The Happiness Project

Seven Tips if You’re Chronically Late

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven tips if you’re chronically late.

Feeling as though you’re always running 20 minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive … it’s no fun.

If you find yourself chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you’re late. As my Eighth Commandment holds, the first step is to Identify the problem —then you can see more easily what you need to change.

There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because …

1. You sleep too late ? If you’re so exhausted in the morning that you sleep until the last possible moment, it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don’t get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. Try to turn off the light sooner each night.

2. You try to get one last thing done ? Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more e-mail or put away one more load of laundry before you leave, here’s a way to outwit yourself: Take a task that you can do when you reach your destination and leave early. Tell yourself that you need that 10 minutes on the other end to read those brochures or check those figures.

3. You undestimate the commute time ? You may tell yourself it takes 20 minutes to get to work, but if it actually takes 40 minutes, you’re going to be chronically late. Have you exactly identified the time by which you need to leave? That’s what worked for me for getting my kids to school on time. We have a precise time that we’re supposed to leave, so I know if we’re running late, and by how much. Before I identified that exact time, I had only a vague sense of how the morning was running, and I usually thought we had more time than we actually did. My daughter goes into near-hysterics if we’re late, so that motivated me to get very clear on this issue.

4. You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses ? Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late. Designate a place in your house for your vital items and put those things in that spot, every time. I keep everything important in my (extremely unfashionable) backpack, and fortunately a backpack is big enough that it’s always easy to find. My husband keeps his vital items in the chest of drawers opposite our front door.

5. Other people in your house are disorganized ? Your wife can’t find her phone, your son can’t find his Spanish book, so you’re late. As hard as it is to get yourself organized, it’s even harder to help other people get organized. Try setting up the “vital things” place in your house. Prod your children to get their school stuff organized the night before—and coax the outfit-changing types to pick their outfits the night before, too. Get lunches ready. Etc.

6. You hate your destination so much you want to postpone showing up for as long as possible ? If you dread going to work that much, or you hate school so deeply, or wherever your destination might be, you’re giving yourself a clear signal that you need think about making a change in your life.

7. Your co-workers won’t end meetings on time ? This is an exasperating problem. You’re supposed to be someplace else, but you’re trapped in a meeting that’s going long. Sometimes this is inevitable, but if you find it happening over and over, identify the problem. Is too little time allotted to meetings that deserve more time? Is the weekly staff meeting 60 minutes of work crammed into 20 minutes? Does one person hold things up? If you face this issue repeatedly, there’s probably an identifiable problem—and once you identify it, you can develop strategies to solve it—e.g., sticking to an agenda; circulating information by e-mail; not permitting discussions about contentious philosophical questions not relevant to the tasks at hand, etc. (This last problem is surprisingly widespread, in my experience.)

Late or not, if you find yourself rushing around every morning, consider waking up earlier (see no. 1 above). Yes, it’s tough to give up those last precious moments of sleep, and it’s even tougher to go to bed earlier and cut into what, for many people, is their leisure time. But it helps.

I’ve started getting up at 6 a.m. so I have an hour to myself before I have to rustle everyone out of bed. This has made a huge improvement in our mornings. Because I’m organized and ready by 7 a.m., I can be focused on getting all of us out the door. (On a related note, here are more tips for keeping school mornings calm and cheery.)

What are some other strategies that work if you suffer from chronic lateness?

* A great blog, Get Rich Slowly , is about “personal finance that makes cents.” It covers a very broad range of topics related to finance, so there’s much there of interest to just about anyone.

* Introducing something new: Word-of-Mouth Wednesday ! Now, not only is Wednesday the weekly Tip Day, it’s also the day when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
? Forward the link to someone you think would be interested.
? Link to a post on Twitter .
? Pre-order the book for a friend.
? Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update.
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the best.