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Never Be Late: Secrets of Freelancers

In honor of the Spring Forward horror of Daylight Savings Time, I offer you tricks to kick your lateness habit and find more time in your day. You’re going to need them, with one fewer hour this week.

Chronic lateness is irritating to clients and colleagues alike. If you’re late to the meeting, your boss and team think less of you. If you’re late to the interview, you lose the job. If you’re late to a business lunch, colleagues are either mad or conducting business without you.

So why are so many people late? An Inc. article claims that humans underestimate how long it takes to do things.

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But in my experience, the few who consistently arrive slightly early are freelancers. Without debating which came first—the habit of timeliness or freelance success—I can note that time management is a skill universal to successful freelancers, regardless of industry. This comes from necessity, I’d guess: when they’re late to meetings they lose clients, and when they’re late with deadlines they lose jobs.  Take a tip from some of my best contractor affiliates: fight lateness by estimating timing better, and by assuming the inevitable will get in your way every day. This will actually free up more time in your day so you can get more done.

Estimate based on experience. Contractors know how long projects and tasks take because they’re paid based on actual work time. You can build a similar mental database of tasks by paying attention to your day. Are you consistently late to meetings and appointments? Stop thinking you can teleport there; note how many minutes hibernating your computer, pushing away from your desk, making your way downstairs, and getting out the door actually takes. Do this for a week or so and you’ll realize that what your brain says is “two minutes to leave” actually takes seven. That five minutes late habit that irritates your team is now “right on time.”

Use the 20% rule. Add 20% to your estimate for each task, then 20% to the total. Does that sound obscene? As though you’d waste hours of your day just padding your time? You’re wrong. You think it’ll take 10 minutes to get ready. Call it 12. Ten minutes to get there? Call it 12. Add them and tack on 20%. That makes the 20 minute process into a 26-minute task. And what happens if you’re 6 minutes early? You won’t be. The phone rings, you can’t find your keys, the traffic lights are against you, the bus is late, your shoe hurts and you need to adjust it. You might be two minutes early. Then you can check your work, check your email, check your teeth for spinach. The 20% rules will decrease your stress, cut the number of times you’re late, and make you much more sure of what you can fit into a day. And for freelancers, that means more business, not less, because they exceed expectations on projects rather than continually fail.

Have an early list. If you manage your time better, you’ll arrive places a bit early, and you’ll finish projects early. If you keep a list of tasks that you can do easily from your phone or in a notebook, all of which take five minutes or fewer, you can fill that waiting time with productivity. And those annoying little tasks that add up and dominate your to-do list become tasks assigned to the corners of your well-scheduled life. If your calculations are wrong and you show up to a meeting with only one minute to spare? No big deal. The email you’re hoping to send, the article you want to skim, and the recipe you want to find will still be there. There will be plenty of opportunities to fill five-minute windows. So let go of those quick-and-easy tasks, and get to them once you’ve submitted your taxes. Early.

Model on-time arrivals. Nobody likes the airlines that are chronically late. So they started pulling away from the gate earlier, thereby training us to show up 20 minutes early. they’ve all trained us to be 20 minutes early to the gate. If you show up to meetings a few minutes early, tackle your early list, and look ready right on time, the team will notice. Make this a habit and you’ll all be more productive and less likely to avoid meetings.

Good luck filling your days with meaningful work and on-time arrivals!

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