Feeling as though you’re always running twenty minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive…it’s no fun.
If you're chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you’re late. As my Eighth Commandment holds, the first step is to Identify the problem – then you can see more easily what you need to change.
There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because…
1.You sleep too late? If you’re so exhausted in the morning that you sleep until the last possible moment, it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don’t get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. I've become a sleep nut since I started my happiness project. Getting enough sleep is really important.
2.You try to get one last thing done? Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more email or put away one more load of laundry before you leave, here’s a way to outwit yourself: take a task that you can do when you reach your destination, and leave early. Tell yourself that you need that ten minutes on the other end to read those brochures or check those figures.
3. You undestimate the commute time? You may tell yourself it takes twenty minutes to get to work, but if it actually takes forty minutes, you’re going to be chronically late. Have you exactly identified the time by which you need to leave? That’s what worked for me for getting my kids to school on time. We have a precise time that we’re supposed to leave, so I know if we’re running late, and by how much. Before I identified that exact time, I had only a vague sense of how the morning was running, and I usually thought we had more time than we actually did. My daughter goes into near-hysterics if we're late, so that motivated me to get very clear on this issue.
4. You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses? Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late. Designate a place in your house for your key items, and put those things in that spot, every time. I keep everything important in my (extremely unfashionable) backpack, and fortunately a backpack is big enough that it’s always easy to find. My husband keeps his key items in the chest of drawers opposite our front door.
5. Other people in your house are disorganized? Your wife can’t find her phone, your son can’t find his Spanish book, so you’re late. As hard as it is to get yourself organized, it’s even harder to help other people get organized. Try setting up the “key things” place in your house. Prod your children to get their school stuff organized the night before—and coax the outfit-changing types to pick their outfits the night before, too. Get lunches ready. Etc.
6.You hate your destination so much you want to postpone showing up for as long as possible? If you dread going to work that much, or you hate school so deeply, or wherever your destination might be, you’re giving yourself a clear signal that you need think about making a big change in your life.
7. Your co-workers won’t end meetings on time? This is an exasperating problem. You’re supposed to be someplace else, but you’re trapped in a meeting that’s going long. Sometimes, this is inevitable, but if you find it happening over and over, identify the problem. Is too little time allotted to meetings that deserve more time? Is the weekly staff meeting twenty minutes of work crammed into sixty minutes? Does one person hold things up? If you face this issue repeatedly, there’s probably an identifiable problem – and once you identify it, you can develop strategies to solve it -- e.g., sticking to an agenda; circulating information by email; not permitting discussions about contentious philosophical questions not relevant to the tasks at hand, etc. (This last problem is surprisingly widespread, in my experience.)
Late or not, if you find yourself rushing around every morning, consider waking up earlier (see #1 above). Yes, it’s tough to give up those last precious moments of sleep, and it’s even tougher to go to bed earlier and cut into what, for many people, is their leisure time. But it helps.
I've started getting up at 6:00 a.m. so I have an hour to myself before I have to rassle everyone out of bed. This has made a huge improvement in our mornings. Because I’m organized and ready by 7:00 a.m., I can be focused on getting all of us out the door. (On a related note, here are more tips for keeping school mornings calm and cheery.)
My husband and I actually have the opposite problem: chronic earliness. It's a great quality to share, because it means that both of us are happy to arrive early at the airport or a teacher's conference. However, we often have to walk around the block a few times, as we wait for the proper time to ring someone's doorbell, and we have a lot of empty time before movies start.
But if you conquered chronic lateness, what are some strategies that worked for you?
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