We’re a nation of self-improvers, always looking for a better way to do something, or how to do more in less time, or how to do several things at once. We have multiple gadgets to help keep us organized—day planners, desk calendars, smart phones, and to-do lists for every aspect of our lives. Yet record numbers of Americans are stressed out, in therapy, and taking medications to deal with anxiety. We all feel overwhelmed at different times, and it impacts the people around us—our family, our coworkers, even strangers in the cars on the roads with us. As we go through our busy days of working, running errands, perhaps being a taxi for others, and trying to work in a social life, there is one simple thing we can do that will improve our wellbeing, lower our stress, and build better relationships with other people on this earth:
Be on time.
We all know people who are at least fifteen minutes late everywhere they go, then they cartwheel into the room and consume the first few minutes of lunch or a meeting or an appointment with a litany of excuses. Are you that person? Think about all the places you have to be and the things you have to do in a day’s time, and how much stress you introduce into your life and the lives of others when you’re late. Not only is it rude, but it’s disrespectful—when you’re late, you’re telling the other person that your time is more important than theirs, and that’s not exactly the basis for a good relationship. But on top of the bad signal you’re giving to the other person, you’re also heaping stress on your own body and mind when you rush around arriving late and unprepared for every encounter, feeling increasingly scattered as the day wears on.
So how do you stop being late? One way is to stop over-committing (or letting other people commit you). Stop trying to “squeeze in” everything—give every item on your schedule its due, including chores. Another way is to start being realistic about how much time tasks actually take—we routinely underestimate the time it will take to complete a task (even an enjoyable one, like having lunch), and we rarely build in time for traffic, interruptions, and Murphy’s Law. Also, no matter how tempting, don’t pledge your time to anything on the spot—always take a step back to review your schedule to see if you truly have time to work it in without compromising the time you’ve promised to other things. And finally, when you do arrive (on time), let everyone else know you have to leave promptly at the scheduled time. If no end time has been set, then inform everyone that you have to leave in forty-five minutes, or whatever time will allow you to meet your next engagement.
(A special note here to writers and other persons who find themselves constantly laboring under deadlines that are too ambitious: Get real. On your next deadline, build in an extra twenty percent to your delivery time to make everyone’s life easier. Just do.)
By the way, I’m an overly-optimistic time organizer myself. And I routinely over-commit. The way I’ve forced myself to be on time is to set my clock ten minutes fast. (Don’t laugh—it really works!)
Q: Do you know someone who is ALWAYS late? How do you deal with it?