Today I’m going to share with you a time hack that serves both the Annoyingly On-Time & the Chronically-Late.
I started implementing this strategy two years ago and, at the sake of sounding grandiose, it quite literally changed my life.
Come join me.
A tale of two people. So different, and yet so in need of the same solution.
Person #1: The Annoyingly On-Time.
This person is never late. They follow the old military adage: ‘early is on time and on time is late.’ They would rather slide down a banister of swiss army knives and land in a pool of povidone iodine than disrespect you by making you wait. And that’s what it is in their mind - disrespect. Tardiness communicates ‘my schedule is more important than yours.’ And they would never want to be rude to people they care about.
While the Annoyingly On-Time (AOT) is proud of the level of respect their timeliness exudes, they often have a gnawing sense that they are missing out on opportunities. On a way to a barbeque, AOT stops for coffee at Starbucks and notices a handsome individual across the room. ‘See I would stop to talk to them, but if I do, I’ll be late,’ they think. They get in their car and continue driving to the barbeque. Missed opportunity. While driving they see a new and fairly interesting looking thrift store. ‘See I would stop to take a look, but if I do, I’ll be late,’ they think again. They keep driving. Another missed opportunity. They arrive at the barbeque on time, but with an underlying feeling that they may have missed out on something special along the way.
Person #2: The Chronically Late.
This person cannot make a timely appearance if all the clocks in Scotland Yard were attached to their personage. ‘On-time’ is a relative term defined solely by them, steeped in the context of what arose that day. Why is that? Because each day is unique, as are the opportunities that present themselves. Chronically-Lates(CLs) pride themselves on being fully present and leveraging in-the-moment circumstances to their advantage, whether it be to their pleasure, their monetary increase, their social enhancement, etc.. And if punctuality has to be sacrificed on the altar of advantage, so be it. Why be on-time when you can be so many other things? Successful, relational, open to possibilities? In their mind, missing out on an opportunity just to arrive on time is plain stupid.
While Chronically Lates pride themselves on their flexibility and perception, they often feel guilty for disappointing others, especially when it comes to being on-time. If the Chronically Late was going to the same barbeque as the Annoyingly-On Time, and had the exact same Google Map directions, the CL would arrive an hour later than the AOT. Why? Because the CL would have seized the opportunities along the way. They would have talked to the handsome gentleman in Starbucks; they would have stopped at that thrift store. Hence, they arrive to the barbeque very late, much to the chagrin of whomever they were meeting. They would feel guilty for disappointing someone they cared about, but resolute that doing anything differently would have compromised their character.
AOTs plan just enough time to get to their final destinations with the methodicity of a lawyer looking for loopholes. Not a minute wasted. As a result, they often miss out on spontaneous moments. To those on the other side, they can come across as boring (at best) and inflexible (at worst). They seem to lack the ‘seize the day’ special zest that is so darn attractive!
On the flipside, CLs have a loose plan that is subject to whatever arises that day, even if other people are involved. Opportunities over schedules. As a result, they inconvenience others relying on them as they seize those daily opportunities. To those on the other side, CLs can come across as undisciplined (at best) and disrespectful and selfish (at worst). They seem to lack the thoughtfulness that is oh-so-attractive.
‘Okay MaryBeth, you’re depressing me. How can we fix this?’ you say.
Did I forget to mention there is a third type of person?
Person #3 is a rare unicorn. Someone who can hold structure and spontaneity in perfect harmony. The person who talks to the handsome man in Starbucks, checks out the thrift store, AND gets to the barbecue on time.
How, you ask? Margins.
Person #3 is a Margin-Holder.
Margins are the extra white space around a term paper. They are the spaces we tried to manipulate to make the essay seem longer 😉. Or how about the concept ‘margin of error’ (for you statistics nerds), where we allow for a buffer of random error in the result? Or what about when you’re parallel parking your car and you allow for a margin of space in between you and the car in front and behind, lest they scratch your car when attempting to leave the spot.
Margins are the extra padding in life. Margins act as a cushion between expectations and reality. Margins are the Twilight Zone, where anything is possible and nothing is possible.
The trick to being punctual and spontaneous is implementing time margins.
For any event where you have to be somewhere at a certain time (going to work, picking up the kids, arriving at the wedding, etc), plan a 30 minute margin. If you have to be at work for 8am, plan to be there for 7:30. If you have to arrive at the church for noon, plan on being there for 11:30. Then, when on the way, you encounter an interesting person at the coffee shop or in the parking lot, you have time to chat them up. Time to make a personal connection that could serve you in the future. Opportunity seized.
I can already hear your objections. ‘But MaryBeth, isn’t this just wasting time? What if nothing happens in that 30 minute margin and I arrive 30 minutes early. I hate waiting.’
Yet you have no problem making other people wait for you. Kidding (sort of). 😉
Your hypothetical concern is true. When I started implementing 30 minute margins, there were days when nothing interesting arose on the way to my destination. I would get there with 30 extra minutes to spare. I used that time though, to catch up on phone calls, catch up on emails, retouch my make-up, read a book that I left in the car for this exact purpose, and mentally reiterate my goals for the day. Who says you have to wait? Use the extra time to your advantage to best position yourself for a successful day. In fact, I’ve come to savor the days when nothing happens in the margin time. It’s when I have that extra time in the car to myself that I show up the best version of me.
‘But MaryBeth, isn’t this the same as just telling yourself that the event starts 30 minutes earlier? I’ve tried that tactic before and it’s never worked.’
Of course it’s never worked, because you’re smart and you know you’re lying to yourself. You know the wedding starts at noon, so even if you tell yourself it starts at 11:30, while you’re getting ready, you know deep down that you really have to be there for noon. Margins aren’t telling yourself an event starts when it doesn’t. Margins are acknowledging the true start time while also consciously giving yourself space to be the curious person you are who takes advantage of opportunities along the way. It’s a mental shift of ‘Yes the event starts at noon. Yes I choose to arrive at 11:30 so I can respect others and take care of myself along the way.’ Margins aren’t a mind game to trick yourself, they are a strategy to honor both yourself and others.
‘But MaryBeth, 30 minutes extra seems like a lot of buffer. Can I do 15 minutes instead?’
You sure can. If you are an Annoyingly-On Time, I recommend starting with a 15 minute margin. If you are a Chronically-Late, I recommend a 30 minute margin. Once you’re used to regularly giving yourself that extra margin, you’ll see what time you actually need to both respect others with your timeliness and respect yourself in regards to seizing opportunities.
For the longest time, I felt like a victim of the clock. I couldn’t get done what I wanted to do in the 24 hours I was given. I felt acted upon by daily time constraints. I would go to bed feeling like there was more I could have done in the day, that there were missed opportunities. Since implementing temporal margins, I couldn’t feel more different. I am in control of my day. I utilize time better. I get done what I set out to do, plus I have genuine exciting personal encounters throughout the day that have opened up my world. I meet so many people I wouldn’t have if i didn’t allow the extra time.
Connection isn’t born, it’s made. Margins give you the space to make connections on a daily basis while still honoring your commitments and being a person of your word. Yes, you can be punctual and spontaneous. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too.
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