The *Other* Five-Minute Rule

dali-clockNo matter how much I try, for the last few weeks I’ve been late–to client meetings, to hair appointments, to teaching gigs.  It’s frustrating because I  don’t know why.  It wasn’t that I secretly didn’t want to go or was afraid. Just late.

So I kept track of what made me late and found out some surprising things.

1. It takes you longer to get there then Google Maps tells you it does. A GPS system takes you from door to door, not from the time I get in the car, can’t remember if I’ve locked the front door, go back and check (I did), grab a bottle of water, get back in the car and drive. At the client’s, I have to enter the parking garage, find a parking place, walk to the parking lot elevator, and cross half the “campus” to find the right building. All that adds up. None of that is accounted for on Google Maps. Now I add 15 minutes to Google Maps just to get there, and if I have to drive across the Valley, another half hour for traffic delays. I can always take a book or work with me in case the lights line up and I get there early. What I didn’t want to admit is that leaving an extra 45 minutes was needed. I kept trying to do more work in less time.

clapperboardalarmclock2. That “one last email” before you leave takes more time than you think. In my case, finishing up “a few things” was about 20 minutes, not the “can’t be more than five minutes” I originally thought.

3. “Leaving” means out the door, not to the bathroom, stop to put on lipstick, and round up the cats, who are not interested in my schedule.

4. I’m slow in the morning. No matter how I wish I could wake up and get out the door in 20 minutes, it doesn’t work for me. I need at least an hour and 15 minutes to get ready and eat breakfast. So I need to leave that amount of time.

5. If the meeting is in the middle of the day, it often means I have to change clothes or at least shoes. It also means I have to lock up the house, and check to make sure I’m not watering trees or doing laundry. (I learned the hard way never to leave the washer running when you are out of the house.)

When I’m working and busy, I underestimate how much time I need and how much work I have. So I have to figure out when I need to leave and then give myself a ten-minute window to actually get out of the house. At first I felt anxious that I was wasting time. With a long to-do list, though, my idea of wasting time is changing. Trying to do “one more thing” is a bigger waste of time than I had imagined.

Quinn McDonald wears a wrist watch. It’s an analog watch, because she needs to know what time it isn’t along with what time it is.


28 thoughts on “The *Other* Five-Minute Rule

  1. I have always hated being late. What was most difficult for me were/are the people going with me. They could not understand that leaving meant getting out the door until one day I told them all “I want to be leaving the driveway at (fill in the blank) time”. One last call and I went out the door at that time and left. Harsh! I know but it worked and I’m not late anymore.

    • Your friends learn fast. My solution was to always take my own car after the driver didn’t think it was important for me to be back at the time I said I needed to be back. Your idea was more direct.

  2. I’m SO relieved to learn that I’m not the only one with the “just one more thing” problem! I’m working on it, but I haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. Thanks for the tips!

  3. I am definitely not a morning person but I am much better with being on time than I used to be. I spent many years being late to work and rushing to meetings. I loathe the feelings of angst and frustration so I’ve re-worked my scheduling and now allow myself plenty of time to get where I’m going (most of the time). If I arrive early, I catch up on some reading or just enjoy my surroundings.

    I used to give myself 1½ hours to get up and ready for work. Now when I have to be somewhere at a specific time in the morning, I give myself at least 2 ½ hours because I want an hour to sit down, enjoy a couple cups of coffee and catch on my email, etc. My husband thinks I’m crazy to set the alarm so much earlier than he feels is necessary, but I want to relax and not feel stressed. The day starts off much better and triggers the mood for the remainder of the day.

  4. The “one last thing” is my biggest challenge. I can’t bear to miss the chance to finish one more thing. But I was challenged some years ago to contemplate how it feels as I race to arrive late, and how familiar those feelings are. Arriving in plenty of time, even with time to spare, results in unfamiliar and unsettling feelings. If I can get comfortable with THOSE feelings, maybe I can arrive early more regularly!

  5. After thinking about this for a while I realized that in many contexts I pay very little attention to whether I’m late for something. Perhaps oddly, “at work” is one of the venues where if I’m late it’s just too bad. I’ll try to attend a meeting at the posted time but if I’m in the middle of something I’m not going to stop just to satisfy a schedule. In that context all meetings are ruled by software anyway; they don’t all default to “one hour long, beginning and ending on the hour” because *people* work that way.

    In other cases, also oddly, timing is important to me. At least I seem to act that way.

  6. I have this weird innate sense of time that usually lands me where I want to be right on time. But I do find that sometimes I underestimate how long it takes to get out the door. I now remind myself that when I say I’m going to leave at, say, 4 PM, that means I’m in the car at 4 PM, not starting to find my coat and my keys. And yeah, cats. They do require herding, or in the case of my guys, feeding.

    • Yep, that’s it. It’s the estimation of how long it takes to get out the door, and locking up the house (we have three sliders out to the back yard and finding the cats, who vanish magically, is more time consuming than it sounds.

  7. I crowd-sourced some other tips for you. I’m just helpful that way.

    – Physicist’s tip: Go faster and you’ll be earlier because relative time slows down the faster you go.
    – Anthropologist’s tip: Move to a culture where 5 minutes late is actually 10 minutes early.
    – Comic book author’s tip: Befriend a super-villain with a Chrono-Ray and borrow it to remotely adjust the clocks of wherever it is you’re going (hint: any super-villain would adore monsoon papers, although maybe for the wrong reason)
    – Software developer’s tip: instead of Google maps what’s needed is a scheduling app that incorporates mapping as a modular contributor to the time estimation and reminder subsystems, as well as incorporating a social media component that transmits your personal schedule density and dynamically adjusts all associated schedules appropriately. A group of people who subscribe and adapt to the dynamic schedule minute-by-minute will stay mutually synchronized throughout the day.
    – Conspiracy theorist’s tip: On your wrist you’re wearing an analog watch. It seems to belong to you and not be controlled by (or reporting to)
    anyone, but is it? Wherever you go, there are people wearing watches all displaying the same time! And where are watches made? The same two areas of the world that were our deadly enemies during WWII. Coincidence? You decide.
    – Humorist’s tip: what was that you said about rounding up cats? Hey, that would be really funny to see; somebody trying to round up cats like they were cattle…almost like trying to herd them…I think there’s a good one-liner in there somewhere. What was the question again?
    – Cat’s tip: who cares about your pitiful human schedule; the service in this establishment could be much improved!

    • I love the global approach to the response. The Conspiracy tip made me laugh the hardest, but I love the software developer’s tip, as it seems incredibly possible and really interesting.

      • That software already exists, in different contexts. It would work, but would also mean ceding all authority over your minute-by-minute activities to the software. Following Deming, I believe its overall effect would be demoralizing and counterproductive (that is, to a greater extent than we are already demoralized and stifled).

        However, it may be applied to personal transportation if self-driving cars become widely available. It would work like this:
        1. there is no need to own a car that drives itself because
        2. you can simply call for a car wherever and whenever you need it, and
        3. it takes you to your destination, then
        4. identifies the next “best fit” user by distance, route, fuel, and etc.

        I think it’s fine for *resources* to be dynamically allocated (which is what’s happening all over the place, like inside your phone, in the FedX network, across the Internet, at Amazon, and so on) but I object to being treated as a commoditized resource myself. Unless, y’know, I have fun “like” buttons to click…

  8. Interesting blog post, and I have the opposite problem. In the year since I have retired, I find myself EARLY all the time. I guess that I have not adjusted to the time it takes me to get from point a to point b, allowing for my usual commute time rather than the usual work traffic time when having to drive in rush hour (even though rush hour in Albuquerque is not exactly rush hour in other cities!). So when I arrive 5 – 10 minutes early I try to stop and listen to my current book on tape or simply enjoy the surrounding vistas.

    • Albuquerque has some stunning vistas. I almost chose to live there. Sometimes I wish I had. The thing about our culture and using digital clocks is that we expect to be exact. Too early is as bad as too late. But, as you have discovered, too early has some great advantages. Being calm. Not having to start a meeting with an apology. Listening to your audiobook. Priceless.

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