Have you ever noticed that some people in your life are always late? Maybe it’s you! In your personal life, your friends and family may chalk this up to the price of admission to having a relationship with you. In your professional life, getting a reputation as someone who is always late can really hurt you. Colleagues and supervisors will think you don’t have your act together or worse, that you think your time is more important than their time. If you find yourself constantly running behind, here are some tips to get you back on track and on schedule.
1. Build in extra time on your calendar.
Are you always late for meetings because you schedule back-to-back sessions? If so, try to schedule 10, 15, or even 30 minutes between your meetings to give you a chance to run to the bathroom, write up any notes or lists of action items from your last meeting, catch up on emails, and/or prep for your next meeting. Do this by blocking out the time in your calendar, just like it’s a meeting. Then guard that time and don’t schedule over it.
Note: this only works if you work in an office and/or at a seniority level where you have some control over your schedule. If meetings just appear on your calendar without your consent and you are expected to show up anyway, you will need to chat with your supervisor about conflicts when they arise. Sometimes back-to-back meetings are unavoidable, but you can always let the people in your first meeting know that you have a hard stop at X time due to another meeting. That allows you to slip out of the first meeting quietly without appearing rude.
2. Over-estimate how long it will take you to do something.
Sometimes we are late with something because when we think about how long it will take, we guess blindly, or we skip steps when we’re thinking it through. Think about the time you need to start work. If you have to be at your desk at 9am and it takes you 30 minutes to drive to the office, you would never set your morning alarm for 8:30am. Instead, you need to account for the time it takes you to get up and get ready, plus a buffer in case of traffic or other issues.
That buffer is where many habitually late people stumble. One of two things tends to happen. First, they don’t account for all the things they need to do to get somewhere on time. For example, they will ignore or forget that they usually snooze their alarm three times before actually getting up, thus bumping back their entire timeline. Second, they assume everything will go perfectly. In reality, we hit traffic jams, spill coffee necessitating a change of clothes, or can’t get the dog to do his business quickly enough to catch our train. The truth is that people who are “on time” are very often planning to get to their destination a little bit early.
In your work life, you can estimate how long it takes you to do something by thinking back to the last time you did a similar task (even looking at your hour report if you bill time), asking your supervisor how long something should take, and/or writing out each step you need to take and thinking about how long each step will take. Then give yourself a bit of a buffer to account for steps you forgot or unforeseen issues that crop up. The length of the buffer may be as short as 15 minutes or it might be a full business day, depending on the size and complexity of your assignment.
Once you identify how long each step of a project will take, block out that time in your calendar so you can stay on track by using notifications when each task should end and another one should begin.
3. Set multiple alarms.
If you’re always late because you get engrossed in tasks and fail to look up at your clock or calendar, start setting audible reminders on your phone or calendar. Set at least two reminders. Set one five to ten minutes before you need to leave your office or log on to your next meeting—this is so you have enough time to get where you’re going or prep a bit. The second reminder should occur five minutes before the first reminder as a cue to wrap up your current project.
Once you get in the habit of setting reminders, building in buffers, I think you’ll find that you’ve established a new habit: getting places on time.