Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Never Be Late or Unprepared for a Meeting Ever Again

We all want to be our best selves at work, but for many of us there’s this one thing we just can’t shake: being late.

Greg Savage’s manners manifesto “No You Are Not ‘Running Late,’ You Are Rude and Selfish” has been shared and reposted thousands of times since it was published in 2010. Not to mention, you know it’s not a good look when you show up to a staff meeting after everyone’s already seated. But aside from feeling bashful that you’re being called out, what can you do about it in your own life?

Tackle it on a micro level.

If you work in an office environment that uses Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, here’s a two-step tactic for being both on time and totally prepared for every meeting you have on your calendar. Since both Outlook and Google Calendar have default alarms set to ring 10 minutes before any scheduled appointment, use that as your window to make sure you’re truly ready for what’s next. Then, once it goes off:

10 Minutes Before

Whether this is a meeting you’re leading or just attending, use this time to make sure you have what you need. When the alarm sounds, stop whatever you were doing previously and answer these questions:

  • Do I have all the correct materials?
  • Are my team members prepped?
  • Am I ready for any updates or announcements I need to make?
  • Are the meeting room’s space and equipment ready?
  • Do I need to give a heads-up to people currently using the space that I have it reserved?

Of course, you don’t have to wait until just before the meeting to address these questions (in fact, it’s helpful to make them part of your morning routine). By facing them now, however, you’re doing your part to make sure your 1 PM meeting doesn’t start with you waiting at the copy machine.

5 Minutes Before

If all goes well with the first five minutes, pat yourself on the back and head directly to the meeting table. Even if you’re feeling antsy while you’re waiting, avoid the temptation to return to your desk or start a new major task. A bathroom trip and starting a new email can take longer than you expect and make you late to the meeting after all.

Instead, acknowledge that urge to check one more thing off your to-do list and use what time management expert Eva Wisnik calls the “parking lot.” Throughout your day, keep a single Post-it note on your desk to jot down those non-critical tasks that jump into your head like pop-up ads (think tracking that UPS order, scanning news homepages, or checking your social media feeds). Surprisingly, I’ve found that adding items to my parking lot gives a feeling of resolution, even though I’m not completing them at the time.

Then, in those last five minutes before the meeting starts, while everyone is (hopefully) entering the room, see if you can clear one of those tasks from your lot.

Depending on how large your office space is, you may need to adjust the “10 minutes” to account for travel time between floors, but the principle still holds: Stop, get ready, and go. By doing this, you’re planning not just to be on time, but to be early. Best of all, you’ll feel productive and look good to your team. Oh, and no one will have to know that you were checking your “likes” before the meeting—that’ll be our little secret!

Photo of clock courtesy of Shutterstock.

A logo with "the muse" in white text.