How to Stay On Plan

To understand this page you will need to be familiar with types that I have discussed in previous pages on this site. So, if you’ve come to this page directly, I suggest that you either:

first read the pages on how punctual people stay on plan and why late people go off-plan, starting with How Do Punctual People Stay On-Plan?, before you return to this page; or

go to Summary of Causes, where you will find short descriptions of the types along with links to detailed descriptions and cause-specific solutions.

If you run late because you go off-plan, you can keep yourself on-plan by following a detailed preparation plan that includes the times at which you need to start preparing and leave. Review it before you start and keep it on hand. Do your best to keep to the sequence so that it can become an automatic routine.

If it takes you ten minutes from when you tell yourself that you should start preparing to when you actually start, write down a prep starting time that is ten minutes earlier. Another approach is to set your clock five or more minutes fast. Or try the procrastinator’s clock.

If you are a creative you can make keeping to the plan more engaging by approaching what you need to do as an artful choreography rather than a tedious routine. You can take a more mindful and meditative approach to preparation: engage more deeply in the process by paying attention to how objects that you take for granted look and feel.

Competing Motives

If you go off plan because you are an indulger you can teach yourself to delay gratification.

If, while you are preparing or on the way to your destination, you feel tempted to do something that will delay you, make the equation between going off-plan and lateness: “This is going to make me late.” Then decide to postpone it to a specific point in time that won’t interfere: “I’ll read that on the train.” This will make it clear that you are delaying rather than sacrificing the object of your desire, minimizing any frustration or sadness you feel about not having it right now.

If you can see the temptation, look away—walk away if you can. Practice distraction: focus on doing on-plan tasks. You can substitute the anticipatory pleasure of the temptation with another good feeling by thinking about pleasurable activities that you can do during the commute or at your destination (reading a good book, having your coffee). Listen to music that engages your attention and creates good feelings.

Needless to say, as the time you need to start preparing draws near, it’s wise to avoid pleasurable activities that you know you’re going to have problems letting go of. It’s also a bad idea to do them if you have spare time before you need to leave.

You can avoid the risk of drawing out pleasurable preparation tasks by shifting them to the night before or to the destination. Deciding what to wear in the evening will be more enjoyable without the clock ticking over your shoulder. A shower/bath after you get home will help you unwind and rinses away the day’s grime. If you suffer from pollen allergies it will also help you sleep better.

More generally, reducing the time from when you wake to when you head out the door by doing as many preparation tasks as you can the night before, or postponing them to transit or the destination, will give you less time for succumbing to temptations while you are preparing.

You might also be able to resist or give up pleasures by mobilizing some aggressive determination. See the temptation as your enemy. You might say something like “No! I won’t let this get the best of me!” Say it forcefully, try stamping your foot.

If you can’t reschedule pleasurable on-plan tasks, you might use a timer to remind you when you need to stop. If it’s hard to stop, you can reduce the intensity of sadness triggered by the idea of giving up pleasure by deciding to just take a break: postpone that second cup of coffee until you’ve finished preparing. Once you have stopped doing something pleasurable, your motives for returning to it will be less powerful than your motives for prolonging it. If you are lucky, you may even forget about it once you are doing something else. If this doesn’t work, give yourself more time for that task.

These techniques can also be used by achievers.
Checking off the preparation tasks on a printout of the plan can help both indulgers and achievers stay on track by distracting them from pleasures and undone chores. It may give achievers a sense of progress and completion that can counter the lure of getting chores out of the way.

If you are a people pleaser, you might want to prepare some things you could say to people you run into, e.g. “Good seeing you again! I’d love to talk but I’m running late.” If you’re feeling guilty imagining saying this, remember that you can send the person a message afterwards to reinforce the point.

If you are a sleeper, it’s important to not delude yourself that you will spring into action when the alarm clock goes off. Keeping your alarm clock out of reach can help, but I have clients who keep going back to bed after getting up to press the snooze button—or who simply turn off the alarm. If it takes you 20 minutes from the first time your alarm goes off to when you finally get out of bed, budget time for that in your plan.

Reducing the amount of time from waking to leaving by doing tasks in advance or during transit might also help. The greater sense of urgency may help you overcome morning fatigue. You can sleep longer and don’t have to do as many preparation tasks while you are still half asleep!

If you are a night owl, begin your plan with bedtime preparations. You need to equate going to sleep late with being late. You might want to consider getting a job with flexible hours or working the late shift.

If you suffer from non-restful sleep I suggest seeing sleep specialist. If anxiety is making it hard to sleep, a psychotherapist might be able to help.

Impeding Motives

Preparation avoiders and transit avoiders can motivate themselves by thinking, “I’m going to do this sooner or later, so let me get it over with.” Here, anticipating having put preparation or transit behind you creates a motivating sense of relief. Destination avoiders can ask themselves whether the relief they feel when they think of postponing arrival by five minutes is worth dealing with the repercussions of repeated lateness.

Of course, you won’t use this self-talk if, like many avoiders, you aren’t aware that you dragging your feet because you are avoiding something. If you find yourself feeling that you don’t want to leave home, think about what will happen after you leave and see if that brings up negative feelings. You might become aware of how these feelings make you want to move onto other, more pleasant, thoughts and actions. Remind yourself that you can relieve negative feelings more effectively if you are aware of them than if you simply try and suppress them.

Planning to do pleasurable things during transit creates positive feelings of anticipation that can help both transit and destination avoiders get out the door.

Enabling Tactics

Needless to say, if you are someone who goes off-plan due to competing or impeding motives alarm bells should go off in your head if you find yourself making juster statements like “Oh, just a few more minutes.” or “It’ll only take a minute!” (Metaphoric) red lights should flash if you use the rusher tactic of reassuring yourself that moving more quickly will allow you to make up for lost time.

Attention Issues

Shifting preparation tasks can also be helpful for people with attentional issues.

Immersives can move engaging on-plan tasks to the night before (but not immediately before bedtime), to transit or to the destination. If you are an immersive and absolutely have to do something that you know is going to engross you immediately before or during preparation, set an alarm—preferably in another room—to remind you when it’s time to move on.

Rescheduling preparation tasks to reduce the time from waking to leaving can also help drifters. Creating a sense of urgency from the moment you wake up will help you get and stay focused on preparation tasks, reducing the chance that you will get hooked by something more visually or emotionally engaging.

Following a written plan is particularly important for flitters. Keeping the plan with you at all times, checking off the items as you go, will help you stay on track. Laying out clothes and arranging things by the door well in advance reduces disorganizing stress; by reducing time spent at home it also reduces opportunities for distraction.

If you suspect that you have ADD, I suggest doing some reading on this topic: there are some good self-help books out there. You might consider seeing a specialist. Medication may help.

Next: Changing Motives