PART ONE – Why Can’t We Be on Time? Welcome to Our Secret Society
“I’m sorry I’m late but…” How often do you say these words? And how often do you manage to arrive on time just because all the traffic lights were green and you found the perfect parking space? If this picture is familiar, then join the club - a surprisingly large club, which has been a secret society for far too long.
Let’s face it – we hate being late! When we do arrive early, we enjoy feeling calm and unruffled, with enough time to visit the bathroom or get a cup of coffee. So why don’t we make our lives easier by doing it all the time? We always make mental notes that next time we will leave home earlier, next time we won’t break the speed limit trying to make up time, next time we won’t embarrass ourselves by walking into an event after it has started. It’s just that somehow, when it comes to the next time, our resolve evaporates and we fall back into the same pattern.
Do you get the feeling that the rest of the world is always on time, and it is just you who is always late? It’s a surprisingly common problem - in 2014, a YouGov poll found that 19% of US workers are late for work at least once a week, and Joseph Ferrari, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, has established that 20% of people struggle with being on time. People are very quick to criticize our lack of punctuality, but if one in five of us is often late, what research has been carried out to help us understand and improve our behavior? We aren’t like the 80% of the population who find it easy to be punctual - time seems to work differently for us. Writers of Time Management courses and books haven’t grasped that we need an alternative approach - they seem to think everyone can follow simple instructions to change their behavior. We need to creep up on the problem from a different angle if we are to find ways of arriving on time, because we have a little demon in our brain that is determined to make us late.
This book explores our singular relationship with punctuality because, if we can find ways of improving our timekeeping, we will be improving lives. Not just our own lives, but the lives of the people we live and work with. Close to every person who is always late, there will be someone who needs to be early, and the sparks that fly between the two could power a city. Unfortunately for them, the early birds get the worst of the bargain, though they play an important role in our lives. They act like a pressure gauge – the nearer they get to exploding, the faster we move. So in the interests of reducing global tensions, we need to see if we can find better ways of becoming our own time-keepers.
We can often be the last people to admit we have a problem. We always imagine that we’re going to be on time, so it is easy to blame our lateness on the traffic, or the fact that we had to do something just before we left home. It is only when we take a deep breath, and recognize that it ALWAYS happens, that we can start to see the problem as something personal.
(Cartoon - see epub)
Although we’d all love to find a magic solution that will make us punctual, we know that’s just a dream. We know from personal experience that there aren’t any easy answers - it’s very hard to change our behavior, because we’ve tried again and again. But if we can’t find a way to simply reprogram our brains, there are other ways to address the issue, and in these pages you’ll find some surprisingly simple and effective ideas to help you manage the problem.
This book starts by mapping out the mental mazes which result in us being late, because once we understand what triggers our behavior, we are halfway to the solution. Next, we open the Timebender’s Toolbox, which is packed with practical tips and ideas to help you to be on time when it matters. After this we take a step back, to look at how our lateness patterns change at different points in our lives, where the special challenges lie, and how to deal with them. Once we have understood this broader perspective, we delve deeper into the subject, by looking into the neuroscience of what is happening in our brains, and whether therapy can help. Since many of the people reading this book will be looking for insights into how to live with someone who is always late, we offer advice about which strategies will help us to improve our timekeeping, and which are likely to have the opposite effect. Finally, we offer a selection of workbook exercises to help achieve long-term change.
So let’s not waste any time. Let’s start with a quick quiz, to show you where you fit on the lateness scale.
Time For a Quiz
1. When I’m not working at it, the surface of my desk:
a) Is always completely clear
b) Is sorted and tidy
c) Is usually piled with papers
2. When I go to a regular activity or class:
a) I always get there early (unless something exceptional happens)
b) I aim to get there early, and usually arrive in good time
c) I aim to arrive at the start time, but sometimes I’m late
3. If something unexpected happens to interrupt my work schedule:
a) I like to be in control of my schedule and hate it to be disrupted
b) I don’t mind being flexible if it’s something important
c) I rather enjoy the distraction, and hope I can still catch up on my scheduled work
4. If I’m expecting a visitor, and they don’t arrive on time:
a) I get annoyed, as I think it’s rude to be late
b) I don’t really mind if they’re a bit late
c) I’m pleased, because I manage to get lot done in those extra minutes
5. When doing domestic chores:
a) I have a regular routine which I follow with little variation
b) I generally follow the same routine, but can change this if necessary
c) I don’t have a regular routine
6. When working out how long it will take to do a job:
a) I’m more likely to allow too much time
b) I’m pretty accurate in estimating how long things take
c) I sometimes find I haven’t left enough time
7. When I go on vacation:
a) My bag is packed several days beforehand, apart from toiletries etc.
b) My bag is always packed and ready in good time on the day of departure
c) I don’t usually manage to close my bag until almost the last minute
8. When I’m doing a job or hobby which creates a mess:
a) I really look forward to putting everything away again
b) I normally clear up everything when I’ve finished
c) I don’t look forward to clearing up, and sometimes I put it off
9. If someone has offered to pick me up from home:
a) I like to be ready and waiting by the door 10 mins before they arrive, in case they are early
b) I’m always completely ready by the time we agreed
c) I’m often not quite ready, when they arrive to pick me up
10. If I’m given a job with a long deadline:
a) I would get the job finished early, so it is out of the way
b) I plan my work so that it is comfortably finished and checked by the deadline
c) I am usually working hard, right up to the cut-off point
How Did You Score?
You get very irritated by people who are late, and can’t understand why they don’t fix the problem.
You plan your time carefully, and can get obsessive about the need to be early.
You are probably reading this book because you are finding it difficult to live with someone who is always late.
This book can help you to understand why people are late, and give you some strategies to help you manage the negative impact on your life.
You are well-organized and don’t find it difficult to be on time.
You would think it a waste of time to be early for everything.
You can get frustrated with people who hold you up because they are late.
The majority of the population are like you. You struggle to understand the A’s and C’s in your life.
This book will give you some perspective on other people’s issues with punctuality, and allow you to appreciate your own easy relationship with time.
You don’t enjoy being late, and would like to arrive on time ALL the time.
Unless you have an important appointment, you rarely arrive early.
You are late more often than you like to admit.
You believe you get a lot more done at the last minute than people who are always early and waiting around, doing nothing.
This book will give you insights into your behavior, and equip you with practical ways to improve your relationship with time.
( Graph - see epub))
We all sit somewhere on this continuum, and we all have something to learn from each other. If you are fortunate enough to be one of the 60% majority who have an easy relationship with punctuality, this book will show you how it can be a problem for other people at both ends of the spectrum. If you have a need to be early, it will help you understand why some people are late, and Part Five will give you some ideas for managing the impact of their behavior on your life. If you are one of the 20% who struggle to be on time, this book is designed to help you. You will learn what triggers your lateness, and when it is likely to occur. Part Two is packed with tried and tested tools which can help you to be on time. This book is an attempt to explain a pattern of behavior which has remained hidden for too long, and to start a dialogue which will hopefully result in a better understanding from all sides.