17 Tips To Be On Time

Looking at watch to see if on time

Until recently, I used to be late for almost every appointment. The productivity-driven side of me always wanted to finish the things I was working on before heading to my next task. My belief was trying to do these things in a different time later would be less effective since I would be in a different frame of mind.

As a result, I would keep pressing on until it was obvious I was running way too late. Even during the times when I overslept, the oversleeping was from staying up late the night before trying to finish up something instead of going to sleep. Judging from conversations with people around, this seems to happen a lot to many others too!


Eventually, I would have to spend extra money to get a cab or seek out alternative solutions, such as asking my dad to fetch me. Sometimes I would manage to reach on time due to the contingent solution; other times I would just be late. I would usually be late by at least 10 minutes – On certain rare occasions, I had been late by over an hour! There had even been multiple times where I overslept and missed half or the full appointment altogether, much to my chagrin.

It didn’t matter the nature of the engagement too – I had been late before for meet-ups with friends, school, lectures, important exams, work meetings, functions, interviews, and so on. In the times I was not on time, I would do damage control by informing the other party, explaining and rescheduling if needed.

Desire To Be On Time

After a while, it just got tiring to always be late. The flustering and panic in the process and implications to other people were all unnecessary and could be easily avoided if I was just on time in the first place. There was also additional hassle, such as smsing and calling to inform the other party I would be late. Not only that, being late for an appointment frequently meant the appointments afterward would be impacted as well. It was a lot of unneeded disruptions.

If I look at it from a macro-view, my desire for productivity in one moment was in fact impacting my overall productivity levels. Ironically, if I had been truly productive, I wouldn’t have needed more time to finish up my previous task and end up being late for my activities afterward!

Since some readers have mailed me before asking for tips to be punctual, I decided to come up with a list of tips on how NOT to be late to enable both myself and readers to cultivate this virtue. I have identified 17 tips in total. The last tip is the most effective for me.

Here they are 🙂

17 Tips To Be On Time

  1. Calculate the time taken to commute to the location. Don’t just give a hazy time estimation – calculate the full time taken to travel, including walking, transiting, waiting, traveling and locating. Sometimes you may arbitrarily assign a 30 minute travel time when it may actually take 1 hour.
  2. Be conservative in your calculation. One of the biggest reasons why I used to be late was because I would grossly underestimate the time needed. I would assume the lower rung of all variances and end up being terribly late. In times when there might be a variance in the time taken, such as waiting time for a bus or the traveling time, always take the highest end of the variance. Do that for all the different segments during the travel to get the total traveling time. Then, add 15 minutes on top of that as buffer for any contingency scenarios or gaps you may have missed out. This will definitely boost your punctuality rates.
  3. Get a central organizer. Record all your appointments, locations, time taken to travel, etc in a centralized location. This can be your personal organizer or your mobile phone. Nowadays, technology has made this really easy – if you own a third generation (3G) device, you can sync your calendars across your mobile phone and computer. This keeps you abreast of all your engagements.
  4. Be clear on the location you need to go to and how to reach it. If it’s a new place you have never been to before, you can either a) go there before the appointment to familiarize yourself with the place b) schedule in ample buffer time to find the place on the day itself and/or c) check street directories and maps to pinpoint the exact location. People are often late because they have a hard time finding the place – they assume they will find the spot immediately once they reach. In the end, they reach the place late, flustered and annoyed which sets the wrong mode and tone for the appointment.
  5. Get everything ready beforehand. This includes your attires, your bag, your materials, etc. This prevents delay from trying to look for things in the last minute. Sometimes, I would set off, only to have to return home a few minutes later because I realized I forgot to bring something. For attire, possible delays come from looking for matching clothes or you can’t find a certain shirt because it’s in the laundry bag. I had been late before because I couldn’t find the right outfit and wasted time switching across 2-3 outfits or hunting around for one of my clothes in my wardrobe. If you are planning to wear new clothes, make sure to try it on first the day before to check that it fits the way you want.
  6. Wake up immediately when your alarm rings. Have you been late before due to oversleeping? Wake up immediately when the alarm rings – don’t give yourself any chance at all to renegotiate yourself to sleep! Oversleeping usually results from not having enough sleep – Be sure to give yourself sufficient sleep-time the night before. For some power boosters, check out 21 Tips To Wake Up Early.
  7. Bring something to engage you during the trip. There are plenty of options – MP3 player with music/podcasts, book, video player, laptop, or even your mobile phone. Makes the commuting more worthwhile and lets you look forward to traveling. I just purchased a Nokia E63 a week ago which enables me to write articles and check emails while on the go. It is pretty much a godsend because now my commuting time can be fully maximized – and I commute a lot to meet with my coachees for coaching and potential clients / partners on speaking engagements. Not only that, it keeps you occupied if the person you are meeting is late.
  8. Synchronize all your devices to the same time. All the clocks in your house, your computer, phone, etc should all be set to the same time. This minimizes confusion and illusions on your time buffers.
  9. Plan enough time for the task you are doing before. Usually, tardiness is a result of the domino effect – where the previous activity (or activities) overran. Be realistic in your time allocation – don’t set just 30 minutes for an important meeting prior to your appointment if you know that meeting is probably going to require 1 hour for a quality discussion. Use previous times taken as a good benchmark.
  10. Set an alarm to inform you when u need to leave. Sometimes, it’s possible to lose track of time even when you are trying to be conscious of it (tip #8). Having an alarm lets you be more timely. Once the alarm rings, leave immediately without delay.
  11. Don’t drag on with your task when it’s time to leave. If your prior appointment or task cannot be finished in time, start wrapping it up and preparing follow-up plans. It doesn’t matter which stage you are in – just end off the task there and then and make plans to continue later on. Be clear on where you are ending off so you can continue on at a different time later on.
  12. Keep your keys and travel necessities in the same place. In the past, I was often late from not being able to find my keys or my travel card. Put these travel necessities in the same spot every day. When you return home in the evening, place them there. In the morning when you depart, get them from that spot. Better still, put them in your bag you use so you don’t have to keep shifting them around.
  13. Use reliable forms of transport. This means transport that adheres to a strict time schedule, such as trains and maybe buses, depending on the quality of bus transportation service where you live. You want to reduce the variances in your commuting path as much as possible to reduce chances of being late.
  14. Travel in non-peak hours where possible. This prevents you from being delayed by traffic jams, crowds, queues, etc. If it is not possible to avoid that, include a generous amount of buffer time accordingly (see tip #2).
  15. Have backup plans. In case you do become late for some reason. The backup plan can be taking a faster but costlier mode of transport (e.g. taxi), picking out an alternative mode of travel, and so on.
  16. Do a time check at every stop while traveling. Our commuting usually comprises of different parts. Do a time check at every intermission. If you’re running behind time, start to roll out your contingency plans from tip #15.
  17. Be early. Undoubtedly, the most effective tip for me. I realize all my failed efforts in being on time stems from trying to arrive on the ‘dot’. Truth is, there are so many unpredictables that it’s impossible to arrive at the exact time. Chances are, I become overoptimistic in my estimation and I end up late. It’s much easier to arrive earlier and engage myself with my stuff while waiting for time to pass.

If you know you are definitely going to be late or have a good probability of being late despite all efforts to be on time, contact the person immediately as a form of good etiquette. This gives the person lead time to plan his/her schedule accordingly, rather than dropping him/her with the news at the last minute and wasting his/her time in the process. Make plans to reschedule if needed.


This is part of the Cultivate Good Habits Series. Be sure to check out the full series:

  1. 21 Days To Cultivate Life Transforming Habits
  2. 21-Day Lifestyle Revamp Program
  3. Waking Early9 Reasons to Wake Up Early | 21 Tips To Wake Up Early
  4. Quitting Soda5 Reasons To Quit Drinking Soda (& How to Do It)
  5. Improve Your PostureBenefits Of A Good Posture (& 13 Tips To Do It)
  6. Be TV-Free: 10 Reasons You Should Stop Watching TV
  7. Being On Time17 Tips To Be On Time
  8. Meditation10 Reasons You Should Meditate | How to Meditate in 5 Simple Steps
  9. Manage Emails EffectivelyHow to Be an Email Master
  10. Run Barefoot: 10 Reasons You Should Start Running Barefoot
  11. Weight Loss: 25 Of My Best Weight Loss Tips
  12. Emotional EatingHow to Stop Emotional Eating (6-part series)
  13. Better Oral CareHow to Attain Healthier Gums and Teeth – An Important Guide

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