Stop running late for everything, reduce stress and live a whole lot longer.
This title looks like clickbait, I know, and I'm sorry. If I hadn't written it myself, I'd tell it was bullsh*t and to go find something else to read. But it isn't, so I hope you'll read on…
I've credited my mum and dad with many things over the years, including some simple beliefs and habits that have proven their worth over time. One I've failed to mention relates to a major cause of stress for many of us: running late for everything.
As a semi workaholic 50-year-old who's already had one heart attack, I know how dangerous stress can be. We could chat for hours about our ability to heal and kill ourselves through our thoughts and feelings, but we don't have long enough. So instead, I want to illustrate why you should stop being late for everything, and why it can change your life.
When I tell my mum we'll see her for lunch at midday – and it's already 12:00 pm and we haven't left the house – it's stressful. Instead of telling her we'll be late, I find myself creeping over the speed limit, hoping I'll teleport there somehow. It's so stressful, I'd need many fingers and toes to count the times running late for such a visit has caused tension in our house. My wife and I clearly have different views on the value of time, and no amount of rational debate will sway her. I've learned that if she says she'll take 30 minutes to get ready, she actually means two hours.
I've given up selling her on this, so I'm going to try to convince you of the life-changing benefits of being early for everything. To do that, I'll offer five examples.
Getting up in the Morning
I used to be a night owl, and I've seen hundreds of 3:00 am finishes. My wife still is. Strangely, so is my seven-year-old, Tommy.
But since I started taking Tommy to bed at 9:30, my body clock has returned to a more circadian rhythm, and it's made waking at 5:30 am much easier, for sure. Mel Robbins‘ 5 Second Rule has helped, too, meaning the snooze button rarely gets a tap these days.
Waking early has done many things for me. First, I feel kind of smug knowing I'm getting a jump on everyone (whoever ‘everyone' is). By the time I wake the others, I've seen a sunrise, had a peaceful breakfast and knocked over two hours of my most important work. Not a bad way to start the day.
No matter what happens with the rest of my day, I've at least tackled my number-one project.
At about 7:30, I open the blinds in the bedroom and gently nudge my wife – giving her 30 minutes to get herself together and stumble into the dining room. By then, Tommy is also waking, and everything unfolds in an orderly, unstressed fashion.
Rather than waiting till the last minute to get ready, doing it this way has made mornings more peaceful for all of us.
Getting Kids Ready for School
Waking Tommy 45 minutes before school allows him to snuggle on the couch with mum before having breakfast. By the time he enters the lounge room, there's tea with honey on the coffee table, and usually some toast with homemade jam. Just like my waking ritual, it's all very calm and unhurried.
As we walk to school, we're free to amble; to talk about stuff and at the time of writing, enjoy the spring blossoms. Done this way, it allows him to start his day relaxed, happy and ready for school.
On my walk home, I always see dozens of dishevelled parents and kids rushing the bell, and I mutter to myself, “If you just added 30 minutes…”
Going to Work
Our roads and cities are more congested than ever. In my hometown of Melbourne (AU), infrastructure spending lags way behind population growth. Every arterial road near the city is a carpark by about 7:00 am.
This is one of the key reasons I work from home, and escaping the peak hour crush has allowed me to get more done every day.
Sometimes, though, a situation calls for my presence in town at the unholy hour of 9:00 am. It's unholy because it means I get to spend an hour staring at taillights when I could be working. Like most journeys, I check the estimated transit time on Google Maps, and then I add 30 minutes. If there's a crash on the freeway or the office carpark is full, it gives me enough grace to sort things out and still arrive unflustered.
If I get there half an hour early, I say g'day to my favourite colleagues or I sit in my car and revisit the notes for our meeting. Either way, by the time 9:00 am ticks over, I'm relaxed, prepared and ready to contribute.
The alternative is to bolt through the door an anxious hot mess, skip the ice-breaking pleasantries and screw up the meeting.
A key element of any successful meeting is reaching alignment between the participants. If I arrive in the wrong state of mind, it makes getting there a whole lot harder.
Catching a Flight
The first time I went overseas was 1975, at the age of seven. Our family was off to Europe for three months, and to ensure we didn't miss our flight, we roomed at the swanky Airport Travelodge the night before. I was a nervous wreck of excitement, and getting to sleep that night was tough – especially with screaming 747's just 500 metres away.
Other trips followed – to Europe again, and many countries in Asia. I was never late for a single flight.
Then I began working for a car magazine, and flights were soon like bus trips. I became blasé about all this travel and cut my airport transit times to the bone. Leaving a warm bed and my Italian girlfriend wasn't easy, either…
It was common to see me race through traffic like an ambulance heading to a car crash. Remember, this was before Google Maps or satellite navigation, so transit times were always a wild guess. I once had a plane chartered for me, and was so late waking, I got busted doing double the speed limit and lost my license. I so enjoyed the experience, I did it twice more – losing my licence each time.
The day of the chartered flight, another guy tailed me along the freeway for about five minutes, moving in and out of lanes with syncronised precision. I thought it was cool – we were both late for something, and we'd clearly had the same idea. That is, until the blue light showed up on the dashboard of his unmarked police car.
I remember kneeling at his window, pleading for mercy. He didn't look even look at me. He wrote up the ticket and shook his head, saying, “Son, a licence isn't a right, it's a privilege. You need to treat it that way.”
I eventually learned my lesson, and now prefer to wander into an airport rather than bolt through it. Flying might be common these days, but it shouldn't be any less magical. In the 60's and 70's, flying was almost reverential. It was super expensive, and something to be savoured.
When you slow down and give yourself more time, you can marvel at the wonder of flight again. You can stop for a sandwich and press your face against the glass overlooking the tarmac. You can begin your journey as a seven-year-old would – happy, excited and grateful to be doing something amazing.
Meeting a Client
If you're in sales or consulting, meeting up with a client can be stressful. Have you anticipated their needs? Have you planned for objections? Will they trust you? Will the CEO be present?
The only thing that works, I've found, is to know your prospect or client and your product back to front. It's having enough knowledge to feel confident, calm and prepared. Apologising for running late is a bad way to kick things off. Being early, though, shows you respect their time, and it allows you to get your bearings.
Oftentimes, I'll arrive more than 30 minutes early and go over my notes once more. Or, I'll wander around their premises and say hi to a few people before kick-off. It shows I'm interested in their business and the people who run it. It also gives me time to get familiar with my surroundings and to find something to talk about when we sit down.
I've been in the car trade for almost three decades, so I've spent a lot of time in dealerships. Wandering through the lot, sitting in cars and chatting to the receptionist is a great way to ease into a meeting. By the time you're called into the boardroom, you're already a familiar face.
As long as doing business involves other people, being early gives you the leverage to greet anyone with grace and confidence.
Change your Life 30 Minutes at a Time
My folks used to say, “It's better to be late and alive than dead on time.” I heard this a lot when I was a freshly licensed 18-year-old and always in a hurry to get somewhere in my Holden panel-van with kick-arse speakers and home-painted wheel covers.
But the truth is, my parents were rarely late for anything. They knew full well that everything takes longer than you expect, and so they'd adjust their schedules accordingly.
I've learned that by frontloading 30 minutes on everything I do, my days unfold more gracefully, and with a lot less stress. If Google says it'll take 50 minutes to get to a meeting, I allow 80. If I need to be at the airport by two, I'll be in the terminal by 1:30 or earlier.
Our bodies aren't designed to run in a perpetual state of fight or flight, yet that's exactly how many of us live. It isn't enough to be depressed about our past, we need to be anxious about the future, too.
Your life is a lot more peaceful when instead of, “Sh*t – we're gonna be late!”, your mantra is, “There's no rush – we've got plenty of time.”
Midlife is stressful for many reasons. We have bills, kids, responsibilities, and no free time. A self-induced heart attack shouldn't on the list. Living in a state of panic isn't desirable or honourable; it doesn't make you more important or more productive. It's actually counterintuitive to living a meaningful, purpose-driven life.
My dad is 82, and my mum is 76, and both are in rude health. I attribute much of their longevity to the way they've lived their adult lives. They display order and calmness in everything they do; ‘a time for everything and everything in time'.
This, I believe, has more impact on our mental and physical health than abstinence or exercise. Yes, both of those things are important, but if we're wound up like spring all the time, those habits won't be enough to ward off ill health.
As they say, “You don't get an ulcer from what you eat but rather, what's eating you.”
Give yourself an extra 30 minutes before starting any task, and see what it does to your life. I'm betting it'll change it for the better.
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