Calendar Appointments Done Right
I kind of wish calendaring apps handled appointments the same way I do in my paper day-planner today. Yes, I still use a paper day-planner, and write with a (mechanical) pencil. The way I do it makes sure I am on time to every meeting, and I never book too many meetings too close together. This way I avoid wasting my time, and I get to use my time wisely. I can schedule each day the best way I can, without the extreme frustration I feel at getting stuck in traffic and being late because of it. Can you imagine being stuck in traffic and not panicking, because you planned for it? My system does that. And it only works on paper day-planners, today; I know of no digital calendar that supports my system.
The first trick is learning to be honest about how long it really takes to get around your town. This comes from experience, but more importantly, paying attention. If you’re “always late”, you haven’t done this part properly yet. In my 20’s I was always “5 minutes late” everywhere I went; I will tell the story in a minute. I consciously decided to break that habit no matter what, and I did it.
Every Meeting Has Four Important Times
Most people think that a meeting or appointment has one specific time they have to worry about: the starting time. “Try to get there when it starts,” is what they’re thinking. The truth is, each appointment has FOUR important times: Departing Time, Start Time, End Time, and Return Time.
Depart Time: when do you have to leave from where you are, at the latest, in order to get to the appointment on time?
Start Time: when the appointment is actually starting; when you actually need to already be there, ready to go.
End Time: when the meeting or appointment will most likely end. Notice I didn’t say “scheduled to end”. You have to take into consideration your experience with this specific kind of meeting: does the person usually talk for the entire time period, and go over by 5-10 minutes most of the time? If so, add 10-12 minutes to the true End Time. It’s better to work with reality here.
Return Time: when will you return back again to the place you came from, to complete your journey.
Of course, for meetings held right where you are, like phone and Internet messaging meetings, the Depart and Return Times are zero. But if you have to go anywhere, even walk to the conference room in the building next door, you’ll want to factor them in.
And, if you’re driving from place to place, maybe one meeting’s return-time overlaps the next meeting’s Depart Time. That’s fine – but draw both arrows anyway. So, when you erase one because of a cancelled or rescheduled meeting, the other meetings’ Depart and Return times are still there.
How I Schedule Appointments
0. Are there any extenuating circumstances for this meeting? If it’s at a place I’ve never been to I always add 15-20 minutes in order to arrive early in case it’s hard to find a place to park; I have to walk to the building; I have to search the area for the right building; I have to search the building for the right room; I have to ask somebody for directions; etc.
Other things that can happen: driving on a freeway segment you’re not used to may be more crowded than you expect; do you have to stop and get gas for your car because the tank is almost empty; the first-ever doctor’s visit always makes you fill out 5 forms on that broken clipboard with a pen that won’t write; I will probably need to use the restroom by the time I get there; etc. Estimate how much time that takes, and add them into the Departing Time.
1. On the start-time line in my daily hours-of-the-day calendar, I write the appointment name (1-3 words), and any extraneous info I need to get there. For the places I frequent, I don’t need anything extra; but if I’ve never been there before I might write down the address, office phone, first name of the person/people I’m meeting, etc., if I don’t think I’ll remember those things. They go right there in the appointment, on the calendar – no frenzied searching later if I need it.
2. Then I draw a vertical arrow pointing down, through the minutes and hours extending how long the meeting goes for.
3. Then, I draw another vertical arrow from the bottom of the last arrow down 15 minutes farther – this is the time it will take me to get back to work (or wherever I’m starting from).
4. Then, I draw a vertical arrow pointing upwards starting above the appointment, going up 15 minutes – this is the time it will take me to travel from work to the appointment.
Example – Dentist Appointment
My dentist’s office is 15 minutes from my work, but 20 minutes from my home. So before I even write the appointment in my dayplanner’s calendar, I first figure out: where will I be, when I need to leave to get there? Will I be at work, or at home? Or somewhere else? If I’m at work, I make sure there’s at least 15 minutes above the start-time with no time-conflicts; I can’t make the appointment if there isn’t.
1. I write “dentist” or “cleaning” or something similar, since that’s all I need to fully remember what the appointment is, months from now when the appointment actually occurs.
2. Arrow pointing down from Start Time to End Time: This is a dental cleaning visit, so I schedule 1 hour, since I know it never takes quite that long, and this dentist is very good about staying on schedule, probably because I only make appointments with him around 7-8AM.
3. Arrow pointing down from End Time to Return Time: I am driving to work after my appointment, so schedule that, including some slop-time for left-over rush-hour traffic, and my car needs gas. My boss won’t be mad if I arrive at work a little earlier than expected… OR I can sit in my car for 5-10 extra minutes listening to the end of a podcast I was listening to during the drive, maybe. Whatever.
4. Arrow pointing up from 8AM to 7:30 AM, representing the drive to the dentist office from my house. It’s early, its rush-hour, and I will only have had 1 cup of coffee by that point. Give me a break. So I have to be driving in my car, away from my house, at 7:30 AM at the latest or I will be in pain. I don’t like pain.
The Total Time this appointment will take from me is the total amount of the 3 arrows I’ve drawn for this appointment, or 2 hours and 15 minutes! For a “1-hour long” dental appointment. That’s more time than I would have expected. It’s always more time than you would expect, and it’s accurate.
I know that sounds like a lot of steps, but its really easy once you’ve done it a dozen times; it’s just 3 quick lines (arrows) drawn on paper. You’ll get so good at it, you can draw it in just a few moments. Plus, you’re writing in pencil, right? So you can make changes as things change? Good.
Example – Back-To-Back Phone Calls
Here I have some phone call meetings, one after the other, followed by lunch with some friends. I scheduled the lunch too, because I don’t want to let my friends down unless there’s some kind of unavoidable work emergency or something.
After All That, What If I’m Still Late?
If I discover I was late arriving for the appointment, or late returning to work, I try to think: what was the cause of that lateness? was it a one-off event: traffic accident that slowed things down when that almost never happens on this particular road; if so, I don’t hurt myself worrying about it. Things happen, sometimes. Or, was it a repeating event; like, I can never seem to get away from my desk until 10 minutes AFTER I try to leave, or it was rush-hour traffic due to the time of day, or it always takes 5 minutes to walk from my office cube to the elevators/take the elevator down/walk out the door/walk to my car in the distant parking lot – easy to overlook.
When you figure out what the cause was, factor that in next time. Add 5-10-15 minutes so that is not an issue next time.
If none of this helps you, the source of your pervasive lateness might be emotional. Maybe there was a painful event when you were a child related to being late, or it could be inherited from your parents. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Luckily you can cure things like this very easily with EFT or TAT. Look on the Internet for free PDF instructions about Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapas Acupuncture Technique. I have used both of these techniques to cure myself of many emotionally-rooted issues that I had within me. The treatment you can do yourself is pretty quick, is harmless, is permanent, and costs nothing. Try it yourself.
I Was Always 5 Minutes Late
I was “always 5 minutes late” back in my 20’s, and I hated it so much because it made me look bad in the eyes of whoever I was meeting. It made me look weak, and I didn’t want that. I’d have to spend half the meeting fighting the emotional reaction the person had about me, rather than focusing on what the meeting was about. I learned to be honest with myself about travel time, which meant I learned to observe it and learn how long it really takes to get anywhere from anywhere.
I realized that my chronic lateness was rooted in how my parents were – they were always 5 minutes late to everything. They were always apologizing for being late. I learned it from them. But always being late was way more painful for me than it appeared to be to my parents, for some reason. I knew I had to solve it for me, even though they never solved it during their existence on Earth. I was so excited when I got my first day-planner, because I saw that I could track everything going on during each day, and come up with a way to never be late again.
Now I am never late to my meetings, for the most part; maybe once a year there is a catastrophic traffic accident that blocks freeways and roads I’m driving on, but those events are few and far between. Or I simply forget to look at my day-planner (my bad). I have almost completely removed the pain of being late, as long as I follow my process, and it feels so good to have conquered this.
Follow the Process
I am sure if you follow this process sincerely you will not be late to your appointments any more, and people will take you more seriously like they should.
If you know of any digital calendar system that supports the Four Times concept I described above, please let me know!
And, I will continue to use a paper day-planner system until a digital solution comes out that is equally powerful and flexible and multi-tasking as my paper day-planner. A system that lets me invent my own scheduling system the way I want, without any extra hassle. But that’s a good topic for another blog article.