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The Art and Science of Being on Time

The Art and Science of Being on Time
Image by le vent le cri

I've never been a person who was punctual--aside from being born on my due date. That's the last time in about thirty years that I arrived on time.

I believe it was my tenth birthday that my parents gave me "my very own alarm clock!" Like they were trying to make it all exciting about getting myself out of bed on time. This was no ordinary alarm clock. Oh, no. This alarm clock was special. Because in order to wake my ten year old self, you pretty much needed a fog horn. And that's what this alarm clock sounded like. A fog horn. And I still managed to sleep through it. (Much to my sisters' vexation.) I would have a dream that I was getting out of bed and turning it off. And then keep on sleeping. And then be late, again.

As I grew older, I was late for church. Babysitting appointments. Jobs. College classes. And so on.

Now, you add in the variables of a husband and small children and you've got a recipe that's bound to keep the tardiness going till the end of time.

Except. Except I learned that I didn't always have to be late. Apparently there isn't really a tardiness gene. I know. Can you believe it? I always though that, too. That I was just late, because that's the kind of person I am. Nope. Punctuality isn't a talent or a gene or a cute little skill to put on one's resume. It's simply a habit--a habit that anyone can develop.

Here's what I learned on my way to being punctual:

1. Stop stealing.
Most of us wouldn't go into the Walmart and put something into our purse without paying for it. *Gasp!* That's stealing! Well, when someone is waiting for you, and you show up late, you're stealing their time. Yup. And time is one thing a person can never, ever get back. So, it's disrespectful, rude and dishonoring to be late.

2. Learn time currency.
I'm convinced that those of us who are perpetually late lack a sense of time "intuition". For instance, I don't think we're really aware of time passing as much as those who might seem to be naturally punctual. I don't think we're aware of how much time it really takes to do something. We need to become time aware--or learn how to use time currency.

Get a stopwatch and start timing how long it really takes you to do certain things. How long does it really take you to get ready in the morning? To get your children dressed? To eat breakfast? You get the idea. Start wearing a watch. Try to look at it every once in a while so you know what time it is.

Don't play time "tricks". Someone in my house likes to play time tricks. The six foot tall dark haired man will remain nameless to protect his reputation. He sets his alarm clock fifteen minutes fast in an effort to help him be more timely. Whether or not that works for him is not the point. If you're like me and you lack a sense of time awareness, these "tricks" will probably backfire on you. You'll end up telling yourself, "Oh, I have fifteen more minutes, it's OK." And you'll still be late. I say set your watch to the correct time and learn to interact properly with real time.

3. Plan ahead.

This one should be a no-brainer. But I rarely, if ever, planned ahead. Now I know to look at my appointment book to see where I need to be on a certain day. I write down what I'll need to take, what time I need to be there, and what time I need to be in the car. That last factor was a key to helping me be on time. As a person unaware of time currency, somehow travel time was meaningless to me. Like somehow I'd magically be able to travel a twenty minute distance in five.

4. Build systems that work.
Systems are basically habits you build into your life to make things work more efficiently. As a naturally tardy person, getting to church on time--especially with little ones in tow--was the biggest challenge. So I developed a "get to church on time" system.

Every Saturday night, I gather everything that will need to go with us, and put it by the door--Bibles, diaper bags, purse, etc. I lay out clothes for me and for the boys. Sunday mornings I do things in a certain order and a certain way--every Sunday morning. Getting dressed, getting the boys dressed, taming their crazy hair, eating breakfast and so on. I've even managed to fit in fixing a travel mug of tea! Now that's something I never would have had time to do before!

5. Build in margin.
I take a two pronged approach here. First of all, I try to plan for the unexpected. With three small children, there's bound to be something unexpected, right? Someone who's got to go to the bathroom after you buckle them into their carseat. A two month old who wants to nurse again or spits up all over his clean clothes. Or a car that won't start because someone (the short, long haired woman will remain nameless to protect her reputation) left the reading light on in the car the night before. So, I plan for it. I don't know what it's going to be, but it's probably going to happen.

The second part of this is to avoid trying to fit in "one more thing" when I think I'm ahead of schedule. Let's face it--I'm still somewhat impaired when it comes to knowing time currency. Deciding to curl my hair (if I don't usually do this) at the last minute is a recipe for disaster. It will probably take longer than I expect, and I'll use up my margin that I needed for getting out the booster cables later.

6. Enjoy the peace.
I'm tellin' ya. There's just nothing like pulling out of the driveway with five minutes to spare, happy children, and parents who aren't agitated and irritable. Nothing like it. Being on time was such a novelty to me that it felt fun! Walking into a place five minutes early was exhilarating. But besides just being on time, the whole process of getting there was more peaceful. Kinder. Gentler. Sweeter.

Punctuality--you can do it!


Jenn @ Beautiful Calling said...

Wonderful ideas! I was always a punctual person (15 minutes early for everything!) until I had littles. I was thrown for a while but managed to get back on course! I have since learned to add in a 'buffer' time allotment for the inevitable LOL. I also use the "time of appointment" and "time to leave" (my planner pages have these built in!)

Emily said...

Thanks for this great post! I have always struggled with being on time and have been really trying to work on it lately. With a almost 2 year old and 3 month old it is hard! But I'm learning that's not an excuse and I think your first and last points are so so important. Thanks for the great practical tips!

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Marissa Breann said...

What a relevent and helpful post! I especially enjoyed your comment on "stealing" time from others. What a great point!

Jade said...

Fabulous post. It's so true how 'running late' can set a negative attitude and feeling for the day. It's a much more peaceful morning on the way to school to drop off my son when he's on time. A nicer way for him to start his day as well instead of hearing the ranting and raving Mom 'hurry, hurry we're late... no time for breakfast'.

Thank you for such a detailed post with excellent reminders and hints!

Greta said...

Thanks for this post! I found you through Org Junkie. I am not really a LATE person right now, but I'm skirting that line. I arrive at work exactly on the dot with no time to spare. I think following your principle of building a margin and not doing that one last thing will give those extra 5 minutes so things are less harried when I'm trying to get places.

Organizing Mommy said...

Love this! I'm going to photocopy it and make my kids read it. Thanks!

barefootbeauty said...

ugh. I hated that clock. and occasionally had strong feelings about you for not turning it off.

Baby Slings said...

We all need to manage our life in a perfect way for healthy living.

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