity.

In the comments, lapka asked if there were any tricks for people who have a hard time showing up on time, and through a little bit of research and a little bit of self-examination, I think I have some answers.

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First of all, though, it’s important to see being on time as part of your whole attitude towards time. You’re never going to be on time, every time — whether for appointments, meeting big deadlines, or even to catch a movie — if you haven’t put into practice a set of good time management techniques.

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That means, for example, having a central place where your time commitments are recorded, whether that’s an online calendar, Outlook, a smartphone, a dayplanner, or just an index card with your schedule on it.  It seems obvious that to be on time you have to know where you have to be and when, but it’s a step a lot of people try to skip — they want to hold everything in their heads.

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Secondly, being punctual requires a bit of an attitude adjustment. A lot of the time we let ourselves show up late because the event we’re showing up to isn’t all that important to us. Try this: don’t schedule events that aren’t that important to you. Use that time for things that are important to you. I know, there are a lot of things in your life that feel obligatory, like the weekly status report meeting at work, or dinner at your spouse’s or partner’s parents; either make those things important to you, or figure out how to cut them from your calendar.

Ok, with general principles out of the way, let’s move on to the tricks.

10 ways to make yourself more punctual

  1. Don’t check your email or voicemail right before you leave. That “last quick check” will almost always take more time than you think — which is, after all, what you’re hoping for. If you thought there’d be nothing important in your email, you wouldn’t bother checking.
  2. Plan for trouble. Always add 25% to your time estimate to get anywhere or do any task. If you think it takes 30 minutes to get to work, give yourself 40 (technically, 37 1/2, but let’s not be ridiculous here!). If you need 12 working hours to finish a proposal, give yourself 15. The worst thing that could happen is that you get a nice “Scotty effect” going, where you’re always ahead of schedule and everyone thinks you’re a miracle worker.
  3. Set up the night before. If you are, like me, someone who has a hard time getting going in the morning, make sure you set up the night before. Lay out your clothes, put your keys, wallet, etc. in tomorrow’s pants pockets or your purse, load up your bag with whatever material you’ll need  in the morning, put your lunch together, and so on. In the morning, wake up, get dressed, grab your stuff, and go.
  4. Set your clocks ahead a few minutes each — by different amounts. My alarm clock is 5 minutes fast, my watch only 1, my car clock 3. I think. Since I can’t be sure, I have to take each clock at face value. You might have a look at the Procrastinator’s Clock which is some random amount of time ahead, up to 15 minutes. It’s available for Mac and PC — I wonder if there’s a bedside version?
  5. Learn to better estimate how much time things take. Use a time tracker app like RescueTime to learn how long typical tasks take you to complete. Record these times, and refer to your record when estimating the time needed for similar tasks.
  6. Schedule events 10 minutes early. Put your 1:00 appointment into your schedule at 12:50, for example. But always have 10 minutes of work with you to fill the slack time, in case you surprise yourself by showing up “on time” 10 minutes early!
  7. Set reminders. Use your calendar program’s built-in reminder function, or use a service like Sandy to send you text reminders at set intervals before each appointment. I like a reminder at least an hour beforehand, so I can plan, and another 15 minutes prior so I know where I stand.
  8. Schedule events for “off-peak” times. Last year, I had a weekly meeting at 8 am. A trip that takes me 30 minutes any time after 9:00 am took me 1 1/2 hours due to rush hour traffic. Guess how many times I was late? Learn the times that traffic or other factors might make you late, and avoid scheduling during those times. For instance, give yourself at least an hour to get settled in every morning before your first meeting (so if you’re late to work, you won’t also be late for a meeting), don’t schedule meetings immediately after lunch (in case you get held up), avoid before-working-hours events (due to rush hour traffic), etc.
  9. Fill your gas tank when it reaches 1/4 tank. Don’t let an empty gas tank make you late for anything. Fill up whenever you reach 1/4 and you’ll never have to make an emergency stop at a gas station during your commute. (Plus, I’m told it’s better for your engine — whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.)
  10. Use a countdown timer. Grab a cheap digital timer, and use it to create a sense of urgency, and to help you keep on track at each step you need to complete to make it wherever you’re supposed to be on time. Break your preparation down into 10 minutes parts, set the timer, and GO!

What other advice do our readers have for people who just can’t figure out how to be more punctual? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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