Be on time.

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You want to arrive on time. You certainly don’t mean to keep people waiting. But somehow, despite your best efforts, you always seem to run 10-15 minutes late. Sound familiar? If you’re one of the 15-20% of the U.S. population who’s consistently late (or you know someone who is), then this punctuality challenge is for you.

What’s wrong with being tardy? If you’re a latecomer, then you already know the many drawbacks. Chronic lateness can:

  •     Create unnecessary stress
  •     Annoy and inconvenience others
  •     Make you seem unreliable, unprofessional and self-centered
  •     Jeopardize relationships
  •     Impact your self-esteem
  •     Threaten your job security

But the good news is, you can train yourself to be punctual. It’s not that difficult once you understand what’s making you late. Often, deep psychological factors are at work. Surprisingly, for many there’s one simple explanation for their habitual tardiness: the inability to perceive time correctly. In her book Never Be Late Again, Diana DeLonzor notes that late people tend to perceive time differently than punctual people, consistently underestimating the passage of time.

Try this test: Choose several pages of a book to read, note the time, and start reading. When you think 90 seconds have passed, stop reading and check the time. Invariably, early-arrivers tend to stop reading before the 90-second mark, while latecomers read longer than 90 seconds.

Certain personality traits and tendencies can also contribute to making you late. Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • Procrastination ­— You may have a hard time getting motivated unless there’s a deadline staring you in the face and the adrenaline kicks in. Procrastinators enjoy the thrill of racing against the clock, but all too often, the clock wins.
  • Magical thinking — Always the optimist, you tend to overschedule your day, thinking you can get everything done in a limited amount of time — work, laundry, picking up the kids, shopping and cooking.
  • Absent-mindedness — You’re easily distracted and have a hard time getting out the door because you keep thinking of one last thing you could do, like checking email, which leads to checking Facebook, and so on…
  • Rebellion — You find yourself in a situation you dislike but feel powerless to change, so you resort to little forms of rebellion, such as being late, to regain a sense of control in your life.

Practical ways to be more punctual.

  • Quit rationalizing. The first step is to admit you’re late, apologize to anyone you’ve inconvenienced, and take responsibility for your actions. Stop blaming slow traffic, bad weather, or slowpoke kids for your tardiness. You — and only you — have the power to set healthy new goals and change bad behaviors.
  • Learn how long things really take. If you’re a poor judge of time, make a chart of your daily activities like showering, eating breakfast, driving to work, etc. and jot down how long each one takes. Allot that amount of time each day to complete your tasks.
  • Aim to arrive 15 minutes early. If you have a 2 p.m. appointment, write 1:45 on your calendar. Often, you’ll run into unexpected hurdles (traffic congestion, getting lost, no parking), so you’ll end up right on time anyway. And if you’re early, you’ll have an extra 15 minutes to read, relax or check messages.
  • Don’t do “just one more thing.” You know that moment when you think you have time to water the plants before heading out the door? You don’t. Those “just-one-more-thing” tasks always take longer than you think.
  • Learn to say “no.” Even punctual people can get tripped up by their inability to say “no” to others. If you don’t want to be rude, simply say, “I’d love to, but I’m on a deadline” or “I’m committed this week, but thanks for thinking of me.”
  • Fill your gas tank when it gets to ¼ tank. How often have you been running late, only to jump in your car and see the red warning light come on? Fill your tank in advance and avoid those emergency stops.
  • Don't be a rebel. If you think you might be passively rebelling against a bad situation by arriving late, there are things you can do about it. If you don’t like your job, make your needs known so the situation can either be fixed or you can find another job.
  • Beware of time wasters. Leisurely reading the paper while eating breakfast. Stopping for coffee on your way to work. These are the kinds of time-absorbing activities that make you late.
  • Avoid back-to-back appointments. Scheduling events one right after the other is just asking for trouble. If one appointment runs late, you’ll be playing catch-up all day.
  • Know the weather. Need to be somewhere first thing in the morning? Check the weather the night before. An inch of snow means 5 extra minutes to clear your vehicle — plus a slower commute.
  • Keep essential items in set places. When you come home, always put your keys, cell phone, purse/wallet, etc. in the same place so you’ll know exactly where to find them in the morning. You may also want to lay out your clothes or pack a lunch the night before.
  • Set reminders. Use your email calendar’s reminder function, have a service like ohdontforget send you texts, or set your phone to vibrate 10 minutes before your next meeting.
  • Skip rush hour. Scheduling a doctor appointment or meeting? Remember, a trip that normally takes only 20 minutes could stretch to an hour at the height of rush hour traffic in the morning.
  • Get your thrills elsewhere. It may be exhilarating to arrive just in the knick of time or beat a deadline by seconds, but at the same time, never forget how lousy it feels to be late. If you really must have your jolt of adrenaline, try public speaking, timed computer games, roller coasters, or other buzz-inducing activities.

Benefits.

Applying any of these strategies can result in:

  • Less stress and anxiety
  • Higher self esteem
  • Improved relationships with others
  • More professional, trustworthy, reliable image
  • Career boost

The longer you practice good punctuality, the more benefits you’re bound to notice. So stay with it! Remember, habits take time to change. Have patience, follow the tips you’ve learned, and celebrate your achievements.

Here are two final tips to help you join the ranks of the early arrivers:

  • Stop thinking of yourself as a late person. How we see ourselves is important. Change your attitude. Change your habits. Change your life. You have the power to do it.
  • Don’t schedule events you don’t care about. If there are certain people or events you’re always late for, it’s likely they’re not that important to you. Instead of perpetuating bad habits, try spending your time doing only the things you enjoy, with people you truly like. Be there on time, and enjoy every single minute.