How to Be on Time: 10 Tips for Better Punctuality

You may live by the saying, “Better never than late,” or you may follow, “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”  Any way you slice it, being on time is a struggle for many of us.  Here are Savvy Psychologist's 10 tips to be on time, every time.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #52

Tip #7: Aim for 10 Minutes Early

Here, punctuality is boiled down to a math problem. Think of it this way: Aiming to arrive precisely on time gives you basically a one-minute window of arrival.  If your event starts at noon, you aim to arrive at noon, and you arrive even at 12:01, you’re late.  

The margin of error is too small.  Stress is guaranteed.  Instead, if your event starts at noon and you aim to get there at 11:50, you have a 10-minute window of arrival. Much more realistic and much less likely to make you swear at red lights.

Tip #8: Transfer Your Biggest Morning Headache to the Night Before

You don’t have to sleep in tomorrow’s clothes, but consider taking the biggest time suck from your morning and doing it the night before.  Packing kids’ school lunches, putting your keys, phone, and wallet in one place, even showering, can all be done before you hit the sack.

Tip #9: Think Ahead

Most tips you’ll find here (or elsewhere) are based on the premise that we think ahead about our tasks.  For example, do X early, estimate Y more accurately.  But most of us are late precisely because we forget to think ahead.  We look up the appointment’s address at the last minute and realize it’s farther away than we thought.  Or we forget that our reservations are at the height of rush hour.   

Thinking ahead gets into more overarching organization and time management skills.  But the biggest bang for your buck can come from this: In addition to packing those kid lunches, consider thinking over the next day the night before.  (Or for true punctuality ninjas, look at the upcoming week on Sunday night.)  

Where do you have to be and when?  Are there new addresses to map out online?  Are there any really important events, like an interview, a wedding, or a kid performance or game?  Anything scheduled back-to-back-to-back?  Pinpoint the weak spots and plan (or reschedule) accordingly.  

Tip #10: Try it Once and See

If you’re chronically late, pick one upcoming event for which you’ll be on time.  Then do it up right: plan ahead, account for all transitions, leave early, and aim to be the first one there.

Then, observe the process of everyone else’s arrival.  Notice how you feel calm instead of frantic, that you don’t have to feel guilty, and most importantly, notice how you feel when others arrive late.  

There’s a French saying, which translates loosely as, “While you keep a man waiting, he reflects on your shortcomings” - to which I might add, "...even if you’ve texted that you’re running late.”  Putting yourself in the shoes of those you’ve kept waiting is a powerful motivator to change for the better.  Shift to being on time and you’ll come off as more professional, more respectful, and more competent.  Not to mention more relaxed.  

Call it prompt, punctilious, or just plain old on time.  There’s no zealot like the newly converted; try it out a few times.  You’ll love moving from being put on the spot to getting there on the dot.

There's time for just one more thing: Check out Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged by Diana DeLonzor. It's a well-reviewed book for the punctually challenged.

What are you doing to imrpove your punctuality? Share your thoughts with us on the Savvy Psychologist Facebook page.

And be sure to sign up for the upcoming Savvy Psychologist newsletter. It will arrive in your inbox chock full of great advice to help you meet life's challenges head on.   


Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. 

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