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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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More by this author

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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