My dad is one of those people who is early to everything. Like, really early. The church service he attends starts at 9. He lives five minutes away from the church. He leaves for church at 8:20. He’s that kind of early. I’m not sure how he does it. It seems to just come naturally. But for the rest of us who aren’t naturally thirty minutes early to everything we do, being punctual takes some work. After years of experimenting to figure out how I can be on time most of the time, here are my best tips for being more punctual.
1. This is going to sound obvious, but wear a watch. An actual watch, not a smart watch. Don’t tell me you can just check the time on your phone. I know that you, just like the rest of us, have also gone to check the time on your phone, ended up scrolling for a bit, and locked your phone again, only to not know what time it was. Wear an actual watch that does nothing but tell time.
In order to be punctual, you need to know what time it is. Obviously. If you’re wearing a piece of jewelry that functions exclusively to tell you the time, it’s much more difficult to lose track of time. If that timekeeping device also has the ability to contact all of your friends and access the entirety of human knowledge, it will be much less likely to help with your punctuality and much more likely to be the reason you’re late. I’ve worn a watch that functions exclusively as a watch for at least the last decade, and it has never been the reason that I’ve been late. I have a watch tan line, and I don’t even have a tan. Get a real watch.
2. Be honest with yourself about how long it takes you to do things. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve told myself that I can get ready for the gym and out the door in twenty minutes so I can stay in bed a bit longer, only for it to actually take forty-five minutes for me to get from my bed to my car. Luckily no one is waiting on me at the gym, so I can show up pretty much whenever I want.
It’s both impressive and scary how good we get at lying to ourselves, which is a habit that rarely serves us. This applies in many other areas of our lives as well, but the focus here is on being honest with yourself about how long things take. Maybe your commute to work is typically twenty-five minutes, but one time you hit every green light and did it in ten. This doesn’t suddenly mean that your commute to work is ten minutes. Be honest, and give yourself twenty-five or even thirty minutes for your commute.
If you aren’t sure how long something takes, time it. In fact, time it three or four times so that you can get an average. When I initially looked up the route to my gym on Google maps, it said the gym was seven minutes away. After timing it a few times, it turns out it actually takes between seven and fifteen minutes to get to the gym, so I typically plan for the commute to take about twelve minutes.
It’s very easy to underestimate how long it takes to get ready, do a common task, or drive someplace. By timing it, we force ourselves to acknowledge how long we really need to do something. Once we have concrete numbers to work with, it’s much easier to be honest with ourselves about the fact that we really do need to get off the couch and get ready now, instead of telling ourselves we can get ready in ten minutes.
3. Use being early as a chance to treat yourself. I’m sure if you showed up early, you could then continue to do whatever it is that you’re currently doing to avoid getting ready. Get wherever you need to be, then go back to that activity with much more peace of mind. If you like to read, carry a book with your or download some audiobook to your phone so that you can read for a bit if you’re early.
You could even make an event out of it. Find a coffee shop or bookstore near the place you need to be and hang out there for a bit browsing books or drinking coffee in celebration of your punctuality. It’s much easier to get up and get ready if you know you’re headed somewhere that you really want to go and that the sooner you get up, the more time you can spend there.
4. Don’t start things if you don’t have time to finish them before you need to start getting ready to leave. If you need to leave in thirty minutes, no forty-five minute Netflix episodes. I know this is obvious, but sometimes we all need a reminder. You cannot overcome the laws of spacetime, so stop trying.
5. Set reminders to get ready. It’s easy to get sucked into another task or just forget that you have to get ready to something. If you have a calendar blocked digital calendar, it’s super easy to add a reminder to events so that you know when to start getting ready. In fact, if you’re calendar blocking, then the time needed to get ready and commute should already be on the calendar, just add a notification for these events. Make sure to combine this with tip two so that you know you’ll have enough time.
If you know that it takes one hour to get ready, set a reminder an hour and ten minutes ahead of time. By doing so, you give yourself a few extra minutes to wind down whatever you’re doing and start heading in the direction of getting ready. We frequently give children five and ten minute warnings when they’re going to be doing a new activity soon because it’s difficult to immediately switch mindsets and start doing something new. Why don’t we do this for ourselves?
6. Create a morning routine. By having a good morning routine, you can get ready for the day in an efficient manner, rather than randomly running around doing things. Even if you don’t need to actually go anywhere until later in the day, completing your morning routine when you get up will leave you ready to go so that when the time does come to go somewhere, all you need to do is put on shoes and grab your keys. If everything is already done, you really can wait until five minutes before you need to leave to start getting ready.
Having a good morning routine and actually doing it every morning also has a few other perks. If you’re already alive and ready because you got everything out of the way in the morning, it’s much easier to participate in spontaneous activities. Additionally, putting on real clothes and taking a few minutes to do things that make you happy about the way you look and feel will make you feel better about yourself and your day, which often leads to more productivity and an overall better mood.
7. Get out of your own shoes. It’s all too easy to think about how I don’t want to get up off the couch or how I don’t want to go take a shower or how I really just want to stay in bed for a few more minutes while completely ignoring how others may feel. Anyone who is involved in your plans also had to get up off the couch or take a shower or get out of bed. They are making that effort for you, and it’s rude and disrespectful of their time to show up late because you didn’t get up when your alarm told you to. Being punctual really isn’t about you at all. It’s about other people, and it’s important to see where you fit in the big picture to push yourself to be punctual.
It’s important to note that in putting yourself in their shoes, the focus is on the fact that if you were meeting someone at a specific time, you’d want them to be on time out of respect. You expect others to be one time for you, so give them the same courtesy. If you’re being hard on yourself because you’re running late and you think others will be upset, you’re back in your shoes. Get out of your shoes. Though, you should probably literally get in your shoes if you need to go somewhere.
8. Streamline your getting ready process. Know what outfits you like to wear so that you can grab them quickly. If it helps you, create a personal uniform to eliminate as many time consuming decisions as possible. If you need to pack your lunch, meal prep your lunches at the beginning of the week. Pack your bag ahead of time. Make sure your laundry is done regularly. The less you need to do in order to get ready, the easier it will be to get ready on time.
In the same vein, do what you can to keep your space clean and your life organized. As someone who used to live in a perpetual state of deep disorganization, I’m well aware of how much time can be lost when you can’t find the things you need to get out the door. Twenty minutes of frantic running around can be easily condensed into three minutes when things have homes and live in their homes.
Personally, I keep my keys on a little hook by the door so I always know where to find them. My glasses are always on my nightstand, unless they're on my face. My shoes are on a shoe rack beside the door, and my coats are in the closet by the door. It takes me less than a minute to put my shoes and coat on and grab my glasses and keys. Assign all of your possessions a convenient home, make sure they live in their homes, and make sure nothing else gets put in those spaces instead.
9. Don’t define yourself by your lateness. I’m so tired of seeing tweets about people who are still wearing a towel but texting their friends that they’re already on their way. Why are we making lateness a defining characteristic and acting like we should be proud of it?
Refuse to define yourself as a habitually late person. It’s much harder to break a bad habit when we see that habit as one of our defining characteristics. If you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re always going to be late to everything, then that’s going to be true. Breaking the habit is going to require redefining how you see yourself. Decide that you are punctual person and you are no longer going to be known for being late.
Mindset is important. This applies to most areas of life. When you phrase the way you see yourself in a way that puts you in control, you become the driver of your life, rather than pushing the onus onto the universe. Saying “I can’t show up on time” is different from “I don’t show up on time”. The latter puts the control rightfully in your hands. From there, it’s much easier to adopt “I do show up on time” as a mindset, and then make that statement true.
10. Keep the important things packed so that you aren’t constantly repacking and trying to figure out what you’re forgetting, or running back inside to grab things. I do this in two different ways.
First, I keep my car stocked with things that I may need if I’m going somewhere. I know that I always have a water bottle, tissues, an extra coat, and other necessities in my car so that I don’t have to run back inside to grab them if I forget them.
Second, I keep two bags packed. The first is a larger backpack that always has toothpaste, deodorant, and other overnight necessities that I can use as a gym back or travel bag if I’m headed somewhere. I know that I only need to put clothes in the bag, and then I’m fully packed to go somewhere for a day or two.
I also keep a second, smaller backpack perpetually stocked with anything that I’d need for a day out. There’s gum, tissues, chapstick, money, and everything else that I might find myself needing when I’m away from home for more than a couple of hours. Since I keep these two bags packed at all times, I don’t need to constantly pack a bag when I’m getting ready to go somewhere. This cuts down significantly on the amount of time it takes me to get ready, and I just have to replace things in the bags as they run low.
11. Maintain a list of the tasks that you need to do before you leave and things to take with you when you go. Chances are that no matter where you’re going, there’s something you need to take with you, or something you need to do before you head out the door.
You’re not going to remember that stuff as you’re trying to leave, so write it down when you think of it. I like to make a note on my phone and add a reminder so that it pops up a few minutes before I’m planning to leave. This gives me a few minutes to check over the list before I leave and make sure I’m not forgetting anything. Maintaining a list lets me get out the door more quickly and with more peace of mind because I know I haven’t forgotten anything.
I also have a small whiteboard on my front door that I use to write reminders on. It’s a great place to make a list of the things I know I need to take with me when I leave because I know I’ll see it on my way out the door. It's also great for leaving notes to my fiance, be they practical or just cute.
12. Work on your overall time management skills. This probably isn’t news, but as you improve your overall time management skills, punctuality pretty much comes along for free. A big part of time management is knowing how long it takes you to complete a task, and as we mentioned in tip 2, this is very helpful in becoming more punctual.
13. Accept it. Even the best of us are late sometimes. Traffic was bad, our alarm didn’t go off, we couldn’t find that shirt we needed to wear, our cat hid our keys, whatever. It happens. If you’re going to be late, give an honest heads up to anyone who will be impacted by it, and just accept it.
Worrying about your lateness won’t make you any less late and will make you more flustered and stressed, which could easily make you even later. I often struggle with being hard on myself when I know I’m going to be late, but it’s important to continually remind yourself that it happens, and everything will be fine. Just own up to it. As we know, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Know that, along with everything else I talk about, there are tips and tricks, but it really does come down to just taking action. All of these things can help to make punctuality easier, but even with all the tricks in the world, you’ll still need to eventually just get up and do it. Being honest with yourself about how long it takes to get ready and commute, and then actually giving yourself enough time to do it, is always going to be the most reliable strategy for being punctual.