How to Be Punctual: 5 Habits to Always Be on Time
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Americans place a lot of stress and importance on being on time.
Whereas you go to almost any city in Europe or a Caribbean island… and business owners are shutting down in the middle of a day to go have a meal with their family and take a nap, at times leaving only a sign on the door that says “be back later”.
In their own language, of course.
It’s so open-ended.
But could you imagine telling your boss or your child that “you’ll be there later”? Especially when you are expected at a certain time?
Your boss isn’t going to schedule a meeting for “whenever”.
Your son’s baseball coach isn’t going to babysit him for 35 minutes after practice ends just because you “got tied up”.
This is not the way our world works.
Our society is built around sticking to a schedule… at times, a extremely tight and rigorous schedule.
Most people can’t just drop whatever they are doing, or alter their plans, because you simply needed more time.
Learning how to be punctual is crucial to our general success in life… and can affect many aspects, such as:
Chew on this…
If you are always late for work, you’ll likely get fired.
You’ll also most likely be overlooked for career advancement, as you will not be taken seriously by your employer or fellow employees.
If you are always late to meet friends, they may start to feel like you don’t value their time or friendship.
They will grow tired of waiting for you… tired of missing the start of a movie, or having to skip appetizers because they need to be home at a certain time.
They may just stop inviting you out altogether.
Romantically speaking, if you are late to a first date… you’ve pretty much ruined your shot for a second.
If you’re married and spent a month planning a romantic date night, only to have your husband arrive 35 minutes late because he got tied up at the office… he’ll likely end up getting the cold shoulder instead of tender touches.
If your kids have a playdate at the park scheduled for one hour after school and you arrive 20 minutes late… chances are their little friend has found another child to play with. And now your child is the third wheel.
Not to mention the subtle jabs you may get from the other parent, who actually made the effort to get their on time… and who needs to leave after exactly one hour to pick up another child from gymnastics.
So now your child only gets 40 minutes with her friend (which is more like 35 minutes because you spent five explaining why you were late)… and she’s not happy with you either.
When you are late, it can have an effect on your physical and mental well-being… as well as that of others.
You’re probably stressed, which can raise your blood pressure and heart rate.
You’re probably feeling pretty bad, which can be a blow to your self esteem.
And… 9 times out of 10, if you are late, you are rushing.
Rushing can lead to accidents.
A cut on your finger as you’re desperately trying to get dinner on the table.
A fall down the stairs as you’re dashing out the door.
A speeding ticket as you race to work.
Yes, learning how to be punctual can be a life changer… and I’m going to help you.
In this article, I will go over 5 habits to always be on time.
These easy-to-follow tweaks in your routine will leave your co-workers, friends and family in awe of the new you.
What You Will Learn
Habit #1: Set an Alarm
This habit is two-fold.
A). The most common use for an alarm is to wake up.
If you don’t fancy yourself the type of person who simply jumps out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off…
If you almost named your first child, “Snooze”…
Then you may want to consider setting your alarm a few minutes earlier.
A good rule of thumb is this:
- Add up the total number of times you typically hit the snooze button
- Multiply that number by the length of each snooze to get your total snooze time
- Subtract the total snooze in minutes from your original wake up time
- This is your new wake up time
Here’s an example:
3 Snoozes x 9 Minutes (per snooze) = 27 Total Snooze Minutes
Original Wake up time: 6:45am
6:45am – 0:27 = 6:18am
Setting your alarm earlier will allow your body to stay in it’s routine, without causing an actual delay in getting your morning started.
B). Another common reason people use an alarm is to serve as a sort of “last call”.
If you know that you have a super hectic day ahead of you, it isn’t a bad idea to set alarms to keep you on point.
For instance, if you have done your research and know that you need to leave the house by 5:15pm to make it to yoga class on time… then set an alarm for a few minutes before that.
It’s a final warning, if you will, to wrap up whatever else you’re doing so you’re not late.
It also may not be a bad idea to set a second alarm to go off at the exact time you need to leave.
Hey, better safe than sorry.
Habit #2: Check Yourself… Assess your Routine
Only you know how long it takes you to get ready for work in the morning.
Only you know how much time you need to get the kids off to school each day.
And only you know how much “stretching” your body needs before a workout.
Whatever you are striving to be on time for… it’s only going to work if you assess your strengths and weaknesses.
Embrace your limitations.
For instance, I am not good to anyone in the morning if I don’t have a cup of coffee within minutes of stepping out of bed.
So, when assessing my morning routine, I figured out that making coffee takes me about 5 minutes.
I then calculated that putting together four lunches and snacks for the kids takes about 15-20 minutes.
Picking out clothes for the kids (ages 4-9) and helping the two youngest get dressed is another 10-15 minutes.
My shower takes 5 minutes (I don’t dawdle).
Drying my hair and applying minimalist makeup took 15 minutes.
Getting dressed… 5 minutes.
By simply reviewing my morning routine, I realized that I need 55-65 minutes just to get the basics done on time… as in, the kids and myself out the door when we need to be.
Now, factor in my personal wake-up routine (see Habit #1), and I need roughly 82-92 minutes to get rolling with my day.
That is close to 1 ½ hours of time that I need so that the kids don’t miss the bus… and I don’t miss Pre-K drop off.
Obviously, everyone’s situation is different… which is why doing an assessment of the day ahead can be an integral part of being on time.
You can review any planned situation before it happens (a wedding, football game, dinner party…). And while it’s impossible to predict unforeseen circumstances that may get in the way, it’s totally possible to account for them by adding a few extra minutes.
Habit #3: Do as much Prepping as Possible
One of the best ways to avoid being late is to check off items from your to-do list sooner rather than later whenever possible.
If you look at your schedule closely, you will almost certainly find a few things that can be done ahead of time.
If it’s the morning routine you are having trouble with, assess it (Habit #2)… then write it down.
Take a look at the list and see what can be done the night before.
If a commute to work gives you pause, assess the stress and see what you can eliminate.
If extracurriculars are giving you the runaround, literally… then make sure you have everything you need ready before the day gets started.
Even the simplest activities can benefit from some advanced planning, such as ordering movie tickets online or checking out the restaurant’s lunch menu before you get there.
Habit #4: Map the Trip Out, Plan for Off Peak Travel
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway to a friend’s cabin, a holiday visit to you parents’ place, or just need to be in the city for a business meeting at 10am… it’s always smart to get a headstart on the best travel route.
It may be by car, mass transportation, airplane… but with all of the apps available to us nowadays, there is almost no excuse to be late.
Again, unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding.
Google Maps, Android Auto, Waze… apps such as these will make suggestions as to the best route to take to avoid traffic delays and accidents. They even provide an ETA.
Some apps even show police activity, so you can keep an eye out for speed traps.
Google even provides you with up to date flight and rail information, if that is what you need.
Oh, and did I mention most apps are free?
Regardless of which app you use (and I strongly suggest you do use one), your chances of being late are cut significantly.
Bonus tip: travel during off peak hours whenever possible… whether that means leaving early in the morning – or after dinner and grabbing a hotel for the night.
Being early is never a bad thing… and first impressions typically stick.
Habit #5: Be Realistic with Your Scheduling
If you know that you have a parent/teacher conference at your kids’ school at 10am, a conference call at 12:30pm and drinks with your husband’s boss at 4:30pm… it may not be a good idea to schedule a lunch with colleagues at 2pm.
What if the conference call runs long? What if you check Waze and there is traffic on the way to meet your husband for drinks?
You’d likely be late to something on your agenda.
Or, worse yet, have to cancel something.
And that would just look bad.
So do yourself a favor and don’t cram too much into your day.
Leave yourself some wiggle room to significantly cut down your chances of not being on time.
It’s one of the easiest ways to train yourself how to be punctual.
Final Thoughts on How to Be Punctual
Teaching yourself how to be punctual isn’t rocket science.
Following the 5 steps outlined here will help you to figure out what it is that hinders your punctuality… then customize a plan specifically geared towards what you need to work on.
By using some or all of the tips provided, you’ll be able to see more clearly the ways in which they fit into your life.
Being punctual is a courtesy to the people and things we care about.
It’s also a great character trait.
So if you still find yourself struggling, even after executing the habits we discussed, don't give up!
There are two more things to keep in mind:
I. It’s OK to say “NO” sometimes
Example: if you work a 9-5 job, have 2 children involved in five after school activities between them and take care of your aging mom… you may want to say “no” to chairing the middle school’s holiday pie fundraiser.
Wearing too many hats and putting too many things on your plate can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to punctuality.
Don’t agree to do more than you can comfortably manage well.
II. Put down the Smartphone or Tablet
One of the greatest enemies we face when trying to be on time is also one of our greatest assets.
Wow! That was deep.
Think about it.
As much as we rely on our smart devices for things like traffic and weather updates, alerts, calendar reminders, alarms, news, etc… we are also extremely, and all too often, distracted by them.
The unexpected text from a friend going through boyfriend drama that turns into an hour-long back and forth… the email from work asking about discrepancies in a proposal you handed in… a phone call from your mom complaining about your brother’s recent questionable life choices.
All of these things are distractions that you don’t need to be dealing with when you’re trying to get out the door on time.
So be smart about it (pun intended) and put the phone down – or on silent – until you actually have the time to deal with whatever may come your way.
Follow these habits and tips and you will be well on your way to never being late again!
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization and product reviews.