Punctuality, the tendency or characteristic of regularly being “on time”, is one of the most underrated and important personality traits you can foster. This simple virtue is an example of keeping to your word and honoring your commitments in a timely and well-organized manner.
Would you turn up to a job interview for your dream job 5 minutes late? This is a great way to understand how important punctuality really is. If you’re late to a meeting or event, it is a clear indicator that it is not 100% important to you, or you would have been more prepared.
Punctuality is a huge part of American business culture because it is about keeping your word, demonstrating your organization skills, and showing that those you’re meeting are valuable to you. These are core business and academic principles that can be seen to be present or absent, simply based on when you arrive. These 7 habits will give you the tools and knowledge you need to ensure that you’re ore punctual, thus more successful, and set the right first impression.
Awareness is the First Step to Recovery
The first step towards improving your punctuality and organization is identifying where the problem lies. Take some time to develop what Elon Musk calls a feedback loop – focus on reviewing your performance so you can strategize on how to improve it. This means spending time reviewing your process for showing up to important appointments or events and looking at what steps made you late.
For example, self-awareness of your waking and preparation habits is a great way of improving your punctuality. If you are honest with yourself and identify that you underestimate the time it takes you to perform necessary tasks, this provides you with a problem to solve. The key to improving your habits is being self-aware and setting yourself problems to solve and practice, rather than hoping that you will make changes overnight.
When you start developing better habits, be sure to keep reviewing your progress and refer back to individual instances where you were late (or early) and what contributed to these positive and negative outcomes. Use these to structure your improvement and progress!
Foster Awareness of Time Requirements
This is an example we used above, but it is relevant because of how common it is – you probably underestimate the time required to perform essential tasks and over-estimate your ability to perform them rapidly. For example, you might estimate that getting dressed takes you 2 minutes in a morning, but if you were to time yourself from the start until the end of getting dressed, you’re more likely to take 4 or 5 minutes.
Spend a single day timing your essential preparation processes that you perform on a daily basis. This will provide a great example of where wasted minutes occur and provide you with the information you need to improve your performance in the future. If you know that your dressing process takes 5 minutes, you can schedule accordingly and provide yourself with the extra 3 minutes a day to improve your overall punctuality.
Additionally, once you understand that getting dressed (or any other activity) has a certain time commitment, you can provide yourself with a suitable time buffer. This simply involves giving yourself more time to prepare than you actually need and is a powerful way to improve your punctuality by itself. If you know it takes you 5 minutes to get dressed, give yourself 7 minutes to prepare. This will improve your dedication to the task (no more poorly-buttoned shirts!) and, if applied to all tasks, may even provide you with spare time to be used for other productivity.
A Pomodoro timer is a common piece of kitchenware: a common tomato-shaped timer with a 25-minute time limit. This is a great piece of equipment for maximizing your productivity in general, but also for improving your punctuality and preparation timing. Use this 25-minute timer at the start of your morning routine to provide you with a timeframe for a defined set of processes.
Depending on your profession and how much effort you put into your preparation for events and appointments, this may cover your entire morning routine (or challenge you to reduce procrastination). If you are the type of person who requires a lot of preparation in the morning or prior to a meeting or event, this timer could be used for several vital processes like preparing work materials or your personal appearance.
This provides a great structure for developing a routine which is key to effective punctuality. You can use online services that provide a reliable, simple service such as tomato-timer.com, which double as a great way of focusing your time when working on projects and other work. Setting your life to defined, manageable, and realistic time constraints develops punctuality and organization that will benefit you in every facet of life – after all, conscientiousness is one of the two best predictors of life success.
You might be able to guess what daily planning entails – it is the prior planning of the main tasks and commitments of the day. Whether you use a journal (like the bullet journal) or a variety of applications, daily planning is a fantastic tool for apportioning time, scheduling tasks, and keeping on top of all the things you have to do for the day.
Planning out tasks and scheduled events in advance gives you a clear, visual representation of the things you have to do with your day. If you can see that you have a meeting at 4pm and that other time commitments end at 3:50pm, you won’t be surprised when you find that you must rush between the two commitments. Planning your day in advance, or at least understanding what tasks you have to do and which are inflexible, is a great way to balance your time.
Daily planning is also a great tool for improving your overall organization and performance. One of the best things about planning your day in advance, with all your necessary tasks presented in a visible and structured way, is that you always know what to do. Consider how much time you spend in a day doing ‘nothing’ – time spent procrastinating and wandering about aimlessly. With a preplanned and well-updated task list, you can ensure that you have minimum transfer time between small tasks. This will save you the hassle of unexpected last-minute tasks and improve overall productivity.
Examples of daily planning range from incredibly in-depth and personalized bullet journals to online systems and smartphone applications. In the modern age, where almost everyone has a smartphone with complex application capabilities, there is almost no excuse for poor organization or impunctuality.
The Role of Preparation in Punctuality
The strategies discussed above have one thing in common – they focus on the importance of preparation in the development of punctuality and other positive, productive habits. Preparation is absolutely essential to improving your overall efficiency and reliability – it includes all tasks and structures necessary for you to move from a totally neutral state (e.g. just waking up) to the state of optimal preparedness for the tasks ahead.
A focus on preparation is not only the best way to improve your punctuality and general efficiency, but has profound mental health benefits. Consider the stress associated with oversleeping in the morning and having to prepare all your clothes and work materials for the day at short notice. Wouldn’t it be much less stressful to prepare the clothes for the day and ensure that you’re prepared for the working day ahead of time?
Preparation covers all of the things that need to be in place for you to perform at your best. The actual tasks you need to perform will vary depending on your life and the projects you’re preparing for, but you should ask yourself ‘what can I do ahead of time to be as ready as possible for this task?’ – this is the best guide to preparation, which is the best strategy for punctuality and efficiency!
Arrive Early – Take a Book or Your Daily Planner
One simple question is persistent when discussing punctuality: why not arrive early? Or at least plan to do so? Punctuality is not simply turning up on time, as this aims at arriving with no time to spare. Rather, you should aim to arrive with a comfortable time buffer for things like traffic, administrative or clerical delays, or even your own error.
Is there any real hardship in arriving at your destination 15 minutes early? This may mean less enjoyable time in the morning or simply waking up earlier, but consider how you can use these 15 minutes to set a great example and ensure that you’re well-prepared in other ways. One of our favorite ways to spend this time is to read industry-relevant articles and journals, but you could spend the time messaging clients, chasing up emails, or updating your daily planner.
Arriving early will not only set an excellent first impression, but alleviate the stresses associated with unforeseen traffic jams and other impediments. Punctuality is about being well-prepared for the sake of the event you’re attending: focus on optimal performance rather than simply arriving with the bare minimum time to spare.
Practice Makes Perfect: Building Habits and Competence
One of the most important things to bear in mind when attempting to overhaul your habits and improve your organization is that you’re not going to make changes overnight. When approaching any project you find difficult or struggle to adhere to, it is key to start small and develop competence and consistency. You might be tempted to try and become a paragon of organization immediately after reading this article and apply all 7 tips all at once. This will fail.
The fact is that humans are poor at establishing habits quickly: the rapidly changing environment you live in will hit you with curveballs just as soon as you think you’ve set up a perfect routine. Rather, you should focus on developing consistency with the bare minimum and attempt to forge long-term habits by practice and repetition.
Recent research suggests that establishing a long-term habit can take as many as 66 days – over 2 months. Be sure to keep this in mind when considering the changes you want to make to your life; focus on developing realistic habits one at a time and sustaining them for as long as possible.
Summary: What Should You Do Now?
The easiest way to approach punctuality is any set of habits from the list above that you can reasonably implement in the near future. Don’t try and wake up at 4am, run 20 miles, do all your day’s work, and read a book before you go to work. Rather, pick 2 to 3 habits that seem appealing to you and begin to implement them.
The best approach we’ve found is to spend one week reviewing your timing in a morning, develop a reasonable understanding of how long certain tasks take you, and develop a daily plan incorporating these timings. This should improve punctuality instantly and provide you with a more organized foundation for implementing other, smaller habits. These changes alone are a great way to start, but only scratch the surface of the real efficiency you can achieve.
Action Steps: Tips for Improving Punctuality
- Time necessary tasks you perform before meetings, work, or other commitments. Compare them to how much time you usually expect them to take and adjust your expectations accordingly.
- Develop a daily plan system using a journal or relevant applications.
- Aim to arrive early, rather than on time, and use this time to improve your daily plans or read constructive materials.
- Use a Pomodoro timer for some or all of your morning preparation tasks.
- Develop a preparation-first mindset, giving yourself maximum time and peace of mind.
- Implement time buffers to your task timings, giving yourself extra time to focus on individual tasks and even amassing a small amount of time at the end of preparation for daily planning, or even arriving early.
- Practice good habits: these things take time to ‘stick’ so you should be patient and persistent with your habits.