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Organization Tuesday: Late No More! (Tips For Being On Time...Every Time)Views: 612
Feb 28, 2009 7:31 pmOrganization Tuesday: Late No More! (Tips For Being On Time...Every Time)#

Julie Bestry
Over the past few weeks, we looked at the financial, social and political dangers of lateness.  Today, we'll be examining some practical solutions to this time management problem.  

Understand why you are often late.  

Busy professionals often say they are late because they have so many demands that they can't get them all done.  However, captains of industry, political leaders and working mothers often juggle multiple responsibilities without chronic lateness marring their reputations, so the number of activities can't be the only variable.  Instead of making vague generalities, each time you are late, or have been late, be honest with yourself and analyze what it was you did, or did not, do that led you to be late.

Perhaps you like working on the computer, searching the web for links that will entertain and enlighten your blog readers, but you find one-on-one meetings with your accountant to be awkward and intimidating because you're not a "math" person.  Perhaps you love the social aspect of working with your clients, but dread having to attend continuing education classes because the academic environment brings back bad memories.  Or, the reverse might be true, and you could love doing research and learning, but hate going to meet new clients because of social anxiety.  

In each case, you might be ignoring external cues (like alarms) and internal clues (like that nagging voice in your head) telling you to get to stop and transition to the  next task.  Persons with ADD and ADHD often report having difficulty with task transitioning, and the skills they are advised to use work well for any busy professional.  First, build extra transitioning time into your day.  That might mean setting two alarms, with one notification on the computer popping up to say "Finish the sentence you are writing; bookmark the site you are on.  It's time to move on."  Use the first reminder to get you to "clean up" mode, allowing you to back out of the current work quickly and providing ample time to scribble bits of brilliance before turning your attention completely to the next task.  The second alarm is your "OK, really, stand up and walk away" notice.

Your task transitioning difficulty may be less about intellectual transitioning than emotional distress.  Do you avoid being on time for fear you'll have to wait?  Does the notion of being somewhere without a specific task to keep you busy make you feel stressed?  Or, do you prefer to avoid social situations where you're expected to participate in "chit chat"?  If that's the case, arrange for something to keep you busy.  

Build charging your cell phone and iPod into the day's schedule so that both will be available when you arrive anywhere.  (If you are truly socially-avoidant and someone wants to chat, you could even hold up a note saying that you're listening to the end of a teleclass for which you must stay on the line to get continuing education credits.  The person won't be offended, and it might be easier to fib than explain that you just don't like talking to people.  

Keep a folder with clipped articles you never have time to read.  Read with a pen or highlighter in hand and mark anything that needs your follow-up. If you don't need the article anymore once you've read it, toss it out.  If you will need it, mark a note in the upper right corner as to whether it goes to your tickler file for immediate action or your reference files (and note which topic).  Keep your to-do list of phone calls handy and return calls while you wait.  In all cases, combating the anxiety or annoyance you feel at being a little early is easier than trying to reverse a bad reputation due to chronic lateness.

Do you lose track of time?  One client's husband used to call to say he'd be leaving for the train "in five minutes", and two hours later, he'd still not have arrived home.  The husband honestly meant to back up and leave, but something caught his attention, and he began to hyperfocus, becoming unaware of the world outside his area of concentration.  If this is you, set and use alarms on your computer or cell phone to tell you when you've missed a transitioning time.  If you get sucked into the computer, then install a program that actually closes the browser if you've been using the program longer than you proactively scheduled.

Are you late because it makes you feel important?  Don't laugh--the people you keep waiting may be wondering if you think you are more important than they are if you're repeatedly keeping them waiting.  Perhaps, without realizing it, you've internalized the notion that being late means that you are busy, and being busy means that you are important.  If this rings any uncomfortable bells, please review what we talked about months ago regarding busy sickness.

Could it be a PROCEDURAL problem?
Quite often, professionals assume that they can properly estimate how long it will take to complete a project, ignoring the elements that could throw them off schedule:  the whims of a chatty client, an unexpectedly ill client, an internet outage or computer problem, a telephone or in-person interruption.  It's important to review all of your procedures and make sure you're not sabotaging yourself.

Be realistic about how much you can do in a day.

You can't know how much you can accomplish in a working day until you know how long something takes.  It's silly to think you can return three phone calls in 10 minutes if each conversation requires lots of handholding, brainstorming and attention.  Conversely, you can easily leave three detailed messages on voicemail in that time, specifying exactly who you are, why you are calling, what information you need and so on.

Be realistic about how long something takes to do.  Time yourself for every project. Your blog. Your laundry.  Your drive to a client location in midday vs. rush hour traffic.  There are very few things that take "just two minutes":  filing away a few papers (assuming you have a working system), using the rest room, straightening your desk.  Almost everything else in your day will take thought, planning and precision.  Even if what you do is "creative", if you have other obligations, you have to decide to create an official end time so that you can move on to the next task.

Sometimes, it helps to look at your thinking process, because sometimes you replace your intellectual process with an emotional/psychological one:
  • Do you procrastinate because you believe a task may be time-consuming or because you want to believe (contrary to what you know intellectually) that it will not take too much time or effort?  
  • Do you plan extra time for contingencies (getting lost, dealing with heavy traffic, etc.) or assume everything will be fine?
  • Do you actually block your time on a calendar, planning your tasks for the day or week so that if a problem pops up, you can "lift" a planned task out of its home in your schedule to move it somewhere else?  Or do you treat time as it were amorphous, trusting that your gut will lead you to the next appropriate task?
General anti-lateness tips:

Schedule everything--on paper, in your PDA, wherever, but make sure you write every appointment down.  No matter how good your memory is, never merely trust it.  Think "Trust, but verify", and make it possible to prevent all conflicts.  If you have a Noon appointment on one side of town and a 2 p.m. appointment on the other, it's unreasonable to expect that the first appointment won't start late, that there won't be traffic or that other difficulties might not arise.  It's better to schedule fewer things each day but accomplish all of them than to schedule more things and embarrass yourself (and frustrate others) by being late to half of them.

Stop overbooking.  Be aware of how long something takes to do, including creating buffer time in between tasks for travel, bathroom breaks, food breaks, mental gear-switching, checking messages, etc.

Stick to your plan.  Do you think you can do just one more thing?   Stop. If it's not on the plan, it's not going to happen.  Do you allow interruptions  to happen without stopping them in their tracks?  If so, go back and read our prior Business Consortium posts on interruptions here and here.

Stop living according to your gut.  If you have spent your life believing that living by a clock or  calendar makes you less creative, you must disabuse yourself of that notion right now.  The greatest writers and artists all acknowledge that a schedule ensures that they have time, focus and resources to accomplish their  tasks. What art can the greatest painter create if he's out of canvas because he's failed to lay in a supply or shrouded in darkness because he forgot to pay the electric bill?

Take care of all the little things.  Do you ever run out of gas?  Put filling your gas tank as an assignment on the calendar. Do it every Wednesday after lunch without fail.  Put oil changes and general car maintenance on the calendar, too, and make such upkeep as much a part of your life as brushing your teeth.  Is your office too cluttered for you to find things?  Make an appointment with a professional organizer and/or schedule 15 minutes of office organization into the end of every day so that you start each workday with a sense of calm instead of chaos.

Have a backup plan.  Build buffer time into your schedule.  Always research two ways to get anywhere.  Keep a cell phone charger in your car, extra batteries in your trunk, and the phone numbers of the people you're meeting written write in the appointment box in case you have to call to warn them of impending delays.

Be honest with others.  Don't ever lie about being late.  People will think less of you for making up a convoluted excuse involving chicken trucks, the Pope and a high speed car chase than they would for being a bad time manager.  Let them know you are striving to improve your time skills, and apologize genuinely for inconveniencing them.

Questions?  I'd be happy to offer specific solutions to any challenges anyone has been experiencing with chronic lateness, time management or, as always, any organizing-related issues.

Julie Bestry, Certified Professional Organizer®
Best Results Organizing
"Don't apologize.  Organize!"
Visit http://www.juliebestry.com to sign up for Best Results For Busy People:  Organizing Your Modern World, a newsletter to help you save time and money, reduce stress and increase your productivity

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