When I was in college, my roommate had a very difficult time getting up in the morning, so he was often running late. To help himself get to class on time, he set his clock ahead about 5 minutes. This worked well for about a week.
It took about 7 days for him to get used to the idea that the clock was set ahead, and the method started losing its effectiveness. No big deal. He just bumped it another two minutes forward and he started being on time again…for about a week.
I was sitting at my desk reviewing some notes for my next class at 1:50. I stood up to grab a book off the book shelf and something just didn’t seem right. It took me a minute to realize that I had seen a clock out of the corner of my eye. As I looked back I saw 1:51. Now, to many people, this might not seem like a big deal, but I just wasn’t someone who came to class late. To make it worse, this particular class was with a professor that had hired me to tutor others in music theory. Being late to class was a big deal because it would reflect poorly on me as a tutor.
I scrambled to grab my books and ran down the hallway, down five flights of stairs, across the campus and into the music building. I ran down the hall to the classroom hoping to slip in without attracting much attention, but when I looked through the door, there was no one there. The lights were off and the room was empty. No students, no teacher, no lecturing… nothing.
Now, this is the point where many people would have probably thought, “Cool, no class today!”, but this particular professor had a sense of humor that I had seen him use several times. For example, if a student fell asleep in class, he would continue talking in the same tone of voice and try to get the rest of the class to quietly get up and leave the room without disturbing the sleeping student. The class would continue in another room or the lobby and the sleeper would wake up with no idea where everyone had gone.
I looked around to see if anyone was hiding in a nearby classroom. No luck. As I headed back to the lobby, I saw the clock. It was 1:37. I waited around for 13 minutes for class.
My roommate kept moving the clock forward, and every time he started getting used to it, he would move it ahead a few more minutes. I had just happened to look at his clock instead of mine because of where I was standing. The clock was a full 15 or 16 minutes ahead.
This is a trick that I’ve heard people recommend. Just set your clock ahead so you get to places on time. The problem is that being late is a habit and simply moving the clock forward doesn’t actually break the habit. In fact, it will make it worse. If you can’t seem to get to places on time, don’t set your clocks forward- move back the deadline. So if you have a meeting at 2:30, set a deadline for yourself of 2:25. Once you get to where you are consistently getting places 5 minutes ahead, you’ll have broken the habit of lateness.
Originally published April 9, 2007.