How to Never Be Late Again

Summary: Every morning, set alarms to start getting to [some place]. Double your intuitive estimate for how it would take. Make it a rule to lose $5 every time you do come late. 

I’ve been known as “the guy that always comes late”.

Once I tried traveling to school by bike, estimating it to take 50 minutes. In reality, it took about 70 minutes and I would be stressed all morning, coming 20 minutes late. 

I repeated this 14 times in a row. Thinking it would take 50 minutes every time

Now it’s the exact opposite. I haven’t been late a single time for 80 days (a big accomplishment for me), and I’m usually at least 5 minutes early.  

I used a method that tackled the things that made me come late, which were:

  • Being really bad at estimating times.  
  • Not remembering the event. I got caught up in something or just didn’t think about it, and realized it too late.  
  • Procrastination. I thought that I could read for just “1 more minute” 20 times, until I panicked. (See Tim Urban’s hilarious article

If you have the same reasons for being late, this method will probably work for you too. It’s based on science from the books The Procrastination Equation and The Power of Habit.

1. Establish a habit of setting alarms 

Every morning while I make my to-do list I check if I need to be anywhere at specific times. Then I set alarms to start getting there on my phone. When the alarm rings, I must start getting to that place.  

The best way I’ve found to establish new habits is by making use of habit stacking. Here’s how to do it:  

  1. Choose an already existing habit that you do every single day (Like brushing your teeth, checking your calendar and eating breakfast)
  2. Put in unmissable reminders to set the alarms in the place you do your existing habit. For example a note on your bathroom mirror, a repeated event in the calendar or a note on the fridge.
  3. Start setting the alarms after the old habit every day. 

2. Make a a good time estimate

Here’s the method I use, which I’ve found to be ±10 minutes accurate. Add: 

  • 10 minutes to get out of the door 
  • Google Maps’ estimate multiplied by 1.5 (if you’re using public transport, plan to take one bus/train earlier than needed)  
  • 5 minutes to get inside the event
  • 5 minutes if you haven’t traveled the route before
  • 10 minutes early as your target 

If you don’t like my method, you can also multiply your best guess by 2. While you think this would be excessive, I usually just come 5 minutes early.

There is one more method that is more accurate than either of these, but is too time consuming to do once a day. It’s called Reference Class Analysis, and if you want to learn more I suggest ClearerThinkings free course.

3. Create a commitment contract

Specify a threatening amount of money you’ll lose every time you come late. I’ll lose $5 if I ever come late.

If you have extra problems with procrastination, you can also make yourself lose $5 if you don’t start preparing immediately when the alarm rings. It makes you unable to say “Just 1 more minute”, because it’ll immediately result in you losing $5.  

That’s it. Establish a habit of setting alarms, do a good time estimate and create a commitment contract. Good luck! 🙂