I like lists. I have always made them as far back as I remember. Pompous as it sounds, I even have a master list of all my lists. By logic, this should have resulted in my becoming a very accomplished individual. But here’s the clarification: I like making lists. It’s quite debatable how often I follow or do the things my lists dictate I do.
One item that always appears on my list is to be on time. Punctuality isn’t my thing.
Fifteen minutes late
I’m always 15 minutes late. To everything. You’d think this much self-awareness of my tardiness would be enough to shame me into changing my habits. Wrong.
My concept of time is fluid. In my mind, I’m already in the future.
Here’s an example:
My average commute to work is 25 minutes each way. I’m perennially late. And yet, I’m surprised how long it takes me to get to work. Every. Time. There probably was one day in the whole year when I was able to get to work in 18 minutes, probably because it was 10:30 a.m. and schools were closed and there was hardly any traffic. I’m afraid a part of my brain latched on to those 18 minutes, forgetting the other 200 days when it took longer. Selective amnesia.
I’m so grateful I don’t have a job that depended on me showing up every day on time. Like being a doctor or a person that needs to open up a retail store. Wouldn’t have lasted much longer at those jobs for sure. Or maybe I would have learned my lesson sooner.
Showing up on time appears on my New Year’s resolutions year after year. I try each year. Honestly. The results are always the same. Two steps forward three back.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy being late. I’m a rule-follower generally and not rebellious or revolutionary in any sense. I hate confrontation. I don’t deal with criticism well. And each time I walk in late, I feel the eyes of the whole floor boring in on me, whether or not it’s true. I imagine quiet whispers between my colleagues behind my back about my tardiness.
If I feel so strongly about being late, then why do I let it happen?
Great question! One I’ve spent a significant deal of introspection on. And I think I found the answer.
Just one more thing
I understand this is NOT okay. Especially, here in the Western world that values timeliness. I have some creative rationalizations as to why I’m repeatedly late. None of these actually involve me taking any personal responsibility. Ha!
Is it really important that I be on time for the 9 a.m. meeting, because, come on let's be honest. Nothing important ever gets discussed at these meetings.
Blame Murphy’s law. Why is it that I’m always stuck in the slowest lane of traffic? Or this: I left on time but had to stop at the train tracks to let the world’s longest train pass by. (I choose to ignore the fact that the train is running on schedule and it is likely that after 9 a.m. I’m bound to be stopped at the train tracks).
Too busy to be on time
Unlike other earthly beings, I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and have SO MUCH to do. How can I possibly be expected to finish it all and still be on time?
Blame my origins. In India, the concept of time is subjective. Also, referred to in local parlance as the “Indian Stretchable Time” which means to add between 30 mins to an hour to the average appointment time. People will make it when they can. This lateness is factored into the system and strangely enough, life hums along quite well. Everyone knows it, everyone expects it and everyone accounts for it and nobody gets upset. Sweet!
Of course, I’m grossly stereotyping, since there is obviously a large percentage of the population that does not tolerate tardiness. However, my motive here is to look for something to point my finger at here – so bear with me.
I have a very good theory to support this hypothesis. Hindus believe strongly in rebirth. So, what does not get done in this birth can get done in the next. Our soul is indestructible and as long as we feed the soul, worldly concerns such as being on time to meetings, shouldn’t worry us. So convenient for me!
Kidding aside, I’m hyper-aware and embarrassed on how this lack of punctuality could be construed as callousness and a complete lack of appreciation for other people’s time. After spending considerable time psycho-analyzing this behavior, I think I’ve finally identified why this occurs.
If you are in my camp or if you know someone who is, then here are my suggestions on how to overcome the innate propensity some of us have to do just one more thing.
This is the tendency to want everything around you to be perfect all the time. This one is a recipe for disaster.
So what if there’s a pile of clothes on the laundry floor as you leave for work? Let it be. There’s always going to be time after you return home to put it away. And, if you’re truly fortunate, someone else in the family may notice and put it away. (You can fantasize, right?)
Just focus on the task at hand, which in this case, is getting into the driver’s seat on time. Everything else is secondary.
Lack of Accountability / responsibility
If you’re accountable and / or responsible for an event, you’re usually invested enough to make it on time. If you are the key presenter at a meeting, it’s quite unlikely you’ll show up 15 minutes late. If you are designated carpool pick-up driver for your school kids, you’ll show up on time.
If accountability is not forced on, try to volunteer for it. Sign up to bring an appetizer instead of a dessert to a potluck, for instance. Visualizing hangry faces greeting you as you enter a party may goad you into getting there early (#hope).
Depending on how much of a thick skin you have developed (mine’s quite leathery by now with years of practice), the threat of social shaming could goad you into punctuality soon. Walking into a roomful of important people 15 minutes late may be okay once but that behavior is less likely to be repeated if there’s a threat of social shaming.
Fulfillment is probably the most important factor.
It matters where you’re going and why. If it’s to a job that brings you no satisfaction or to a social event that you’re forcing yourself to go but don’t enjoy, it will be hard to motivate yourself to be on time.
The ideal solution to this problem is to not force yourself to be on time (though that may be helpful in the short term), but to try and address the source of the problem. Consider declining the social event (but brace yourself for the fact that you may fall from people’s social graces). Or, consider changing what you do at your job to have more accountability and responsibility. Or get a new job.
Granted, these are not easy fixes but they certainly are the right ones. It is worth spending time to solve a problem once rather than using shortcuts to attempt to solve the same problem repeatedly.
This leads me to the crux of the matter. Check in with yourself to see if there are tasks you constantly avoid. Evaluate the true necessity of these tasks.
Did you choose to do the task yourself or were these imposed upon you by someone else?
Are there dire consequences for yourself or others if you choose to not do it all?
If so, figure out ways to make the task more palatable. Or ways to lighten your other tasks. '
Doing it all is not an option nor should it ever be.
It is better to do something motivated by desire/reward rather than fear/punishment. They both will get you to act. But the former is way more pleasant than the latter.
Getting to work on time because I can get more done and feel accomplished is a much better situation than being punctual because the boss may yell at me if I’m not.
Find joy in the things you do.
If there are things you detest, don’t do them to please others. Jettison them, Marie Kondo style.
If there are things you'd rather not but are duty-bound to do, find a way to make them more pleasant.
Life is too short to spend time wishing you were doing something else.