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Don’t Be Late! Why Being On Time Matters

I’m on vacation right now. Since we’re going to be away from home for ten days, we knew we would have to do a load of laundry on the road. I found a laundromat, got the clothes started and pulled out my laptop to catch up on Facebook and email, and that’s when I saw it: An email letting me know that I’m late submitting this writing assignment. I looked back through emails and discovered that I’m five days late. The due date wasn’t in my calendar. I live and die by my Google calendar, and if something isn’t in there, it doesn’t happen. Given that my topic for this month is “The importance of being on time” the whole thing struck me as mortifying.

Being late is one of those things that happens to everyone once in a while, because some things are just out of our control. There’s an accident on the highway; the subway stops with you in it; your computer dies. When that kind of thing happens, I think most people understand.

But most of the time when people are late I don’t think it’s the “force majeure” kind of lateness. It’s simple disrespect for other people, and simple irresponsibility. As reluctant as I am to admit it, I know that’s how it is for me.

When I read the email with my assignment and due date, the responsible thing would have to been to put the info in my calendar immediately. If I was on a device with email, I was on a device with my calendar. But for whatever reason, I didn’t. Maybe I meant to and got distracted. Maybe I wanted to read some other emails first and forgot. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t showing my employer proper respect by not being on top of things right away.

Habitual lateness is even worse. I was in a choir for ten years, and there were several people in the choir who were never on time. I’m talking not once in ten years. Being late that consistently means that you’re trying to be late. You have no respect for the people waiting for you. To be twenty minutes late every single Sunday is to say to yourself “I don’t respect the group enough to get up twenty minutes earlier on Sundays.”

I also think that being able to easily contact someone and say that you’re going to be late has made us all more complacent with lateness, as if having someone tell you that they’ll be fifteen minutes late helps you when you’re already at the restaurant waiting for them. Back before cell phones, we had to be where we said we would be. If we got flaky about it, people got pissed. Now we think that a quick “Running late!” text gets us off the hook. It doesn’t.

Being late is almost always preventable. Here are some tips.

how to be on time

Don’t overbook.

I used to try to cram too much in too close together. I wouldn’t think about travel time clearly, or allow for a meeting going a few minutes late, or me needing to take a bathroom break. Every little delay would cause a ripple in my schedule and before I knew it I would be half an hour late.

Leave breathing room in your schedule. Allow for the unexpected, and don’t pack things in too tight.

Figure out what to do when you’re early, and then be early.

I record a podcast every Tuesday, same time, same place. It should take me exactly forty minutes door-to-door, but the subway screws me roughly half of the time. I’ve learned that I have to add an extra half an hour to my commute time to ensure that I won’t be late.

There’s a drug store near the subway. I plan my weekly drugstore shopping for Tuesdays. If I’m early, I do it before the recording session. If I’m on time, I do it after. Figure out what you can do, whether it’s running some errands, reading a book, answering emails on your phone, or whatever. Then you won’t feel like you’re wasting your time being early, and you can plan better.

Anticipate delays, and plan for them.

Check the weather report. Check the traffic report. Make sure you have gas in your car. Make sure you have the correct change for the bus, or that your subway card has money on it. Figure out whether you’ll have to let your windshield defrost.

If you anticipate any of these things being a problem, build in extra time to allow for them. Technology gives us no excuse. We can get hour-by-hour weather predictions and up-to-the-minute traffic reports. Let technology help you plan.

Identify what trips you up repeatedly, and fix it.

For years I had a hard time finding my keys. I would be all ready to head out of the door, and the keys would be gone. This was making me late and it was unacceptable. As much as I love to come in the door and just drop my stuff wherever (I’m a slob), I had to make myself put my keys in the exact same place every single time came home. It took some getting used to, but once it was a habit it was easy. I can’t believe I used to make myself late because of something so preventable.

Figure out what you do repeatedly that makes you late. Do you take forever picking out a pair of shoes? Can you never find your purse? Can you never find an umbrella? If you’re doing something over and over again that makes you late, fix it.

Make sure you know what time it is.

Put clocks in every room of your house. Wear a watch (I wear this one almost every day – it’s my favorite). Set the kitchen timer to go off when it’s time to put your shoes on and gather your stuff. Just generally be aware of what time it is and how long you have until you need to leave.

Print out a schedule if you have to, with a countdown: 90 minutes before I have to leave, get on treadmill; one hour before, get in shower; forty-five minutes before, get dressed and put on make-up; half an hour before, start making breakfast; five minutes before, pack purse.

If you make being on time a priority, people will appreciate you more. And I guarantee that you’ll start demanding it others. And that’s a good thing.

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