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On a Sunday morning not long ago I found myself outside a workout studio, 30 minutes before class and with no idea how to pass the time.
How did I wind up in this situation? Because I’m chronically early.
Sure, you people who are always late may be scoffing at my “non-problem,” but killing time — a.k.a. wasting time — is seriously frustrating. Especially when you factor in the extra minutes spent waiting for late friends or delayed trains.
And these “hurry-up-and-wait” moments are all too common for me. Between my hatred of being late and my overestimating how long it’ll take me to get somewhere (despite a faster-than-average walking pace), I'm always annoyingly ahead of schedule and thinking of all the things I could have done had I left later.
So, in an effort to improve this, I turned to time-management expert Laura Vanderkam for some tips.
How to Be Later (Without Being Late)
A large part of my overestimating problem boils down to fear of the unknown. What if my train is late? What if there’s traffic? What if I get lost? It’s not a bad idea to factor these variables in when you’re traveling a route for the first time, but by the third (or sixth or 20th) time, you should have a pretty good idea of how long it actually takes you, says Vanderkam.
Vanderkam advises tracking your time. When you have concrete evidence that it’s taken 25 minutes to get to Point B the last eight times you went there, you’ll have a harder time telling yourself you need 40 minutes.
And when you don’t have this evidence to fall back on, "ask yourself: What would be the worst thing to happen if I was late?” she says. In the case of my class, the worst-case scenario would have been that I was denied entry and was out the money — not a great outcome. But I also know that if I’d been just a few minutes late, I could have still slipped in.
Thinking through these consequences beforehand can help you decide when you should allow extra time — and when you can chill.
How to Pass the Time Productively
I will admit that the main issue I have with being early is the idea that I’m wasting my time. And while I feel better about wasting my own time than someone else’s, I still don’t love it. The fix? Don’t waste it at all.
Having a backup plan to fill those extra 20 minutes means you’ll still be knocking something off your to-do list (or just doing something you enjoy).
“It’s about knowing what those things are that are exciting and meaningful to you and will make you care not as much about waiting,” says Vanderkam, who recommends using that time to read a book, catch up on phone calls, explore a new neighborhood or window-shop.
Luckily, I live in a city, so there’s no shortage of sidewalks to stroll down or park benches to Netflix on. I also owe my strong phone relationship with my mom to this early habit of mine … so maybe it’s not so bad after all.