As the person who’s always early to everything, I’ve perfected the art of killing time. I’ve also perfected the art of standing awkwardly in a building lobby because I’m a half-hour early to an interview, as well as the art of not verbally assaulting restaurant hosts who won’t seat me until my entire party’s arrived.
My friends often ask me, “How do you do it? How are you always so punctual?”
To which I reply, “Why, thank you for noticing my promptness, please do let me tell you my time management secrets!”
Just kidding. No one’s ever asked me that. But just in case someone ever does, I wanted to have a few practical tips ready. After all, being on time’s polite when you’re meeting friends, but downright essential in professional settings. From meetings to presentations to interviews, people aren’t just annoyed when you’re late—they’re judging you. Hard.
And assuming you’re an awesome, smart, innovative hard worker, I’d hate to see you lose credibility in your employer’s eyes because of something as basic as time. So, here are my three not-so-secret secrets to always getting places on the dot.
1. Set All Your Clocks Five Minutes Ahead
I see your skeptical face. “But Jenni,” you’re saying aloud to your computer like a crazy person, “if I set the clocks ahead myself, I’ll know that they’re ahead, and I won’t pay attention.”
And to that I’d tell you that it doesn’t matter—your brain’s not as smart as you think it is. Just seeing the (incorrect) time on your microwave, in the car, and anywhere else you can manually change it will make you start operating five minutes ahead. I can’t explain it, I can just tell you that every morning I leave my house at 8:10 AM, look down at my phone, see it’s really only 8:05, and think about the fact that my stupid stove clock tricked me again.
Don’t have clocks strewn about your home and office like me? Buy a few cheap ones, ideally big and ugly ones with large red numbers. Put one in your bathroom, your bedroom, on your desk—wherever you can’t currently see one easily. (And no, your phone doesn’t count.) Visually seeing a clock—and watching time fly when you’re on a tight schedule—helps you move a little bit faster.
2. Overestimate How Long Everything Will Take
Let’s say you struggle to arrive to work on time in the morning. Make a list of everything you do before you leave, from the moment you wake up to the moment you lock your front door behind you. Put down how long you think each task takes you. And now—here’s the big secret—add five minutes to each of those estimates.
Because odds are high that you’re probably just putting down the ideal number. There’s a big difference between, “I want to take 10-minute showers” and “I always take 10-minute showers on the dot, regardless of whether or not I need to shave my legs.”
And even if your estimate’s right on the money, I’ll also take bets that you’re not factoring in all the moments between completing your morning to-dos. For example: I always blow dry my hair (five minutes) and then get dressed (two minutes). However, picking out my outfit on confusing fall weather days when it’s somehow humid and chilly—well that can take me upwards of 20 minutes. And it’s those small, seemingly simple activities that you always forget to factor in.
When you have everything down on paper in front of you, you’ll more accurately be able to figure out when you really need to wake up (and when you need to stop hitting snooze). And—spoiler alert—you can do this for any portion of your day.
3. Plan for the Worst-Case-Scenario—Then Take it Down a Notch
I think it’s fair to say that people who are always late tend to be more optimistic about how well traveling from Point A to Point B will go.
“I was running on time to the meeting until I hit construction traffic…”
“I actually left my house early, but I realized I forgot my lunch and had to go back…”
“The presentation was going to be all ready, then Hank stopped by my desk…”
Whereas people who are always early tend to plan for every possible worst-case scenario—plus some that usually seem more well-suited to a horror movie. When I was interviewing for jobs earlier this year, I’d allot 15 minutes for a subway delay, 10 minutes for running to Staples to print out my resume in case someone pushed me on the tracks and I had to choose between saving my life and saving my resume binder, five minutes to change tights if mine ripped, and three minutes for running into an old friend from high school who’s rambling on about her baby and not picking up any visual cues that I’m in a hurry.
While I clearly have a tendency to overdo it, my schedule always has room for any surprising obstacles that may pop up. And an obstacle—usually (and hopefully) less severe than being pushed onto the subways tracks—almost always gets in your way when you need to be somewhere on time. So put on your Debbie Downer hat and prepare for the worst.
And speaking of worst-case scenarios—do you know what the worst-case scenario is if you take all this advice and there are no obstacles in your way, and your shower really does take 10 minutes on the dot, and the clocks encourage you to move faster than ever? You arrive a few minutes early to your destination. That’s time to compose yourself before an interview, time to review your notes before a presentation, and time to check your Instagram before grabbing drinks. I promise you, if you’re always the person running late and sending “sry, be there in five” texts, you’re going to love this feeling!
Any other realistic tips to add to the list? Tweet me and let me know!
Jenni Maier is the Editor-in-Chief of The Muse. She wrote her first book at the age of five. While it didn't quite take off, she's continued to write and edit whenever possible. She feels very lucky to have a career that allows her to do just that. Her work's been featured in Fast Company, TIME , Inc., her mother's Facebook statuses, and more. When she's not Musing and daydreaming about being a dog owner, she's either working through her Netflix queue or baking. Or, ideally, a combination of both. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author