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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 July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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