How to Be on Time for Meetings

Some people are hyper-schedulers, and others aren't. If you're someone who is chronically late, learning certain cognitive tips can help.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #382

“Oh, look! A Squirrel!” With this rallying cry, my friend Jordan confessed to having ADD. “It’s not officially diagnosed, but it seems like I’m late for everything, always. My boss mentioned it in my review, and coworkers have complained that I’m wasting their time when they have to wait for me in meetings. Help! What do I do?”

Time Happens in the Brain

It’s true. Some people are always late. While people who are good at being on time like to feel superior and believe that it’s just a matter of willpower and self-discipline, I disagree. I don’t know if it’s genetic, cognitive, or chemical, but I believe that we’re all predisposed to have certain relationships with time. Is it mere coincidence that the same people who become rock ‘n’ roll guitarists can’t be on time to save their lives? I think not.

I don’t know if it’s genetic, cognitive, or chemical, but I believe that we’re all predisposed to have certain relationships with time.

I’ve noticed patterns in how the chronically late plan and think about time. I’d love to say that today’s recommendations are scientifically tested and validated, but they aren’t. They’re my own ideas. Try them out and send me feedback. Hopefully we’ll revolutionize the world, not to mention rock ‘n’ roll.

Arrive Early

Don’t plan to arrive on time. Make your goal arriving 15 minutes early. That way, if you slip up, you’ll still be on time. Jordan thinks, “The meeting starts at 11, it’s 10:59:30, I have plenty of time,” and decides to go for a quick run before the meeting. Instead, Jordan should aspire to be 15 minutes early. “I want to be early for the meeting and arrive at 10:45. It’s 10:44:30, I have plenty of time.” After a 10-minute run, Jordan completely misses the 10:45 am deadline and arrives at the meeting five minutes early. Note that this is different from simply deciding to be on time by leaving extra-early. Making the goal itself to be early, rather than on-time, changes how the brain represents the upcoming deadline.

What if you actually arrive early? Not a problem. Spend some time being mindful, playing Candy Crush, or even just wasting your time. When meetings are involved, it’s better to waste 15 minutes of your own time by arriving early than waste 15 minutes of several other people’s time by arriving late.

Even Light Travels Slowly

Remember to plan for travel time. It’s easy to look in your calendar, notice you’re blocked from 1–2 and from 3–4, and think you have the full hour from 2–3 available for an appointment. Not so fast! If you have to travel to or from your other meetings, that reduces the time you have in between. Even if it’s just a five minute walk to a conference room in the next building, travel from and to your meeting means that you really only have a 50 minute gap in your schedule.

I enter travel time explicitly in my calendar. When there’s an off-site lunch meeting at noon, 11:30 to noon also gets blocked off as “travel” to make sure arriving on time is feasible.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.