How to not be late

November 2023 · By Andrew Sutherland

I’ve always been a running-a-little-late person. Usually not egregiously. Like, six minutes late. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s rude.

At a certain point it got to be a problem. I wanted to fix it. So I made a pact with my friend Thompson. Every time I was not five minutes early to our meetings, I would have to donate $500 to a charity of his choosing. That’s a painful amount of money! I learned real quick what my problem was. I bought this whole life lesson for $1,500.

Ok, scenario time. You have a coffee with a rando at 9am at the Blue Bottle in SOMA. It takes about 15 minutes to get there from your house. So in your head you say, I’ll leave around 8:40. Five minutes of buffer makes you a responsible man.

This is a shit plan. It is an eyeball-once-cut-twice plan. It is a plan made by an optimist and an optimizer. It’s a plan that means you’ll say hello to Mr. Rando at 9:06.

It’s a plan to be late.

Let’s correct this moron (me) and make an actual plan. Upon closer inspection, there are many things that can go wrong:

  • The rideshare will arrive late. Their arrival estimates are terrible optimists, just like you.
  • You can’t find your keys. again.
  • You need to poop before you go.
  • You need to shower before you go.
  • You might get dropped off a block away.
  • You might hit above-average traffic.
  • You put the wrong Blue Bottle in SOMA in your calendar.
  • You might get stuck behind a garbage truck on a one-way street.

Most of these things will not happen. But ONE will. Maybe even TWO. And your current "plan" assumes that NONE of them will happen.

So you need a better plan. When will you shower, and how long does that take? What does the maps app say about trip length? List every single step with their o’clocks:

8:10 shower
8:20 get dressed, brush teeth, etc.
8:28 call lyft
8:34 lyft arrives
8:52 lyft drops off
8:55 cross the st, walk into shop, etc.

What you find is your default plan was optimistic and your new plan is realistic. There’s padding in there in case one thing takes a little extra time.

Lastly, the easiest way to be on time is to be early. Plan to be 5-10 minutes early to stuff. That sounds gross and non-optimal, I know. But having an extra moment to prepare for your meeting is actually good.

If you make an explicit plan, and you plan to be early, you will almost never be late. Hey, maybe you are fixable after all!

In summary:

  1. Your default plan is bad. Your mind will trick you into thinking it’s good.
  2. Make an explicit step-by-step plan for timely arrival. With every step of that plan, make a generous estimate. Don’t choose the best case.
  3. Plan to be early. Early! Early! Early!

P.S. You’re probably wondering -- Andrew, so you’re never late now, eh? And you’d be wrong. I’m still late sometimes -- less than I used to be, but still more than I’d like. And 100% of the time it’s because I reverted to default habits and didn’t make a plan.