Tardy Slips for Adults
A dear friend of mine fondly referred to me as his "5-minute friend" - I'm either 5 minutes early or 5 minutes late. Being early feels like a victory. More often than not, when I'm not actively managing my time, I fall into the 5-minutes late camp. It feels awful in that camp. I never set out to make someone wait. It feels disrespectful and awful to me, even when no one notices or cares.
I even hired a coach when I went back to work to help me address these feelings of failure and/or my tendency to be late. At the time, we concluded that sometimes the circumstances are beyond my own control and that I might just need to let go of that shame when possible and practice my strategies for early arrival when humanly possible. Here I am 11+ years later, and the strategies I employ now are far more intentional that when I worked a standard office job. There is no one but me handing out the mental tardy slips.
Today, I am rarely late for clients. Where I tend to slip up more falls to my friends and health care providers. I love all of them. So I took some time to reflect on the strategies in my toolbox and how I could tweak them to prevent some of the common time traps that I find myself falling into.
After an honest look at the tardy slips I should have accumulated, a few self-saboteur themes emerged. Some of these may resonate with you as well.
Putting myself last: I can fall into the rhythm of putting put myself last when self-care should be first. When I put my own self-care on the back burner, I undermine the importance of the time I prioritize for the dentist, the doctor, mammograms, etc.
Time Optimism: traffic in my town has become something that requires planning. I used to be able to wait until the last minute and zip 3-5 miles down the road…fifteen years ago. Sometimes, I get so darn optimistic that I forget to adjust my internal time close to the 21st century. And even when I do, I sometimes neglect to add a buffer for the last-minute to-dos that come up.
Hyper-focus: some days, I am in such a groove that I don't want to transition out of it. 5 more minutes turns into 15 and them I'm most definitely running late. It also leads to time optimism traps such as the common desire to complete "one more thing before I go".
So, if I am to practice what I preach, it is time to open my tool box. Here are the strategies I have been practicing the last month, and I can honestly report that I am feeling less rushed and more in control of my time. It's not perfect, but that is why we call it a practice. Half the battle is showing up, and these are the current strategies I am using to zero in on time management:
Calendars: setting my calendar earlier to alert me to leave and blocking off transition times between activities allows a decent and relatively stress-free buffer. I use a paper planner during my quiet time in the morning - it has the similar effect of journaling for me. My current favorite is the daily planner from www.STARTplanner.com. I also try and schedule all of my doctor appointments on the perimeter of my day - in the early morning or late afternoons.
Busy Bags: Bringing busywork or a book to read to appointments to give me something to do when I arrive early, which alleviates that feeling of wasted time when I am early. These include brief tasks on my list, books that I can easily put down after a few pages, and magazines that I have on my reading stack..
Prep-work: preparing materials and bags in advance of my next day is a practice that I have kept up with since high school. There is something so settling about the ritual of closing out today by preparing for tomorrow. This can shave minutes off of the morning hustle.
Designer Days: I have the luxury of designing my work day to minimize distractions. It doesn’t always unfold like I had planned it in my head, and shifting without preparation can take the sails out of you from time to time. As a result, I have learned that saying "no" to more can open you up to even more. It also allows more room for you to hyper-focus on fewer things. I keep my appointments to no more than 5 in a day to minimize transitions - I've learned this lesson the hard way.
Mufflers: I love my noise-cancelling headphones; especially when I know the office is going to be a little more energetic than usual. And now that my DH is working from home, I am finding that I spend more time in the office when I need space to concentrate. If you work with a verbal processor and some days you may find that you need a touch more quiet time carved out in order to feel productive.
Not everyone has the luxury of designing their work environment to match their needs. An added perk to revisiting my time management strategies was decreased stress. Finding what works and increases your chances of successfully arriving on time can shave off more internal angst than you might realize.
If tardiness is something you want to curb, I encourage you to pull back and evaluate the hot spots of your day. Putting together a practice for actively managing your time may lead to some surprising discoveries about yourself and the environment in which you work.