How to Be on Time

Help for the chronically late—and the people who wait for them.

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| January 22nd, 2013

Overcoming Lateness
Transforming yourself from chronically late to perfectly punctual is a big task. Wallin says it is important to make deadlines non-negotiable, “like a promise to yourself.” Start with something easily attainable, like vowing not to hit snooze tomorrow—not even once. “If you can't commit to a small inconvenience like that," she cautions, "you are not ready to tackle your chronic lateness.” Before jumping in, try an experiment: Get somewhere on time. Just once. Just to see how it feels. Note your reaction. Are you relieved or anxious? Proud or bored as hell? Then work your way up from there.

MORE: Five Ways to Slow Down and Feel Better

Step 1: Relearn to Tell Time. Every day for two weeks, write down each task you have to do and how long you think it will take. Time yourself as you go through your list—showering and dressing, eating breakfast, driving to work, picking up the dry cleaning, doing the dishes—and write the actual time next to your estimate. Many people have certain time frames cemented in their brains that aren’t realistic. Just because once, five years ago, you made it to work in 12 minutes flat doesn’t mean it takes 12 minutes to get to work.

Step 2: Never Plan to Be On Time. Late people always aim to arrive to the minute, leaving no room for contingency. Say you need to get to work at 9:00. You assume it takes exactly 12 minutes to get to work, so you leave at 8:48. If you miss one traffic light or have to run back inside to grab an umbrella, it becomes impossible to make it in on time. Don't chance it. Both DeLonzor and Morgentern say you should plan to be everywhere 15 minutes early.

Step 3:  Welcome the Wait. If the thought of getting anywhere ahead of time freaks you out, plan an activity to do in the interim. Bring a magazine, call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or go over your schedule for the week. Make the activity specific and compelling, so you’ll be motivated get there early and do it.

QUIZ: What Activities Fit Your Personality?

Finally, if you have a friend or family member that’s always late, remember that it’s not about you. Tricking her by saying something starts a half hour earlier doesn’t work; she’ll eventually catch on. And scolding her won’t make you feel any better about her lateness. In fact, it will probably just amplify your bad feelings. Instead, have an honest discussion—before you’re totally fed up—and set some guidelines. Try this: Every time your friend is late by 15 minutes or more, she pays for dessert. If it doesn't get her butt in gear, at least it sweetens the deal for you.

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