A study by researchers at San Francisco State University once found that 20% of Americans are chronically late — and, according to recent surveys, it’s something that is increasingly common among the younger generation
It’s not necessarily that the chronically late don’t respect other people’s time, though. Diane DeLonzor, the lead researcher for the San Francisco study, says: “Repetitive lateness is more often related to personality characteristics such as anxiety or a penchant for thrill-seeking. Some people are drawn to the adrenaline rush of that last-minute sprint to the finish line, while others receive an ego boost from over-scheduling and filling each moment with activity.”
While your friends and family may be forgiving of your perpetual lateness, in the professional world punctuality matters. That’s especially true in the legal profession, where clients expect a prompt response and the courts, for example, run to strict timetables.
So, what can you learn from those who have got punctuality nailed down? Here are seven traits people who are nearly always on time share:
#1 They’re realistic about how long things take
For Professor DeLonzar, the first step to being more punctual is to “re-learn how to tell time.” That’s because late people tend to underestimate the time their activities take by around 25%. To start realistically estimating how long things will take, start by recording in a journal the number of minutes you spend on your routine tasks — getting ready in the morning, travelling to work, checking email, filing documents, etc. Do this for all of the tasks you repeat on a regular basis. Gradually, you’ll start to appreciate the actual time tasks will take to complete.
#2 They build in “buffer” time
Stop trying to be exactly on time. Instead, plan to get to your appointments a little ahead of time. Say you need to get to court for 11 a.m. You could assume that it will take you 12 minutes to get there and leave at 10:48. Or, you could realistically build in additional time for traffic, metro delays, or an unavoidable dash back to the office to collect a file you forgot. Punctual people don’t chance it.
#3 They embrace waiting
Of course, building in all this extra “buffer” time means that, quite often, punctual people arrive first and find themselves waiting. If this prospect freaks you out, plan on an activity to do while you’re waiting. For example, you could take a book, review your emails, or go over your schedule for the rest of the week, for example.
#4 They organize
There’s more to leading a punctual lifestyle than just showing up on time. The most punctual people are also among the most organized. They tend to keep their calendars up to date, avoid scheduling too many adjacent meetings, build in travel time, and consciously plan out their day for maximum efficiency (e.g. avoiding moving back and forth for meetings by trying to co-schedule appointments that need to be in the same location).
#5 They set up multiple reminders and alarms
Ever had someone arrive 15 minutes late for a meeting and heard the “I totally forgot this was happening today!” excuse? The most punctual people take steps to ensure that no appointment is missed. They set multiple reminders, alerts, and notifications to make sure that they’re reminded of what they’ve got coming up.
#6 They set an agenda, and stick to it
What’s the number one reason for lateness in the workplace? Meetings that overrun. Sometimes that’s unavoidable, but only rarely. Most meetings can be kept on time by creating an agenda beforehand and sticking to it. The best clearly describe and allot a time frame for each item. Skipping an agenda item to keep to time is okay; adding to it during the meeting is not.
#7 They’re not afraid to cut people off
Of course, if you’re going to set time limits on meetings and discussions then you have to be comfortable cutting people off. If an appointment is overrunning and threatening to make you late for your next meeting, then end the conversation and finish in a new time slot either over the phone, by email, or as a last resort, by scheduling a new time to meet face-to-face.
What are your punctuality tips? How do you keep your work day on track? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!