Are you dependable? I want to be dependable, too.
August 19, 2016 4:32 PM   Subscribe

[ADHD filter] I want to become a more reliable and dependable person. If you are a former 'unreliable' or 'not dependable' person who is now considered to be very reliable and punctual (at work as well as among friends and family), how did you change? What steps did you take? What lifestyle changes did you make?

I'm looking for broad, general, practical advice on steps one can take to make themselves more reliable and dependable when it comes to doing what one says they're going to do. Note that I have ADHD [seeking practical advice only- I'm all good on therapy, medication, exercise and meditation] which I point out only because it may give some insight to the source of some of my challenges with this.

I'd love to hear advice and anecdata from others who have worked hard to become that person who others can "count on".
posted by nightrecordings to Human Relations (25 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two things that I rely on: one is in memory of a northern Englishman who was renowned for always being on time. He advised that one should always be three minutes early to a business appointment, and three minutes late to a social appointment. Set off as early as necessary to make this happen (even if it means waiting near the destination), and make it a point of pride that you always hit it on the nail.

Second one, get used to saying no to people. Almost everyone I know who "can't be relied upon" is very keen to help, and will always agree and offer help where possible. Naturally, if you offer to help everyone you simply won't be able to get round to everything you've offered to do. I often help out volunteering/fundraising for the local school and other events, but I am very clear about what I will do and what I won't. I pick specific identifiable jobs and say I'll do them, and everyone else can be utterly certain that they will be done. I will often politely refuse other jobs or anything vague and open-ended, because I can't be sure I will have enough time when it comes down to it. So pick your tasks and be ruthlessly honest with yourself about whether you will be able to complete them on time.
posted by tillsbury at 5:23 PM on August 19, 2016 [21 favorites]

Stop being so afraid to say "no, I can't do x" / "no, I can't come to that event." I always felt guilty turning down an invitation, so I would say yes and think "I'll find a way to make it work," and then end up being the flaky friend who drops out of book club or cancels plans at the last minute. Being realistic upfront about my wants and needs in terms of commitments lead to a lot less instances of me flaking at the last minute because I was overscheduled or overtired.
posted by sallybrown at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

steps one can take to make themselves more reliable and dependable when it comes to doing what one says they're going to do.

Stop saying that you are going to do (as many) things.

I have an ingrained desire to please people, and an unfortunate tendency to be overly optimistic about my abilities.

At work, this has led to under estimation and blown deadlines,in personal life being way too fast to commit to event X, even if I know it's not really my speed.

So, personal life wise, I have have stopped making so many plans. It helps that I am an introvert and Mr. Motion is awesome company, so I never feel "lonely", and when I really think about it, it's not like I see my friends that much less, I just don't bail as often. I especially am wary of saying "yes" to social things that I am unlikely to enjoy beyond the opportunity to hang out. People can go play bocce ball at the pub without me.

I probably break all kinds of Emily Post rules by delaying RSVPs, but I figure that's better than I hard yes that turns to No at the last moment.

At work, I have gotten better about padding my initial estimates, and asking when someone really needs something. I give myself closer soft deadlines, but I don't end up screwing people over with my flakiness/over commitment.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:31 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've watched someone close to me go from unreliable to reliable. For them it mostly seemed to be about accepting that they were never going to "just remember" to check the time, "just remember" important events/dates, "just remember" to bring certain items, or anything else. It wasn't about becoming somebody different, it was just about setting themselves up for success by preventing problems. They had to put every event and obligation into a calendar, with emailed and popup reminders. They had to write appointments down immediately. They had to set reminders and alarms for all essential events. They had to actually get real information about how long it took to do things or get places, rather than just guessing (and being totally wrong). And remember that "being on time" means being early and thinking ahead about what could go wrong on the way.

I have to say, though, getting the practical stuff nailed down was helpful but dealing with anxiety was even more helpful.
posted by Cygnet at 5:32 PM on August 19, 2016 [25 favorites]

I have always been a reliable person and I do all of the things that Cygnet cites above. I am a list-maker and calendar-user (formerly agenda-user) because otherwise I wouldn't remember a thing.

The other trick, besides saying no to people, is to plan to be early. I'm not always good at this, but if I really want/need to be on time to an appointment, I figure out how long it should take me to get there--and then I add 10 minutes. Trust me, you'll use them up getting in/out of the door, parking your car or waiting for the bus, running back to grab something that you forgot.
posted by serelliya at 5:41 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the main thing is to shift and be able to see yourself from others' point of view. If you find yourself doing something and thinking "oh they won't mind" just stop. You already know you're doing something you did not agree to do and/ or ruining plans and you're just assuming the other person won't make a big fuss, which assumes they will suck it up and continue to be pleasant to you and not a) angry or b) resentful. That's asking a lot of someone you just inconvenienced and basically assumes your wishes are more important that theirs. Being able to genuinely think of other people's wishes when you make plans and carry them out will go a long way. And I'm not talking about "people pleasing" I'm talking simple logistics: will this thing I am about to do make Mary late for her work meeting or make Bob late to pick up his children? Will it ruin someone else's day? Too many unreliable people don't seem to actually care.

As you can tell I disagree with the above posters that chronic unreliability comes from trying to please others. I think it comes from a total inability to see others as equals to yourself in terms of the value of their time.
posted by fshgrl at 6:21 PM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The above advice is all good. Arrive early, write things down, pay attention to deadlines, etc.

The key thing is first impressions. If you're early the first day and the second day, people will think you're going to be early the third day, and it won't matter if you're not. When I started my current job, I would come in a couple of minutes early and make some oatmeal for lunch. I've been there for three and a half years, and my manager still talks about how I'm always on time eating my oatmeal. I haven't eaten a bowl of oatmeal at work in over two years, and I'm not infrequently ten minutes late. But once you get the reputation for being reliable, you have a lot of leeway. The opposite is true as well.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:28 PM on August 19, 2016 [16 favorites]

Checklists have helped for me. If you chronically forget things at home having lists for what you take to work, what you're planning on bringing to a party, or what you travel with can be very helpful. (In particular I have a master travel list that I spend some time adjusting before each trip.) Having a checklist of what needs to be done first thing at work was something I've used before too -- once the specific things get beyond three or four, it's too hard to keep track of. I highly recommend a list that you can check things off of, rather than glance at for reminders.
Use a calendar for everything, including things you tend to do that aren't solid plans, like if you sometimes get together with one friend on Tuesday afternoons, have it on there so that you can keep it open more often.
If you want to cook or bake, sit down with the recipe and jot down how long it may take. Set an alarm to start at the right time and then time how long it actually takes and write it in the cookbook (repeat a few times to make sure it's accurate). Time yourself commuting, getting ready in the morning, or other things that time matters for. Give yourself a little more time than that, for just in case.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:47 PM on August 19, 2016

Best answer: Others have touched on checklists, but for me (as someone people count upon) and for people upon whom I count on to deliver for me, I find the difference is communication/negotiation/expectation setting skills.

As in, simply remembering to do something represents table stakes. What matters is your being on the same page as the person for whom you need to come through. What's their expectation? Dedicate time discussing with them what they want to see happen. If what they want to see is not possible, make it clear to them what is possible, then absolutely deliver on that.

There's nothing worse than someone who says they've got it, but then fail to deliver, or they deliver the wrong thing, or they deliver the right thing in the wrong way. Make it clear you want to deliver for them, that you take their need for assistance seriously. I hear what you want, and I can't do the thing you want in the exact way you want, but here are the things I can do, and the ways I can do them - does that help?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:58 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I read Constructive Living. Then I decided that I would do what I said I would do. I make lists, do the hardest/most uncomfortable thing first and go forth, with a heart for any fate.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:47 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Regarding punctuality, the book Never Be Late Again helps you diagnose why you're late and how to remedy your problems.

Another thing about being on time - you have to actually value it and understand that other people value it. I have one coworker who is chronically late to meetings. In the moment she makes excuses but I finally realized that she doesn't value being on time. The other day I was rushing leaving work to get to an appointment, and she thought it was weird that I was fussing so much, because what's the big deal being late? It dawned on me that she didn't give a shit about starting or attending things on time, so she never would be.

Also, totally agree on checklists, outlines, mneumonics, and any other tricks that can help you. I have a little rhyme in my head that helps me make sure I have the absolute essentials I need every morning. If I'm going to get up early to work out in the morning, I have a checklist of the clothes and such that I need to put out the night before.
posted by radioamy at 8:41 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I aim toward arriving 15 minutes early to any appointment/commitment. It doesn't always happen, but aiming for that really cuts down on my being late.

I'm coming at this from someone who's always been considered reliable, but what other people are saying about not committing to too many things really hits home. I notice that my calendars (work, social) are way sparser than a lot of peoples, because I know that I need to carve out space for travel time, for random "catching up on things" time, and for decompressing between appointments. I know that packing my calendar back-to-back (even if I try to include travel time) is going to result in badness.
posted by lazuli at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to be chronically late. So much so that my friends would tell me an event started a half an hour earlier than it did so I would be on time. I am now annoyingly early for everything. I think there are three reasons why. One, I got older and I think I matured. There was just too much angst in being late. I hated worrying about stop lights being red because they would make me later. Two, there was one specific incident where my being late had a material negative affect on a lot of people especially the birthday boy at his surprise party. Three, I started hating when others were late to my appointments and realized the feeling I was creating in others when I was late.

What radioamy wrote above too. Those three things made me realize I cared or valued being known as a person who was reliable regarding being on time. (I was always known as the person who would do what they said they would do, just not be on time.) I did not need or want to impose whatever psychological reasons I had for being chronically late on others. I never pursued what the reason were but rather just decided to be ontime. It started with appointments with professionals. I would call my doctor and ask if they were running on time and then be there myself on time. Then friends. I would get to restaurants early and bring a book. No worries. From there, as I had a family, being on time with your kids is a great motivator. Being late to pick up a child is unacceptable. Eventually, it becomes habit.
posted by AugustWest at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The one thing that made me change is the realisation that BEING ON TIME = BEING EARLY. In big flashing letters.
That's the secret of punctual people. They accept and embrace that they will be early and wait around for the event to start.
Unpunctual people often seem to desperately want to avoid having to hang around early. They prefer regularly making people wait for them.

Aiming for being on time makes you late because invariably there will be things slowing you down. Nobody using public transport or cars can be consistently exactly on time.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:25 AM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

If you get really good at dawdling, you will never fear being early. Be early. I still love 2048 (the phone game) for this.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:55 AM on August 20, 2016

Best answer: Stick to a schedule. I have the option of taking a variety of buses to work, or I could bike, or my partner could drive me, etc. All that introduces decisions that slow me down--i take ten minutes to decide how to travel and if decide to bike suddenly I have to make sure my clothes are appropriate, etc. And it gives me an opportunity to procrastinate. I know I can take extra time getting dressed because I can take a later bus.

If I decide that I'm.always going to do the same thing, every day I know that no matter what I have to be ready at the same time and be at the bus at the same time. I don't give myself an opportunity to waste time changing my mind. And after months of following the same pattern, I get good at it. (Waking up on time every day is not easy.)

Tldr: reduce your choices to avoid decision fatigue and procrastination, be repetitive
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:27 AM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's easy to be dependable. Buy a calendar app for your phone. I use Tiny Calendar. Make appointments and reminders for everything. Show up early for appointments and finish tasks early.
posted by GiveUpNed at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2016

You are getting a lot of practical advice. I think the basis for all this is to be more aware of mindful living. That's where most of the work will be done. Mindful living, to me, is living in the moment using focus, discipline, and organization. Every single minute. You really need to stop and think...."I want to be there at 10:00 next Tuesday. So what do I need to do right now to make that happen." "I need to keep my space organized, what can I do right now to accomplish that?" "I have three hours this evening to work on my personal goals, what can I do in the next 15 minutes to move myself forward in a positive manner?"
posted by raisingsand at 8:09 AM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

You basically have to care about being reliable. I'm not sure how else to explain it. I care about not being late, so I end up leaving earlier than I need to, so I get there early. I care about not letting people down. I care about remembering things, so I write them down.
posted by mchorn at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2016

Best answer: Developing deep mistrust of your sense of time, taking relevant factors that might impact your use of time into account, and setting yourself up for success by front-loading (planning) chores that will help making getting ready and getting around easier.

I used to, first, underestimate how long it would take to get somewhere. I'd forget the point about actually having to get from one door to another door, and focus only on e.g. the subway portion of the trip, ignoring that it's a five-minute walk on one end and a ten-minute walk on the other. I would also assume that traffic was optimal, and forget about the impact of weather (because, somebody must have put salt wherever it needed to go, right?). I'd leave myself no buffer at all (because I also figured I walked pretty fast). I also assumed I'd successfully navigate unfamiliar areas and figure out where the entrance is, despite my history offering significant evidence to the contrary. I'd also assume that my wallet probably contained a token, or at least enough change.

(Similar processes applied to my getting-ready process. Making dinner, showering, dressing - all that only takes about an hour, right? No, it does not! [for me] It especially does not if I didn't do my laundry or do a grocery shop on the weekend.)

All these assumptions need to be questioned! And alternative possibilities accounted for.

Timing how long it really takes you to do things also helps. (Without rushing, and under usual conditions, e.g. no grocery shop has unfortunately been done.) Eventually, you develop an understanding of how long things take. I wear a wristwatch and have visible clocks I can glance at in a few areas.

(My watch beeps on the hour, so I know an hour has actually passed. I have also set an alarm on my phone to go off at 11 p.m., to cue me to start getting ready for bed and winding down. I sometimes ignore it, to be honest, but at least it's a little nudge.)

The Now Habit recommends tracking your actual use of time in a calendar for a while, so you can analyze how you're really using it. (Lots of good stuff in there, I find.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:10 PM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you're like a lot of chronically late people, and since ADHD is in the mix, it's not that you don't "care enough", I'm sure. It's probably a question of planning and skills gaps.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I asked my best friend (who is not on MeFi) because she definitely falls in the category of "previously unreliable, has worked hard to get more reliable/dependable." Here's what she says:

1. Start tracking your "problem" points and find concrete solutions. For example, she noticed that no matter how well she scheduled herself, not being able to find her keys was constantly making her late. Now she has a special hook by the door and her keys are never ever allowed to go anywhere else (even if she's carrying heavy bags or has to pee or whatever).

2. Always take a book (or knitting, or whatever) with you so there is no anxiety about arriving places early. She says she would often try to arrive "on the dot" because she would get anxious/worried about waiting before an appointment or being the first one to meet a friend and having to sit there alone. And then that translated into lateness. Now she always has her Kindle and has a plan that she will arrive early and read for 15 minutes or whatever. Having a clear plan for what will happen if you arrive early (and making it something you like!) means you can plan to be early and not aim for the last minute.

3. Develop (or adopt) a workflow system for work. My friend uses KanbanFlow + the Pomodoro method, which I also adore. This particular system is more conducive to some types of work than others, but both my friend and I have found that when you can stick to it, it really reduces the distraction of random conversations, Facebook check ins, etc. during the work day and helps us be more productive.

She also agrees with the ideas above about being super consistent about calendars + calendar reminders and about saying "no" when an ask is not realistic for you.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you are using calendars to keep track, you need to be aware of a few habits to build in.

1. The default reminder might not be enough for a specific task. When you make an appointment, think about how long it will take to get ready and to get there, then set the reminder early enough to give you that time. Sometimes I set the reminder 30 minutes early; sometimes it's 18 hours, or I make another calendar appt the night before to remind me of the next morning.

2. Each day, review the calendar in advance. Some people review it at the beginning of the day, others at the end, some review it a week in advance, and some people do all 3 of these. It helps me to be on time if I know what to expect rather than have it sneak up on me with a reminder 10 minutes out.
posted by CathyG at 6:50 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have gotten significantly better at this.
As others have mentioned, you really need to accept that when someone asks you to do X, and you are trying to make them happy so you say yes even though it's not feasible for whatever reason, that is vastly more annoying than saying "no". Bailing after an initial "yes" is so much worse than just saying "no can do" in the first place.
While I have gotten better about this my best friend has gotten worse and it drives me bonkers, so apologies if I'm, ahem, a little passionate.
Practice ways to say no that you feel comfortable with, like "no but let's do Y sometime soon" or "no but I can manage it on the weekend" etcetc.
The other thing is to do a comprehensive work back schedule for all endeavours and then be ruthless in adhering to it.
posted by dotparker at 7:15 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my former career, if you were not 15 mins early for your call time, you were considered late. I have carried this over into the rest of my life. I just automatically make the time I'm supposed to be somewhere 15 mins earlier than it really is. Also I leave my house a minimum of 30 mins before every appointment even if the appointment is only five minutes away.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:04 PM on August 20, 2016

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