It was 7.34pm on the night of my 21st birthday party and, as I fumbled chaotically around my dressing table for the right shade of lipgloss, my guests were already gathered, sipping champagne, at the venue 10 minutes away. My phone beeped. “Only you would be late for your own party.” It was my friend A (still one of my very best friends today), who – unlike me – is always on time.
Because I am – and always have been – chronically late. It’s my least favourite thing about myself. It was bad enough in my 20s when I could just about get away with it by replacing the word “chronically” with “fashionably” (although my husband, who’s been trying to rid me of this habit for well over a decade, would disagree). But as a woman in my 30s it’s far less forgivable, and as a mum, where I have actual, real-life little people depending on me for turning up on time and unflustered to where they need to be, it has become unacceptable.
So I’ve been working really hard on this character flaw and when my oldest received her first ever report card from kindergarten last week, there was a magical number in the “late column” which made me give myself a silent high five: “0”.
Here are some of the changes I’ve been making in a bid to become more punctual:
Wear a wristwatch
It seems so obvious to say that to be on time, you need to know what the time is. Of course, these days we all have the time on our phones so the need for a watch seems to have all but disappeared, but, according to the New York Times, “Relying on your phone to check the time can easily lead to distractions, mostly of the social variety, like texts and Twitter notifications.” It’s incredible how quickly an email or Instagram notification can derail a morning routune. I stopped wearing a watch circa the advent of the Nokia 3210, but a couple of months ago I started wearing an Armani one my dad gave me for my 21st birthday (ironic, I know…), and I’ve found it’s made all the difference to my time management and planning. Now I feel naked without it.
Set your watch 4 minutes fast
This is a little trick I play on myself. Of course I know the actual time is 4 minutes behind what my watch says it is, but being under 5 minutes means it’s not enough to give the false impression that I still have lots of time. The visual impact of the minute hand being just that little bit closer to the hour really helps motivate me to get a move on, and the result is now I usually get where I need to be with just a couple of minutes to spare – time to compose myself and think about what needs to be done.
Know where your stuff is!
How many times have you been late because you couldn’t find your car keys or (this is me) sunglasses? I now always (always) put my car keys in the same place near the front door (and make it habit so that even if I don’t remember putting them there, that’s where they’ll be). I also try to spend 5 minutes in the evenings going through my handbag/baby bag to make sure the things I’ll need for the following day are present and accounted for. Wallet, sunglasses, nappy changing pouch, pen. Less to think about in the morning when I’m trying to get out of the door.
Be a time pessimist
I love this little phrase from Penelope Trunk’s 2007 blog post, 5 Ways to stop being late. Maybe I love it because I’m married to a time pessimist. He always assumes that everything will take a little bit longer than you’d think, which means that if he says he’ll be somewhere at a certain time, there he always is. My mistake in the past has been to take a “hope-for-the-best” approach, which pretty much guarantees a late, sweaty arrival and a string of hollow-sounding apologies that I wouldn’t have had to make if I’d just been a bit more realistic about what time I needed to leave home.
Make planning a priority
My favourite thing that Oprah ever said was, “Hope is not a plan.” If we want to be somewhere on time, the “hope-for-the-best” approach is likely to be far less effective than a planned approach. For those of us who aren’t naturally organised, planning is something that doesn’t come easily – but it is something we can learn. On my Kindle at the moment is Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz, which is about setting and achieving goals and living each day in a more purposeful way, and it’s really helping me to recognise, as a mum of two, the changes I can make to ensure my days are less busy and more productive. But there are also lots of great free day planners you can download which will help you to prioritise your day and keep you on track. I like the ones from Day Designer and the Happiness Planner. Then of course there’s the good old fashioned method of making a list for the day in your diary!
I’m a long way from being the organised, smooth operator I would like to be but, bit by bit, I’m making changes and, small as it may seem, I’m claiming that “0” on the report card as a victory.
Do you struggle to arrive on time? Do you have any strategies that help? I’d love to hear them!
Featured image from Cluse. I am a little bit obsessed with this watch.
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