I’m generally an organized person. My Excel spreadsheets are color-coordinated. My iCal is always synced and up to date. My bathroom products are arranged on the shelf in order of height. But despite being a control freak in most domestic areas, I have spent my life constantly running 10 minutes late.
I yearn to be the person who calmly sits and reads a book while waiting for their dinner companion to arrive. Or the type who gets to the airport with so much time to spare they can sit down to breakfast. Or, really, just any normal human being who doesn’t stumble into a 10am meeting at 10:08, ruddy-nosed, sputtering, and with my gloves on the wrong hands.
I used to make myself feel better by noting that I was never really that late; that there is a 10-minute barrier on either side of any social obligation that constitutes a buffer zone. But the truth is that the habit is annoying and disrespectful to the people who are waiting for me—not to mention that constantly rushing to my next appointment and checking the time obsessively while I wait for the subway to arrive really stresses me out. So in 2017, I think I’ve figured out how to kick the habit for good.
I’ve tried all the usual methods to curb tardiness. I’ve put all the clocks in the house 10 minutes early. I’ve set double alarms to account for the fact that I’ll probably hit snooze at least once. I given myself fake deadlines to get to places early. I’ve even told coffee dates to meet me 15 minutes later than I’m planning to get there, knowing that I’ll be late—and then I’m still late regardless.
Ultimately, these methods don’t work because I’m trying to fool myself. I know the clocks are 10 minutes early; I know that I can always hit snooze; I know that I really have an extra 10 minutes to get there; and I know that I’m only lying to myself.
So instead of relying on superficial solutions to my lateness problem, I began thinking about what the root issue was. And then it finally occurred to me: I don’t have any concept of downtime.
If I check the subway schedule at home and see the next subway train won’t arrive for another 13 minutes, that’s enough time to tidy up the living room. When my phone tells me my ride-share is seven minutes away, that’s enough time to unpack the dishwasher. When my alarm tells me I have five more minutes before I need to call my mom, that’s enough time to answer a quick email or two. Right?
Sweeping my floor ends up taking 15 minutes after I get distracted by the dust building up on the skirting boards. The dishwasher takes an additional three minutes after I decide to scrub my cast-iron while I’m at it. And we all know what a time-suck email can become. Because I’m always trying to use every single minute of my day productively, I wind up being late for much more important things.
This has doubly negative repercussions: Not only am I late everywhere, but I also never give myself a break. How might my life change if I accepted the idea of downtime—time to sit on my couch with a cup of tea and space out for a few minutes, or flick through the ever-growing piles of New Yorkers on my coffee table? What if my brain had time to be still—even bored?
So I’ve decided that in 2017, I’m not going to stop being late—I’m going to start being comfortable with the idea of being still. I’ll learn to sit with myself for 10 minutes, even if that means the bathtub goes un-bleached, emails un-sent, and Instagram images un-posted. I’m not a superhuman cyborg, and life isn’t just one long to-do list. Every minute of the day doesn’t need to be scheduled for maximum efficiency.
It’s going to take some effort to change my mentality. But I’m excited to replace my feelings of time anxiety and guilt with blissful stoicism—and to see what life is like when my journey to dinner with a friend isn’t a frantic power-walk, but a leisurely stroll.