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9 Tips on Creating an Early-Bird Habit

Remember the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”)? Take away the long ears, swap in something a bit spicier than “Oh dear,” and you’ve got me. Well, I’m sick of my always-late rabbit habit. Not just because it stresses me out, not just because it makes other people mad (you should see the hairy eyeballs when my daughter and I straggle into her Saturday-morning music class), but also because it’s turned me into a hypocrite.

How can I yell at my kids to hurry when I’m always running behind? Knowing I have impressive company in the business world—surveys show that most CEOs are chronically tardy for meetings—is small comfort. So recently I consulted the best possible advisers I could imagine: people who consistently, miraculously, arrive not just on time but ahead of it.

1. Make being on time a priority

“It’s just a matter of making the decision to do it,” said Californian Marla Jo Fisher. I was inclined to believe her, since Marla is a reformed fellow latecomer who would have missed the flight to her brother’s wedding if it hadn’t been delayed.

2. Lie to yourself

“I get places early by putting the time of the appointment or meeting in my calendar as 15 minutes earlier than it really is,” said upstate New Yorker Ruth E. Thaler-Carter.

3. But be honest about how long stuff takes—both travel and preparation

“Most people have no idea how long it actually takes to get showered, dressed, etc.,” said Toni Greenberg of Maryland. “One morning, time yourself. You will be surprised.”

4. Always keep things like cellphones and keys in the same place

So you won’t have to hunt for them when you go out. Duh, right? But how many of us do it?

5. Prepare

The day before an appointment, gather everything you will need (directions, medical records) and put it by the door or in your car.

6. Expect the worst and bump up your departure time accordingly

That traffic jam? It’ll happen. Getting lost? Count on it. “When kids are involved, leave enough time for three things to go wrong!” said Terri Griest of Maryland.

7. Make it too embarrassing to be late

“I make a somewhat peevish, but I hope loving, issue of it when someone else is late, so then I don’t dare be late myself,” said Elden Carnahan, yet another Marylander. (What is it about Maryland?)

8. Ask yourself why you’re perpetually late

It can signal “issues” from ADHD to thrill-seeking to unhappiness in your job, said early birds schooled in psychology—and pinpointing your reasons may lead to life changes that curb the urge to dawdle. I realized, for me, the main issue is anxiety over my to-do list; I’m constantly tempted to cross something off it before leaving the house. Which leads me to my favorite tip:

9. Manage

Instead of doing a last-minute task that could make you late for, say, a party, leave home early and plan to do one when you arrive—making a call, writing an email, etc. (Several early birds cautioned that you should do said work in your car so you won’t pop in on people while they’re still vacuuming the living room in their underwear.)

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