time management

How to Be Consistently on Time

October 10, 2022

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

How to Be On Time: The Simple Solution to Stop Being Late

Do you find yourself running late to… everything? Guess what! Tardiness isn’t actually something people do out of laziness. In fact, most of it can be chalked up to personality traits that can be learned and unlearned! When you figure out how to manage your time well, you can be on time or early to almost everything.

It sounds like a simple concept — you just… show up on time, right?? But I’m pretty sure most people will agree with me when I say it’s actually one of the hardest, most complex things out there! I mean, it shouldn’t be. In a perfect world, we’d all plan out our days, have plenty of time to get to each destination, skip traffic, and arrive at every dentist appointment and soccer practice right on the dot… or even early! 

And yet, so many people I know (and even people I’ve coached) count “timeliness” as one of their weakest skills and being late as one of their worst tendencies. But guess what? Being on time really can be easier than you think. 

So today, I’m breaking down the simple concept of being on time and telling you my exact framework for arriving at almost every appointment, event, and hang-out on time or early! 

You should also probably know that I used to be the late friend in my group. Just ask my friend Jacob about the time I was so late to meet up for our carpool to a Tiger Stadium tailgate that they almost left me behind. Not to mention that time I got written up by my supervisor for being late to work no less than 17 times. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but I’m just saying that if these tips work for me, a recovered chronically late person, I promise they can work for you, too. 

Why is it so hard to be on time? 

If you’re a habitual procrastinator, I’m about to change your entire perspective on timeliness. No, it’s not about being “lazy” or not respecting other people’s time. 

In fact, people who are often late simply perceive time differently than other people. Seriously, Jeff Conte, Ph.D. and associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University actually studied lateness, and discovered that there were deep-rooted personality traits underlying the habits of tardiness.

This is a fantastic discovery. For one, it means that lateness isn’t (generally) a conscious choice. And for two, it means that there are skills and habits you can pick up that will help you be on time far more regularly. 

Here are three simple ways that you can say goodbye to being tardy for the party for good.

It all starts with a plan… 

If you’re new here, hi, I’m Anna, and there’s nothing I love more in the world than a good plan! True story, I’ve been making itineraries since I was in kindergarten

Now, I can’t live without a weekly planning session. It’s my time to sit down and map out the week ahead. I look at What deadlines are on the horizon. What meetings are on the calendar? 

Then, I look for the tough spots and make some decisions. I especially pay attention to the early morning meetings that’ll impact daycare drop off. The late afternoon phone calls that impact dinner and the evening speaking engagements that bump into our bedtime routine. 

Now that Millie is getting older, her activities are in the mix, too. 

Does Millie have dance class 15 minutes after my last meeting is supposed to end? Can I reasonably wrap up that call and make it to carline by 3:00, especially if there’s a delay or a traffic issue? 

Sometimes, those tough spots are unavoidable, and you have to do your best to be hold firm to your boundaries and hustle to your commitments. But other times, it’s possible to shift something around – like a meeting start time, for example –  so you’re not late or running around like a chicken with your head cut off… or both!

Which leads me right into my next point…  

Add transition time blocks to your calendar. 

This is a habit I picked up from my time as a scheduler for a United States congressman early in my career. Every minute of his day had to be accounted for, and that included any time spent walking from the office to the committee rooms or the house floor. 

When I started doing this in my own calendar, my entire life changed. Personal, professional, you name it! The thing is, even when you plan out your days and weeks perfectly, getting all of the meetings and timeblocks right, we’re still humans. And humans tend to overlook the small things, like transition time. 

What’s transition time? It’s the time you spend going from the salon to your car in the parking garage, or how long it takes you to find a parking spot, or the quick chat the receptionist has with you on your way out of the doctor’s office. 

Time adds up

These things might only take a few minutes, but those few minutes can quickly add up, especially if you’ve got a jam-packed schedule where every minute counts. 

Instead of just putting meetings, appointments, and work time blocks in my calendar, I also add in time blocks to represent transition time, which in my case usually looks like drive time.  

I use recurring or repeating time blocks in my Google Calendar to represent my most common drives. 

There’s a recurring transition time block in each weekday called Daycare Dropoff Roundtrip that accounts for the 30 minutes it takes to drive from home to daycare, sit in the carline, and then drive back home. Plus, I add in about 5 minutes of buffer time in case I want to stop on the way home for an iced coffee. 

There’s a recurring transition time block on Wednesdays when Millie has dance class. I have transition time blocked out to represent the drive to daycare, getting her snapped into the car, driving to the dance studio, finding a parking spot, and then getting her changed into her pink tutu and ballet slippers in time for class without feeling rushed. The dance studio can be a madhouse, and if Millie feels flustered in the transitions sometimes she gets overwhelmed. It’s a lot for a three year old, so I’ve learned how important it is to build in transition time to meet her needs, too. 

If you get easily overwhelmed in crowds, or finding a parking spot, or going to a new place, blocking out transition time can help you get where you’re going feeling calmer and more relaxed instead of wound up and on edge. 

Repetition is key

Now it might seem weird to put timeblocks in my calendar for the same exact drive I make 5 days a week. But those recurring transition time blocks help me protect myself from accidentally overbooking myself. They hold the space and protect me from accidentally scheduling two things too close together. Often when we’re making an appointment or scheduling a meeting, when we glance at our calendar and see an open space, in that moment, we feel like that open space equals free time. But that’s definitely not always the case. 

Making that transition time makes decisions and scheduling appointments so much easier because they repeat, week after week in my calendar. I don’t have to manually add them in every day or every week. When I need them, they’re there. It’s also a huge help when you use an automated scheduling system like I do. Instead of the back and forth of scheduling podcast interviews over email, my guests just pick a time on my calendar using Acuity Scheduling. Having those transition times blocked off in my calendar means they can’t accidentally choose an interview time that conflicts. 

When I do need to take a meeting or I say yes to a speaking engagement that impacts that transition time, I’m able to make that decision with intention – rather than accidentally. And when I don’t need the transition time blocks, I just delete them. Easy peasy. 

Determine what you can do in advance to give yourself more breathing room. 

It’s super tempting to leave small things until the last minute because we think they’ll take less time than they actually do. That’s a classic case of the Planning Fallacy in action.

If you’ve ever been in one of my Get a Game Plan workshops or you’ve taken my Get a Game Plan Course, I’ll link it in the shownotes for you, then you know that the Planning Fallacy describes our tendency as humans to consistently underestimate how long things take. 

For example, in our minds, we envision that picking out an outfit before work will take us 2 minutes. And then, when we stand in front of our closet for 10 minutes trying to figure out what to wear, we end up frantically running out the door wondering why we’re late, again. 

Or we think it’ll take us 5 minutes to pack a lunch for the day, and 15 minutes in we’re still slicing strawberries. 

Instead of saving small tasks (that actually aren’t small at all) until the last minute, how can you rearrange those small tasks to take place at other times during the day when you’re less strapped for time. Can you choose your outfit for the day the night before as you’re winding down? Can you meal prep and slice your fruits and veggies on Sunday afternoon instead of in the morning before you head out the door?

There are almost always opportunities to do some rearranging so you’re less frazzled when you’re trying to get somewhere on time. 

Being on time is a learned skill!

And there you have it. 

Make a plan, map out your transition time, and rearrange your small tasks to create more breathing room. 

Alright everyone, how are we feeling? Ready to make the simple challenge of being on time more manageable? 

At the end of the day, just remember that tardiness is not a character flaw AT ALL. But the good thing is that the habits and personality traits associated with constantly being late aren’t permanent, and you can change them completely with a few great time management skills! Seriously! If I can do it, you can do it!

If you want to take your time management skills to the next level and craft a productively successful life, my membership program, It’s About Time Academy, is open to new members! You can learn more here.

In this solo episode, I talk about:

  • The real reason you’re constantly late
  • 3 ways to remedy tardiness
  • What a “buffer window” is and why should you add them into your schedule

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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