Being on time is one habit that accomplishes two very important things — it melts away stress and improves relationships at the same time.
So why, then, do so many of us constantly run late, keep others waiting, and in general cut it far too close?
It certainly has something to do with the fact that we’re overcommitted and busier than ever.
But another reason for our tardiness is that we simply don’t leave ourselves enough time.
When planning our commute or how long an activity will take, we tend to think in best-case-scenario terms. Since we have gotten up and out the door in 20 minutes before, that’s the math we use when deciding the time for our alarm wake-up call. Because we have made it to the restaurant in 10 minutes in the past, that’s how long we expect it to take again. We want something to take a certain length of time, so therefore that’s the amount of time we allocate.
Sometimes it does go perfectly, and how nice is that? Everything goes smoothly and our day comes together like a well-orchestrated puzzle.
But oftentimes it doesn’t.
There is unexpected traffic, or we just can’t find the right outfit to wear. Our toddler needs to make a last-minute bathroom stop before we can head out. We can’t find a parking spot, or didn’t realize how much time one wrong turn could set us back. We didn’t think about how long the walk from the parking garage into the restaurant would take. Or any number of other unexpected events.
That is why Greg McKeown, New York Times best-selling author of Essentialism, recommends adding a 50 percent buffer to the amount of time we estimate something will take. That might seem overly cautious, but McKeown reminds us to think about how often things actually do take 50% longer than anticipated. So if you estimate it will take 20 minutes to get to your business meeting or daughter’s piano lesson, leave the house 30 minutes ahead of time instead.
As McKeown says, “Not only does this relieve the stress we feel about being late (imagine how much less stressful sitting in traffic would feel if we weren’t running late), but if we do find that the task was faster and easier to execute than we expected (though this is a rare experience for most of us), the extra found time feels like a bonus.” Better yet, these days our mobile devices actually enable us to pass time in a productive way — check emails with the extra time, make a quick phone call, or read that article you’ve been meaning to finish. Being early doesn’t have to feel like wasted time.
Reducing stress has been shown to lead to a strengthened immune system, better cardiovascular health, less depression, and an overall more enjoyable life. So remove one unnecessary source of stress in your life by committing to being on time.
Another reason we are often late is that we simply haven’t prioritized punctuality. We haven’t deemed it important enough to show up at the time we were supposed to be there. Sometimes we think it just isn’t that big of a deal.
But thinking this way is a mistake.
If we made a commitment to an activity, we should show respect by being there when we said we would (otherwise we shouldn’t make the commitment at all). Even when we’re going to activities that we don’t consider “high priority”, showing up late still makes us feel guilty and stressed, not to mention being disrespectful to the people we are meeting. It implies that our time is more important than theirs, which hurts both our reputation and our relationships.
So stop trying to fit in those last-minute emails before heading out the door. Get in the car earlier than you have to. Don’t put yourself in the situation of having to come up with excuses for being late.
Instead, be known as someone who is always on time. And watch your life change as a result.