How to Be On Time, Every Time

Woman angry at her boyfriend for being late
Are you always late when you are going somewhere? And no matter how hard you try, you never succeed to be on time? Are people teasing you for it?

Sometimes unforeseen things happen. But if you are constantly late, you need to change something.

What do others do to always be punctual?

You are now going to learn some simple tricks that will make you arrive on time. Every time.

Estimate Time

Do you know how long it takes you to do things? Do you know how long it takes you to prepare to leave, and how long it takes you to arrive? These are the most important things for you to know if you want to be on time. They are very easy to find out. You just have to measure them.

How long does it take you to get up in the morning? Get a piece of paper, a pen and a watch. The clock in your mobile phone will be excellent. Put it next to your bed, and keep it there at night while you sleep.

hand turning off alarm clock
When the alarm clock wakes you, immediately get up, and bring the paper, pen and watch with you. For each step that you finished, write down what you did, and the current time.

Walk through the entire morning procedure. Have a shower, get dressed, make the bed, have breakfast, brush your teeth, put on your jacket, and anything else you normally do. Do it in a relaxed pace. There is no need to stress. Continue until you are ready to leave your home.

Next step is for you to move from your front door to the front door of your destination. Go to your car (or bicycle, bus stop, train station, or other means you have for travelling). Travel to your destination, all in a relaxed pace. Continue to write down the times for all the steps, until you have arrived at your destination.

Now you know all the steps you have to take, from waking up until you arrive, and how long they take.

Now you have to to do some calculation. You want to find out your wake-up-and-get-ready time. This is the time from when the alarm clock sounded until you were ready to leave your home. Subtract these times, and write down the result.

You also want to calculate your travel time, the time from when you leave your home until you have arrived at your destination. Subtract these times too, and write down the result.

If you wish you may also calculate how long each step takes, using the same method. You will be surprised how long things really take.

If some step took very long: Could it be done in a different way?

Now you know approximately how long everything takes. These times are of course not absolute. They vary a little, and will sometimes be longer than this. They are estimated times, and are very useful when planning a trip.

When you want to plan a trip, do like this.

happy traveller woman
When do you need to be there? Subtract travel time and wake-up-and-get-ready time from this. Also subtract a time margin of at least 15 and preferably 30 minutes. I will tell you more about time margins in the next subsection. Now you know when you at the latest have to get up, in order to make yourself ready and arrive at your destination on time, without any need to rush.

For instance, say you need to be at work at 8am sharp. Your travel time is 45 minutes and your wake-up-and-get-ready time is 90 minutes. Adding a time margin of 15 minutes, you need to get started 45 + 90 + 15 = 150 minutes = 2 hours 30 minutes before this. So you need to set your alarm clock to 5:30am, so you will be at work on time.

Quite simple, don’t you think?

Create Time Margins

When you occasionally have plenty of time before leaving, are you in the habit of doing little things that “don’t take much time”, just to fill the gap? And then suddenly find that you are late? Again?

Surprise! Things do take time! Even little things. Longer than you think. We often fail to allow for setup time. It takes time to switch from one activity to another, and it is greater than zero. It takes time for you to mentally prepare to do something new, to locate the tools you need, and then when you are finished, to put them away.

Avoid doing these little things. They frequently take much longer than you expect. Instead leave in good time. If you do arrive too early, use that extra time to prepare the meeting, or go for a walk and explore the neighbourhood.

Always make sure you have a time margin of between 15 and 30 minutes. This is for unforeseen events, that somehow always seem to happen.

It could be something you shall bring with you, and you can’t find it. You want to withdraw money from the ATM, and it is closed. The phone rings, you answer it, and forget about the time. A neighbour passes by and wants to chat. Your bicycle has got a flat tyre. A road block delays you. The bus has been cancelled. The list is endless.

These events happen more frequently when you are in a hurry, for some strange reason.

Are you travelling during rush hours? Will you pass many traffic lights? Is the train often delayed? Then you are facing extra travel time. Add an additional time margin of 15-30 minutes, or even longer if necessary.

Also make sure you have enough time margins between different activities. Don’t plan to meet a friend for coffee at 1pm, and expect to meet another friend at 2pm. It will not work. You have to add setup time, both to mentally switch context and to physically move.

Plan to arrive early, and make sure you have enough time margin. You will discover that most of the margin is spent on little unforeseen events, and when you add a sufficient time margin, you will notice that the delays very often match your margin, so you arrive a few minutes early, or exactly on time.


Prepare as much as possible in advance, preferably the day before. Knowing that things have been taken care of makes it easier for you to relax.

ironing board
Iron and hang out your clothes the day before, so all you have to do is put them on.

Do you have enough petrol in your car? Have you withdrawn money? Charged the mobile phone?

Get good travel directions. Print maps from Google Maps. You can even get travel directions from there. Print that too, and bring with you on the trip. Add relevant phone numbers to your mobile phone, just in case you can’t find your way.

post-it note
Is there anything you need to do? Write it down on a post-it note and put it on the front door, the kitchen table, the bathroom door, or some other place related to what you have to do, and where it is clearly visible. Make sure you will see it.

Cool Bag at Door
Is there any item you need to bring with you? Place it in front of the front door, or on your shoes, or any other way so it is in the way, and you will see it just before leaving. Make sure you can’t miss it.

Use Your Clock

Focus on when you have to leave, rather than when you have to arrive.

Use the alarm clock in your mobile phone to remind you when you have to leave. Just by setting the alarm you will automatically become much more aware of when to leave, and you will most likely be ready even before the alarm goes off.

Set your clock forward by 10 minutes. It will make you react like it is later than it really is. This sounds silly, but it really works.

An Example

This is an example of times it takes me to drive from my house in Kungshult to a friend in Malmö, 46 km away. I have visited him before, so I do not need a map. That saves me time. Unfortunately I will drive during the rush hours. It will not affect me on the country road or freeway, but it will delay me in Malmö. Furthermore I will pass two traffic lights on the way.

These are the times when I have finished doing the activity.
06:30 The alarm clock sounds
06:33 Get up and walk to the bathroom
06:42 Have a shower
06:53 Shave
06:56 Get dressed
06:58 Make the bed
07:33 Have breakfast
07:50 Brush my teeth
07:52 Put on shoes and jacket
07:54 Walk to the carport
08:29 Drive to Malmö
08:35 Find a parking pocket and park the car
08:38 Walk to my friend’s front door

Wake-up-and-get-ready time: 07:52 – 06:30 = 1 hr 22 mins
Travel time: 08:38 – 07:52 = 46 mins

Thus it takes me 2 hours 8 minutes, from waking up until I have arrived at my friend’s front door.

Next time I will go to him I will add a time margin of 15 minutes, for a total of 2 hours 23 minutes, and rounding up to 2 hours 30 minutes. So if I plan to meet him at 10am, I have to wake up at 7:30am.

But suppose I will meet him at 3pm? Then I have already walked through the morning procedure. I only have to account for travel time, which is 46 minutes, plus a 15 minutes margin. So I have to leave 1 hour before our rendezvous, and thus depart at 2pm.

Keep Things in Order

File cabinet
Make sure you keep things in order at home. Have a specific place for each item. Keep your tools in one place, batteries and chargers in one place, office supplies in another, music and movies in one place, bills in one place, clothes in one place, and so on.

Thus you will always know where to look for something, and find it quickly. This saves a lot of time when you have to find something before leaving your home, or any other time you need something. You will find that having order will make it much easier for you to be punctual.

To create order among your things takes time, but is well worth the effort.

Half a year ago I had complete mess in my home. Whenever I wanted something I had to search, and frequently failed to find what I was looking for. A friend lent me the book Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui. I got so inspired that I spent a few weeks of my vacation to get rid of unnecessary things, and sort things I wanted to keep. After that there was a remarkable difference in my house. Now I find everything much faster, and know where almost everything is.

If you want good tips on how to create order, I can highly recommend you to read that book.

Be Motivated

Maybe you feel that you really don’t want to go, and that is the reason why you are late? Maybe you don’t like the place or the people you are going to, and feel forced to go anyway?

In this case you are making yourself be late, and none of the tricks above will work for you. Then you will have to look at the reason for this. What is your own desire? What is your motivation?

Are You Distracted?

If your computer or mobile phone keeps distracting you from your priorities, check out Henrik Edberg’s excellent article 4 Small Steps for a Simpler, Less Distracted and Less Stressful Online Life.

Be Rewarded

gold medal reward
Enjoy the surprised faces of your friends as you arrive to the party in good time, while still taking it easy. Praise yourself for your accomplishment. And put a big smile on your face!

What are your best tips for being on time? Please comment below.

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Photo of cool bag: Stefan Parmark Other photos:

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2 Responses to How to Be On Time, Every Time

  1. Michael Holm says:

    Great post but you must also consider that not everyone Can live on fixed routines every day. However I don’t belive that anyone don’t know how long it will take Them to get ready – in the end it comes down to mindset and respect.

    • Thank you for your comments, Michael. It is not my intention that people shall have fixed routines each day. But when they do have an appointment, and frequently are late, they will benefit from being able to calculate the time they have to start. Many people (including me!) don’t know how long things really take, and by being aware of this makes it much easier to plan the day.