Leaving Earlier: Why It’s Better Than On Time

A new goal of mine is to leave earlier than on-time. To be clear, this isn’t a “do more, be better, push yourself,” self-improvement culture type of thing. If anything, it’s about doing just a little less, in order to have a lot less distress, and it’s the result of a quite specific quality-of-life insight.

Surely most, if not all of us, have obligations which require leaving by a certain time in order not to arrive late. If you’re like me, you’re often a bit of a scrambler; you tend not to give yourself quite enough time to get ready, with the result that you set off late or under-prepared, and in a state of some tension and hurry.

Part of my difficulty has been losing track of time, or under-estimating the time I need. This is to some extent neurological, to some extent a lack of strategy. Because of this, for a long time I really struggled to make it to work on time at all. I usually left late and cut it very close. But during this past year, I put some strategies in place which improved this a great deal. For at least several months, I’ve most often left on time, or only a little late, and I almost always arrive at work with a safe margin of time now. It’s a small thing, but it’s also a big thing. I feel happy about accomplishing it, and am less worried and more confident about my ability to sustain this basic but crucial thing.

Yet that’s not the real story here. Besides attempting to improve time management, I’ve been attending to my day-to-day experience, in the sense of light but continual mindful awareness. Actually, “continual” isn’t something I’m capable of yet, but I do manage moments throughout the day. So with something I do almost every day, something like driving to work, data does get collected over time, and eventually some insights do arise.

When I leave late, I have to drive very, well, let’s say “efficiently.” I do try very hard to be safe, yet I have to be very intently focused, assertive, and decisive, so that I can cover the distance as quickly as possible (without recklessness). In this state of mind, any obstacle is much more likely to trigger anxiety and irritation. And I end up arriving to work in this overly-intense mental and emotional space.

When I leave on time, there is still some need to drive with some efficiency, but there is much less urgency. I can be closer to relaxed, “obstacles” which slow me are less significant, even if it’s still difficult to be entirely relaxed about them. It feels responsible and competent, and it’s a much better experience than leaving late.

But there have been some days I’ve happened to leave earlier than on-time. These are an interesting experience. The “extra” time feels luxurious as I walk to the car and get ready to leave. If I want to I can take some time to look though music before leaving, or pause and gather myself for a minute. I can take each step at the natural pace, not an enforced quicker-than-natural pace. I realize as I begin to drive that there isn’t a need to hurry, that I don’t need to feel anxious about obstacles. And then, after I’ve been driving for a while, I realize my mind, my feelings, my body have forgotten this. They are anxious about getting through this light, irritated that I had to slow down for something, worried about how quickly I will complete the transit.

And then, I remember: I have a luxury of minutes. I don’t need to feel these things, I don’t need to get ahead of this other driver, I don’t need to make this light. I have to exert some strong intentional willpower to change how I’m driving, and how I’m thinking and feeling about the drive; it’s so habitually ingrained, it’s become my autopilot. But it’s so, so much better to have the luxury of minutes.

I don’t want to have the experience of leaving late every day, and now, I don’t even want the experience of leaving merely on-time. I want the luxury of leaving earlier than on-time! I’m not there yet, but I will be, and it’s going to be great.

Have you had similar experiences?

SeekerFive creates expressive photographic art at matthewvphoto.redbubble.com.

He also creates visual art and designs under his Leaf Town brand at society6.com/leaftown.

Images by (and property of) SeekerFive unless otherwise indicated.

25 thoughts on “Leaving Earlier: Why It’s Better Than On Time

  1. Leaving early is an ingrained habit. On those rare occasions when I accidentally leave on time, I inevitably end up stressed from the moment I leave to the moment I arrive. Cheering you on! Your nerves will love you for it!

    1. Thanks, Julia. Interesting to hear how similar your experience is! Except, of course, the difference that early is already normal for you 😀

  2. I used to be chronically EARLY for everything. Now, since I entered my 50’s for some reason, no matter how much time I give myself in the morning – even waking up 20-30 minutes earlier – something throws my routine off- and I end up rushing madly and I’m lucky if I scoot in 5 minutes late. Thankfully I am not bound to a time clock – but it drives me mad!! It is not who I want to be and my father would be so ashamed!!! I am starting to think it is a psychological block of some sort. Thank you for this post… I am going to keep trying.

    1. Wow @erikamorck, that sounds frustrating! I hope a change happens for you. Maybe (if you’re on the search for suggestions) you could try looking up strategies that ADD/ADHD people use.

  3. I’ve always been a planner by nature, which means I’ve usually been very early to everything. While I’ve loosened the reins a bit, I am still a decent amount early on most days, though I do occasionally have a slip up where I’m late. Sleep is too good these days!

  4. Love this post, SeekerFive! The observations that accumulate and the lessening of anxiety as you drive are palpable. And a great last line. I’ve heard a similar objective as being intentional to never hurry. Probably never exactly reachable but a good intention. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. I’m just the opposite. I’ve never had the problem of getting places on early. Sometimes I attempt to get somewhere early as is my usual habit but I arrive even earlier than I wanted. That can also be stressful, especially if you’re in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. 😆

  6. When younger I frequently had to rush to get anywhere on time but preferred to be on the last minute (or late!!) than arriving early only to be sitting around waiting! 45/50 years down the road and I’m exactly the opposite. I simply don’t want to have to rush, be tense and stressed and I actually enjoy the spare time as a result of arriving early which I can use to explore, read or just ‘be’.
    A little older and wiser perhaps 🙂

  7. I worked for an employer that had a tardiness policy this I learned to leave early welp very early on. Now if I’m going to be late I stop for breakfast. You do t feel so bad about being tardy on a full belly.

  8. If I’m out and about, running late for something, it’s tempting to get irritated at the slow driver in front of me or the person at check-out who gets out their checkbook instead of swiping their debit/credit card. However, I have to remind myself that it all began with me and how I started my day at home. Thanks for your post.

  9. This is so relatable. I’ve worked on leaving earlier for decades- I’m getting better. But the benefits of those few extra minutes are huge!

    1. Agreed! I found it interesting how the appeal isn’t even primarily about securely arriving on time, but about the quality of my existence during the commute.

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