Being late inconveniences others and infringes on their valuable time. It can also make you look unreliable. That's all the more reason to remedy your bad habits now and become the employee known for getting things done on time. Here’s how:
Being a hard worker can sometimes be a double-edged sword: You want to say yes to every assignment thrown your way, but then you end up overcommitted. Professional organizer Christina Hidek sees this all the time. "I’ve found that with professionals who are educated and smart, there’s a tendency to think that they can do it all, and this leads to people trying to do more than time can really allow for, causing lateness," she says. Whenever you find yourself wanting to say "yes" to something you know you don’t have time for right now, think of this quote from media executive Kate White: “You don’t have to do everything at once. Think of yourself as a serial achiever. You’ve got time!”
When you say to the boss, "I’ll have it done by 7 p.m.," odds are, you genuinely believe it. But if 7 p.m. comes and goes and you still haven’t finished, you may be underestimating how long it takes to do something (or, in a less flattering version of events, overestimating your own ability). “Start keeping track of your time and looking at how long tasks actually took to complete versus how long you thought they would take,” Hidek says. “Once you see the time difference, make adjustments.”
If understanding your limits and appropriately gauging how long something will take aren't tripping you up but you're still not delivering on time, be honest about the issue at hand. Sue Cook, counselor at Family TLC, offers some other possible explanations: "Are you in denial, thinking it is not a problem? Are you too busy? Are you easily distracted? Do you break your promise to yourself? Once you know why you are late then you can implement the how to stop it." For example, Hidek adds, if you’re late getting out the door in the morning because you’re rushing around inefficiently, get more done the night before.
According to Steve Levinson, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and president of Behavioral Dynamics, being habitually late is cultivated by a lack of consequences. "The key to breaking this bad habit is to take deliberate, specific, and creative action to make it really feel necessary to be on time," he says. He gives a rather extreme example of someone who consistently puts off his tax returns until the last minute. To be more prompt, the guy writes an inflammatory letter to the IRS that would get him in trouble, seals and addresses it, and gives it to a friend with strict instruction to mail it on March 1 – unless he replaces the envelope with his completed tax return. It doesn’t need to be something that dramatic, of course, but find a way to hold yourself to the deadlines you set.
Time management consultant Rashelle Isip advises her clients to start working on an assignment the very day it’s received. "This might sound a bit excessive, but it eliminates the possibility of you procrastinating," Isip says. “You can start the momentum for your project by working on a small, actionable task: conduct basic online research, set up a file folder or notes section on your computer, brainstorm project ideas, or thoroughly review the details of the assignment.” You don’t have to make a major dent on day one, but even tiny steps forwardcan pay huge dividends. As for small tasks, do them immediately. If someone sends an email that requires a brief response, respond right away. “Things that take five minutes shouldn’t be flagged for a later time,” says Kali Rogers, CEO and founder of Blush. “They should be done now so that you have time to do your bigger projects later.”
Many experts advise setting "personal due dates," which are a few days earlier than the real one. It’s a great way to allow yourself a buffer period should the project take longer than you expected (as always) or in the event something goes wrong. “Deadlines need to be seen as an internal motive, not an external motive,” says Rogers. “The second we stop relying on others to give us boundaries for when things need to be done is the moment we start getting things done at the right time for us. External motives can always be justified – ’they don’t really need it’ or ‘maybe they won’t notice that it hasn’t been turned in.’ But internal motivators don’t have qualifiers – we set them ourselves and we have decided we are going to get it done regardless of other’s timelines.”
"One of the main reasons people are late with their work is that they try to finish a project in one sitting," says Isip. “Break up that enormous project into smaller, more manageable projects, and things won’t seem as overwhelming. Then, assign specific chunks of time in your calendar to complete the tasks.” Isip advises setting a timer and working on the project for a specific amount of time every day, whether that is 5, 30, or 60 minutes. You’ll be finished before you know it—and, if you’ve planned appropriately, well before your deadline.
Thankfully, we live in a world in which there are thousands of tools to help you stay organized. With the right toolbox, you can surprise your colleagues with your ability to constantly stay on top of everything," says Sara Kyle, founder and managing director at Vault Collective. Kyle suggests using your Gmail calendar as much as possible, setting reminders for meetings, calls, and events. For unexpected bottlenecks, she recommends Asana, and for efficient emailing, Boomerang. If you’re keeping track of a lot of people or a lot of content, try a content management system like Streak. "No one has to know about all of your secret weapons, but you’ll make yourself indispensable by being the one that remembers everything,” she says. Put the time in to find the tools that work best for you. Just make sure you aren’t using so many programs that it complicates your life and exacerbates the problem.
Here’s one final thought from Kyle: "Don’t view timeliness as a burden – think of it as an opportunity to stand out from your competition. Remember that time is *everyone’s *most valuable asset, not just yours. Being respectful of other people’s time will help you gain respect…and your reputation is everything."
This post originally appeared on Levo League.