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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 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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