Breaking the Lateness Habit

[Written by Debbie Stone, Associate Partner at Brilliant Minds]

It doesn't matter where you're going, you're always late.  Always. You spend your life dashing about, risking a speeding fine, and still you arrive 10 minutes late, out of breath and full of apologies.

Was the saying 'late for your own funeral' invented for you?  Do you find it hard to imagine arriving at a meeting relaxed, calm and breathing normally?

If so, you're not alone. A significant number of people – some estimates say up to 15 or 20 percent – have trouble arriving on time.

Do you need an incentive to break the habit?

Habitual lateness won't help your career prospects nor will it create great workplace relationships. For one thing, your boss and colleagues are relying on you to be at work when you're scheduled to arrive; you don't want to disappoint them. If your chronic tardiness bothers you, think how much it infuriates others who are constantly wasting their time waiting for you.

Just because nobody confronts you about your tardiness, that doesn't mean that no one's watching the clock and forming an opinion about you or your work ethic.  These judgments can damage you when it comes to performance reviews and promotions.  Those few extra minutes of sleep or squeezing in that extra task could cost you your reputation – or worse, your job. 

"Look at the costs of being late and the payoffs of being on time," says Julie Morgenstern, author of 'Time Management From the Inside Out.' "I think people's stress level is very high when they're late. They're racing, worried, and anxious. They spend the first few minutes apologizing. One of the payoffs of being on time is that you eliminate the stress of the travel time and you eliminate the time spent apologizing."

So for everyone who's ever felt punctuality-challenged, or for those who have loved ones who are constantly showing up late, here are ten strategies and tips you can use to kick the lateness habit and start showing up on time (and please forward this article to all of your friends and family who could use a few lessons on being on time). 

1. Identify why you're chronically late. Reasons for being late run from legitimate (the motorway's closed) to procrastination (you didn't prepare for the meeting ahead of time and instead tried to do it that morning) to pure feet dragging (you're unhappy at work and simply take your time showing up). Address the underlying cause of your lateness, whether it's dealing with procrastination, finding a more enjoyable career, or learning how to better estimate how long things take. 

2. Learn to say no. Perhaps you would normally be on time, but at the last second your neighbour, mother, friend or colleague asks you for a favour that throws your entire schedule off track. Realise that it's sometimes OK to simply say, "Sorry, I don't have the time right now, but I can help you with that another time."

3. Be realistic about how much time you need. It may be that you're late because you underestimate how much time things take. To get a better handle on this, keep a journal for a week or two and write down how long things (such as personal grooming, the daily commute, dog walking, or grocery shopping) take. Then, you'll know if you're trying to fit too much into one day.

4. Leave some "margin" in your life.  Add in a few minutes in between events for those unforeseen occurrences in life … which tend to be the rule, not the exception.

5. Develop consequences. Sometimes consequences of being late come whether you like it or not, such as not getting a job because you were late to the interview. However, in other cases, developing a negative consequence to arriving late can help curb the behaviour in the future. If you're late for a lunch meeting, offer to pay.  A few occurrences of this and you'll soon have another motivation for being on time.

6. Stick to your "leave-by" time. Most people have a time in their head when they know they must leave the door by to make their appointment on time. Once you decide on this time, stick to it no matter what (no last-minute phone calls or errands allowed).

7. Place your alarm clock strategically so that you have to get out of bed to turn it off.  You're much less likely to hit the snooze button. If you really can't bear to get up when they alarm first goes off, then set 2 separate alarms 5 minutes apart.

8. Invest in a water resistant watch and wear it in the shower or make sure there's a clock in the bathroom.

I was chatting to someone about lateness at a recent conference.  She said she was often late for meetings and even workshops with clients, but didn't know what to do.  Looking at her arms, I made the observation that she doesn't wear a watch.

'Oh,' she exclaimed, somewhat surprised 'do you think it would help?'  Amazing.

9. Silence is golden.  Breakfast TV or your favourite radio station just act as a distraction when you're getting ready in the morning – leave them in the off position.  On mornings when I have to leave early, I use this strategy and I reckon it saves me a good 10 minutes.

10. Keep your car's fuel tank half-full.  It's so annoying when you're already pushed for time, you jump in the car and then realise you need to fill up with fuel on the way.  Make a promise to yourself that you'll always fill up as soon as the needle dips below halfway.

Use one of two of these tips tomorrow.  Persist with them and soon you'll be developing the Punctuality Habit, feeling less stressed, building better relationships with those around you and making time to do things you never could before.

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