Some people get their daily dose of cardio by running into every meeting saying, “Sorry I’m late!” While it might seem like chronic lateness is just plain rude, time management can be harder than it looks—and often, lateness is rooted in something psychological, like a fear of downtime.
Luckily, there are simple habits you can tweak and others you can adopt entirely to turn you into that person—the one who shows up early and finishes projects with time to spare. Here, nine habits of those mystifying people who are always punctual.
1. When it’s time to get up, they get up.
Waking up is the first item of the day you can procrastinate. Whether you hit the snooze button and fall back asleep, or accidentally turn your alarm off and wake up 30 minutes later in a panic, getting out of bed is an easy thing to delay. Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, suggests an easy fix: Put your alarm out of reach. Physically moving out of bed to turn your alarm off is a surefire way to get out of bed—and not crawl back in.
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2. They plan breakfast at dinner.
Everyone is rushed in the morning, says Gottsman—it’s the busiest time of day. Hyper-organized, punctual people tend to have their mornings laid out before they go to bed the night before. Their shoes and keys are by the door, their lunches are packed, and the coffee pot is set to start brewing. Some even lay out their outfits the night before—”first day of school”-style. A map for your morning routine eliminates the five minutes you spend searching for your keys, and sends you out the door right on time.
3. They end tasks on time.
Often, people who are late simply get caught up in moving from one activity to the next, says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. People who are time-conscious, on the other hand, map out their tasks in advance, and understand how long they should spend on each project before moving on. By answering the question: “How long will this take?” ahead of time, you’ll find it easier to wrap things up.
“If you can see what success looks like for each item, it helps you stop working,” Morgenstern says.
4. They recognize patterns, and correct them.
If you’re always running back inside to grab your phone charger, keep an extra at work or in the car. If you’re constantly on the hunt for your sunglasses, train yourself to leave them by the door every day. “Timely people know what they need to do to stay punctual,” says Gottsman. “Know your idiosyncrasies.”
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5. They embrace downtime.
Part of the psychology of lateness is typically a fear of waiting or being left with nothing to do, says Morgenstern. People who are perpetually behind are often subconsciously trying to make sure that they are always moving—the idea of sitting in a doctor’s lobby makes them anxious. Morgenstern suggests using this time to catch up on simple tasks, like networking emails or that book you’ve been dying to read. By having items permanently on your “to-do” list, you’ll always feel like you’re accomplishing something.
6. They’re immune to “Just One More Thing” syndrome.
You’ll rarely hear a time-conscious person say they need to squeeze in “one more thing” before they leave. That impulse can lead you off track, and suddenly it’s not just one more email—it’s an entire 15 minutes worth of emails.
“Train yourself to recognize that impulse when it happens,” Morgenstern says. “Resist the impulse to do one more thing and just leave.”
7. They schedule built-in overflow time.
If you glanced at the calendar of that woman in the office—the one who’s always on time and whose hair is somehow immune to humidity—you’d probably see large gaps in her day, and space between meetings. This overflow time is essential for handling anything unexpected that might arise and throw off your schedule. Morgenstern suggests setting aside a chunk in the morning and one in the afternoon to catch up on to-do lists and handle spontaneous crises.
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8. They’ve mastered the skill of calculation.
Timely people are serious planners. They map out their days, often down to the minute—including elevator time, walking time, and even the traffic and weather, meaning they are rarely delayed. If you’ve yet to become this precise, Morgenstern has a fix: Time yourself completing routine tasks three days in a row. Find out how long it takes you to get from bed to out the door, and then from the door of your office building to your desk, with a stop at the coffee machine on the way. Soon, you’ll become a time master, too.
9. They know when they do their best work.
“People who schedule well are very aware of their energy cycles,” Morgenstern says. “They know what is the ideal time for different kinds of activities.” If you do your best thinking in the morning, save that time for your hardest work. By scheduling your day to maximize performance, you eliminate burning out or getting sucked into the Internet while your brain recovers from a slew of meetings.