Me & The White Rabbit: Both White, Fuzzy, and have no clue what time it is.
January 9, 2011 5:39 PM   Subscribe

The Brazilians don't care. The Germans are transfixed by it. Nope, not talking about The Hoff, I'm talking about time & schedules. I grew up without being put on a tight schedule and now I need to know how to be late less.

In my funeral arrangements I will be wheeled in 20 minutes after the start time because I've been told I'll be late for my own funeral.

I'm late for everything. Doctor Appointments, Movies, Class, Work... Everything. I have just never been ruled by a clock or a calendar. I get it honestly, my parents never enforced a schedule of really any sort as it would hamper our growth.

Yeah, my parents were hippies.

Part of it is that I get easily distracted by things. I can be getting dressed for work, get an email and sit at my desk half dressed as I check all my email rather than hurry up and leave. I can stop for gas and get distracted by the variety of chewing gum available at the gas station and spend 20 minutes mulling the choices. I have no concept of time.

I've been fortunate in life thus far that I work for small companies with more laid back environments. I've also always been very good at my job, so my lateness hasn't caused me to lose a job yet, but now I'd like to make a move into a more corporate arena, I figure my lateness will become an issue.

Do you have any tips, feedback, or your own tragic tales that might help me be less like the White Rabbit and more punctual?
posted by aristan to Human Relations (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
One way you can learn to have a better notion of the time is to practice guessing it. Before you look at your timepiece (you do have a mobile phone or something with the time on it, right?) estimate what you think the time is. Comparing what-you-thought-it-was with what-it-actually-is will teach you, in fairly short order, to get good at having a mental notion of the time.

Oh, and aim to arrive early?
posted by squishles at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

In a professional setting, being more than 5 minutes late makes you look like a flake. Usually that's enough to make most of us on time.

However, another good way to remain on time is to set your clock and your watch ahead by 15 minutes. It's amazing how you'll forget each day that you've done so.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:54 PM on January 9, 2011

10 minutes early is on time, and on time is late. Make it your mantra.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:59 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm chronically early. I'm the kind of person who shows up 15-30 minutes early, or more, because I'm anxious about being late. Not always a good thing, but I'd always rather be early than late.

What keeps me so anxious about being on time is knowing that if I'm late, I'm putting someone else out. If I'm late for an appointment, I'll have thrown off someone's schedule for the rest of the day. I don't ever want to inconvenience someone by leaving them to wait for me while I run late, for absolutely no good reason (even traffic problems can often be anticipated ahead of time--it's my responsibility, for instance, to figure that if I'm meeting someone across town at 6pm on a weekday, I need to give myself at least a half hour longer than normal).

So take the other person into account. Consider the value of their time, whether they're your doctor, your hairdresser, your friend, your business associate. Perhaps that can help you stay on track with getting where you're going without distractions.
posted by litnerd at 6:02 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I get that there are people who are on time and people who are late. My opinion is, if it matters to you, you get there on time. I am always on time. No, actually I am always a few minutes early. Even if it doesn't really matter whether I'm on time or not, I'm there a little early.

Being punctual is a sign that you respect others time as much as your own. It's a sign that you can manage yourself responsibly. If you build in a little extra time, then obstacles that come up (traffic slows way down because of an accident, you can't find a parking spot, where are my keys, kid can't find his shoes) will not make you late.

Would you be late for a job interview? For an airline flight? If you can manage to get to those on time, then you can get yourself to work on time, you can meet your friends when they expect to see you and so on.

I have a full time job, a special needs kid, a big extended family, a lot of chores and responsibilities and still, no matter what, I get there on time. Because keeping my word is really important to me. Doctor's appointment at 3? Yes, I'll be there at 2:50. At work by 8? Always. Oh look, snow is forecast for the morning. I'd better leave 10 minutes early. My kid is waiting for me after school? You better believe I'll be out front first, waiting for him.

There are no magic words or tricks or methods to this. You just have to decide that it matters to you. Being on time is one sign (not the only one, but to me an important one) that someone is an adult, has got it together and can be trusted. Someone who's always late - nope. Undependable. You're asking this question so you must want to change .. and you can. Just stop for a second, think about what needs to be done, and plan out how you're going to do it. Write it down if you need to. And then follow through.
posted by Kangaroo at 6:16 PM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]

Maybe try to consider that you may be severely inconveniencing others? I was raised by the most German mother ever, and she explained the importance of punctuality like this: other people's time may be more important to them than yours is to you. Wasting theirs is hugely disrespectful.

So now when I deal with chronically late people I kind of assume that they don't have a lot of respect for others. This may be unfair, but there you go. Your chronic lateness isn't fair to the rest of your doctor's patients, your professor or classmates either.
posted by makonan at 6:27 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Part of it is that I get easily distracted by things.

Endeavor to remove distractions. Routine, routine, routine. Put two alarms on your phone: one for when you must wake up, and one for 15 minutes before you have to leave the house. Perhaps the alarm will get you back on course when you get distracted.
posted by desjardins at 6:38 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to say I'm a lot like some of the posters above, always 5 - 10 minutes early, plan to be on time and think of it as a sign of respect to other people.

But I also know how hard a road you are up against. My wife is usually late. She is from a region of the world where being late is the norm. In fact, if we turn up to peoples places when they say we should, often they won't be ready, and no-one else will be there.

So I've had to train myself to not worry about the time so much. When we were first dating I would look at my watch, see it was 2 hours before her friend sparty, and prompt us to start getting ready. We'd end up being the only people there.

It sounds easy though, right? Just stop worrying about it. But its so much a part of my nature that its really difficult to do.

I've also seen my wife struggle to do what you are trying to do, go from being relaxed about being on time to being punctual with my family and friends. To her, she has to get in a state of stress to be on time, to her and her family/friends being late is being "relaxed". They often say I'm stressed and need to relax because I'm on time and planning for things I need to be on time for.

Anyway not sure if any of this has helped, but you should be proud for wanting to make a change, and also you should realise that it won't be as easy as some people make it out to be, that it will go against everything you've known for a long time and will take a lot of effort and time.

Good luck
posted by Admira at 6:40 PM on January 9, 2011

I was something of a chronically-late person, and I'm still just average about arriving on time. I'm pretty distractable - I'll be almost ready to catch the train on time, then I'll read Metafilter for 20 minutes. I've even missed flights. This was part of a larger tendency to procrastinate, and reading The Now Habit really helped with both the procrastination and the lateness. A big thing I learned was I was overcompensating by over-pressuring myself, which led to guilt, which I tried to ignore by distracting myself - which lead to lateness.

One thing that helped me was simply allowing myself to be less busy. I take on less at work so I'm not running from one meeting to the next, and so I don't feel pressured to work on a report until 2 minutes before each meeting. This may or may not be an option for you. In my personal life, I am more reasonable about the number of things I have to do in a day. If I have 8 errands to run in a weekend, I don't demand that I get them all done on Saturday - I schedule a few for Saturday, a few for Sunday, and if one or two have to wait then that's okay. So instead of constantly rushing around, I have some room in my schedule and can deal with delays. And having just 3 appointments to make makes it easier to say "I will not do (distracting thing), I will leave immediately and do it later."

Another thing that helped was only making a big deal out of punctuality when it matters. At work, it almost always matters. Meeting a friend who will be waiting for me alone? Important. Meeting a large group of friends at a bar? Probably not important, they have each other to hang out with. Getting to an appointment with a salesperson? Not really, if they want to sell me something they can work around me. On time for a flight? Important. Catching the 8:10 train instead of the 8:20 train to work? Not important. What this does is reduce the pressure to constantly be running around, so I can focus on being on-time when it really matters. Again, that means I'm out the door on time when it's critical, and the rest of the time? Well, I don't even consider myself late.

I also use Google Calendar and I get it on my phone. It does take a little management, but its little reminders keep me moving. Again, it's important to realize when it's important to stick to the calendar, and when it isn't, because you'll get alert fatigue and stop paying attention if you treat every reminder as important.
posted by Tehhund at 6:47 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm another habitually punctual person. I'm not sure how to help you enforce getting going on time - for me, a lot of it stems from the guilt of putting other people out, as others have mentioned - but I can tell you how I budget time to get somewhere.

I keep a small database in my head of how long it takes me to do just about everything. For example, if we have dinner reservations downtown after work, I know that it takes me 20-25 minutes to drive home from work; five minutes to get out of the car, through the front door, and take my coat off; ten to fifteen minutes to drop my bag, maybe use the bathroom, and feed the cats; and then another 15 minutes to change. Then it's another five minutes to get my coat back on and out the front door, fifteen minutes to walk to the subway, thirty minutes on the train to get downtown, and ten minutes to walk from the train to the restaurant. Add all that up, tack on an extra ten or fifteen minutes for a buffer, and I know what time I need to leave work.

I feel that the granularity is important because we often lose those couple of minutes spent getting in and out of coats, fighting with the front door lock, stuff like that. Those minor delays are often the difference between being on time and being late. Also, I only consider myself "ready to go" when my shoes are on and my keys are in my hand.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Learn to count backward. The chronically late people I know tend to be prompted to get ready to go by the fact that now is the time they ought to be leaving. Instead, count backward. "I must be at the doctor's at 3. It takes me 15 minutes to get there. I have to stop for gas, which takes 10 minutes. It will take me 10 minutes to get ready (wash face, get stick of gum, put on jacket/shoes, find keys/phone, etc.). So I need to stop what I'm doing at 2:25 to get there on time." If you need an external prompt, set an alarm on your phone.

Whereas, if you fail to count backwards, you'll stop what you're doing at 2:45, because it "just takes 15 mins" to get to the office, and then you'll be 20 mins late.
posted by palliser at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

palliser makes an excellent point.

I would also add that reducing distractions is one part of the problem, learning to deal with distractions in appropriate ways is another. It is a skill that we all must learn to be effective in our lives. It is harder to learn the older we get.
posted by gjc at 7:07 PM on January 9, 2011

In addition to what palliser said, two things:

1 -- There is no such thing as "on time." If you're not early, you're late. If you find yourself getting somewhere five minutes before when you were supposed to be there, don't tell yourself "I was early -- I can leave five minutes later next time." Tell yourself "I wasn't late -- I should leave at the same time next time."

2 -- Think of a charity that you dislike, but isn't actually evil. Like, if you're not a dog person, your local shelter; if you hate classical music, your local symphony. Pledge a certain amount per minute you're late, and send it to that charity. So you're not just late, but you're helping those goddamn dogs or those snooty violin-playing bastards.
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing I've noticed with late people is that they have no idea how long anything takes (in addition to being distractable). They're convinced that it'll only take "five minutes" to get anywhere. ANYWHERE. Five minutes to get from your house to across town, five minutes to get to work, probably five minutes to get across the entire state... so in addition to being distracted, and/or slow, they think that everything they need to do takes shorter than it is.

A good thing to try out, I think, would be to get in a car (with someone else with a timer) and time how long it takes to get from your house to work, and wherever else you have to get on a regular basis. That way you know how long to estimate that you're going to need in order to get somewhere.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:35 PM on January 9, 2011

Here is what I do when I'm trying to go somewhere with chronically-late types:

I make a plan that has us arrive at our destination 5-10 minutes early, using a method like backseatpilot's. I tell people to plan to leave at the appropriate time.

10 minutes before we need to leave, I tell them that we need to leave in about five minutes and they should pretty much be ready to go.

5 minutes before we need to leave, I start putting on my shoes and coat, and tell them they need to start getting ready to go too. Sometime we even get out the door by the end of those 5 minutes...

I suggest you plan things out like this for yourself. In the absence of someone prodding you, set alarms. Have a 10-minutes-to-go and 5-minutes-to-go alarm. The 10-minutes-to-go alarm is for when you're sitting at your desk half-dressed: it's the alarm that says "hey, might want to put your pants on now, time's running out." At the 5-minutes-to-go alarm, actually get up, get ready, and leave when you're ready to go. Don't spend two minutes putting on your shoes, then think, "hey, three more minutes, I'll read something!", because you'll get sucked in. Just go.

You can extend this to things like being at the gas station. Recognize what particular time you need to leave by, and set a quick alarm on your cell phone. It might sound silly if you're setting an alarm for just five minutes from now, but, hey, if your internal clock isn't telling you what to do, get an external one to do it. I have a shortcut button set on my phone so I can get to my alarm with the press of a single button and makes this easy on me.
posted by mandanza at 9:36 PM on January 9, 2011

Once cell phones became normal accouterments, a new level of polite social interaction became widely and effectively possible: calling a person you are meeting, if you are going to be more than 5 minutes late, to apologize and re-schedule, or advise new arrival time. I found that if I were scrupulous about doing that, that I quickly came to hate apologizing for habitual tardiness so much, that it was much easier and more pleasant just to start earlier to most appointments, and be punctual. The key to this self-retraining was to never let myself off the hook of making that apologetic cell phone call, whenever I was more than 2 minutes overdue at an appointment, and better yet, to do it as soon before the appointment as I could, once I reasonably saw I was going to be late.

In short, resolve to at least be consistently remorseful by cellphone, if you can't be punctual, and you may find you become punctual.
posted by paulsc at 9:40 PM on January 9, 2011

Here's something that has always helped me...

There is no unit of time smaller than 15 minutes.

Think some little task will take just five minutes? No, that's 15. Budget 15 minutes for it.

Think it takes 20 minutes to drive somewhere? No, that's 30. See, it's more than 15, but less than 30. But since you can only count in terms of 15-minute blocks, it's 30.

Once you start adding in little time-buffers like this, you start to actually get better at estimating time. Because these time-buffers allow you to start seeing where small distractions are adding up and making you late.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:32 PM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Okay, here's an anecdote for you. Two friends of mine talking at a party I was at. One (A) has always been punctual, the other (K) more like you but is working on it.

So K's talking about her efforts and how they just don't seem to be working. "Either I'm as late as I always am, or I'm like five or ten minutes early and I have to wait for everybody else." And so A told her, in salty terms because they are good friends, that this is what being punctual means. The idea and expectation that any given party will either start or be in full swing when you arrive, A explained, was something K had internalized as a result of how her life works out. But what K didn't realize was that all of her other friends had been doing the five-or-ten-minutes early thing, so that the party could start as soon as possible (which usually ended up being when K arrived).

In other words, A framed punctuality as a sort of prisoner's dilemma: if everyone commits to risking a five-or-ten-minute wait, then even given unavoidable delays and so on, the wait for everybody is not that long. Things might even be able to start early. But if one person games the system (unintentionally or not) by arriving late so that their wait is always zero, it works out great for them, but everyone else has to wait longer than they otherwise would.

(Sidebar: A wasn't accusing K of being a jerk on purpose, and I'm not accusing you of that either. But the end result in terms of wait time and inconvenience is the same as that created by intentional jerkitude. And so, for people who aren't your friends and have no reason to give you the benefit of the doubt, you may well be coming across as an inconsiderate jerk rather than a well-meaning but disorganized second-generation hippie.)

The point is, A said to K, you probably won't be able to become a punctual person without giving up some of the convenience that lateness grants you. Being punctual means that, yes, sometimes you will spend time waiting for others. So if you are serious about changing, you should not start out by aiming at a zero wait time for yourself. If you aren't willing to risk your own time, too, that's a sign that what you really want is for the world to change to suit you, not to work to change yourself from the inside out. So you should first aim at being 15 or even 30 minutes early for everything, and then, as you get better at hitting that target, slowly ratchet it down until you find a reliably repeatable balance of "convenient for me" and "convenient for people I interact with."

Epilogue: K is still late for everything, but I thought that A's analysis was an insightful one anyway. But then, I'm always on time...
posted by No-sword at 12:57 AM on January 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

Tip: smart phone with Google Calendar. Put everything on the calendar.

Tip 2: the next time you're late for something, after the event, think about what caused you to be late. Well, obviously, it's because you didn't leave the previous place or event early enough. But why? Did you cram too many things into your schedule? Did you not say "I have to leave now" to the last group? Did you do other things besides leaving - like checking email - out of anxiety?

As you start looking, you'll find patterns. And from the patterns, you might see the causes as well. Then, address those causes: don't schedule things too close to one another. Say "I have to go" when a meeting is running late and keeping you from your next appointment. If it's anxiety, then address that.

Et cetera.

That smart phone tip? For me, life changing.
posted by zippy at 1:39 AM on January 10, 2011

One of the most difficult things for me was to realise that preparing to leave would also take time.

If I had to leave at 5.30 at the latest, I would only get up from the sofa at 5.30, look for my pullover, look for my handbag, choose another handbag, transfer the contents, try on two pairs of shoes before choosing a third, do my hair, decide to wear earrings after all, discover I can't find my cats, go looking for my cats to make sure I haven't locked them in a cupboard and oh, here's the note I was looking for earlier, better make sure I store it someplace, can't find my keys and okay, off we go.

So now I start preparing to go 15 minutes before actual leaving time, no matter how prepared I already think I am.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:24 AM on January 10, 2011

Chronic lateness is something which about half of my family is afflicted with, and as mentioned above, the main problem seems to be a complete refusal to accurately estimate how long things take. My uncle, for example, believes that it should take him 1 hour to get to JFK airport from his house. This has never happened. It will never happen. The drive takes 75 minutes in the very best of times, and then at least 15 minutes more because his hour does not account for loading and unloading the car, parking, etc. But somewhere deep in his brain, he believes it should, in an ideal world, take 1 hour, and then he plans his day around that time. All the evidence that piles up refuting his estimate is dismissed as exceptions. There was traffic. There was rain. The kids wouldn't get their stuff in the car. It's almost like some kind of twisted optimism.
posted by Nothing at 5:11 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure the advice about setting earlier alarms, budgeting more time, etc., will work for you. I think for you (and many others like you) lateness is a state of mind, not a scheduling problem. It's your default worldview, and only a shift in that worldview is likely to work. You need to think about the type of person you are, and whether you really want to be a different type of person. Thinking about the message that your lateness sends to others -- namely that aristan thinks his time is more valuable than mine, or that aristan has little respect for others -- might help. We have some close friends who are chronically late, and it can be very frustrating. It also comes across like a willingness to take advantage of us, since they are clearly fully capable of being somewhere on time when they have to be (like for a plane flight or a concert).

So my recommendation is to consider the effect on others, and decide whether or not you really want to become a different person, not just a person who sets his alarms 15 minutes early.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:27 AM on January 10, 2011

The tips are great, but the motivation for applying the tips is pretty simple: do you respect others, or not? More: do you want to be seen as someone who has respect for other people, or not?

Being late once? No problem.

Being late regularly? One common and justified reaction is, "this person is so self-centered he has no consideration for anyone but himself. He clearly thinks he's more important than I am and therefore he's justified in making me wait. He may even be late because he's attempting to dominate me (in the animal sense). What an asshole. I can excuse it in some social situations, but I'd never want to rely on that person for anything, ever."

If you want to be that person, go ahead and be late.
posted by mikel at 7:48 AM on January 10, 2011

Don't tickle the dragon: don't turn on the computer in the morning before work.

This suggestion of a playlist is a neat way to continuously enforce the perception of time. Set specific milestones you know you have to meet at the beginning of certain songs.

posted by hat at 11:31 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I actually switched from being perpetually late to being on time for everything with a hard deadline. For me, the hardest part had been getting up from whatever I was doing, instead of saying "just X more minutes" and then losing track of the time.

This took two different things: the first was setting a timer that meant "you really have to put down X now", and the second was building in a buffer with the knowledge I'd always have my smartphone or book with me, and so could amuse myself if I was early. Before then, I always had this mental image of myself sitting around with nothing to do, waiting. Now I figure I'll be a couple minutes early and get a couple more pages read, rather than like I'm planning for wasted time.
posted by lorimt at 9:00 PM on January 10, 2011

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