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How To Be on Time for Everything

How To Be on Time for Everything

By: Suleman Ahmer

Suleman Ahmer is MM's newest specialist. He will be sharing articles on productivity and time management for our readers. As founder of Timelenders, a productivity and time management consulting firm, Ahmer has taught these skills to thousands of people around the globe from CEOs to students. He trains people on the Islamic framework of developing long term visions. He is the author of Embattled Innocence, a collection of short stories based on his work as a Muslim relief worker who has travelled to 25 countries to aid Muslims, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya. His articles on geopolitics and history have appeared in prestigious publications in the US such as The Washington Post for Middle East Affairs. He has spoken on these topics at over 40 US universities including Harvard University, MIT, Emory, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers.

Imagine two individuals: Ahmed and Zain, Ahmed is punctual, he is always on time. Whether it is an official meeting or a social event, he is always there on time. The best part is that even in casual settings he is on time.

In the office, people know that when Ahmed says that he will be returning to work at 2:20 pm, then he means 2:20 pm, not a minute more. For a social event like a marriage ceremony, if the invitation is for 9:00 pm, he will be there no matter how many people show up. Even at home, if he says that he will be coming in at 6:00 pm from work then that is it. His wife and children know that he will be there because that is how Ahmed is: punctual. Since Ahmed lives in a real world of changing situations, traffic jams, emergencies and mobile phones, all who know him, know that in the event of an extraordinary situation, Ahmed will inform  the concerned people of the situation and reschedule his appointment.

Zain, is exactly the opposite of Ahmed. He feels that life should not be so 'strict'. If he says that he will be coming at 2:00 pm then in his mind, this means somewhere between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm. He believes that if one makes it to the meeting then that should be appreciated. Life is too imperfect to allow people to be on time. And if he is running late for work or a social event then people should be intelligent enough to realize that this is the norm of the world and should guess that something must have come up to cause a delay. And yes, on the home front he believes that his wife and children should be considerate enough to also understand that when he says that he will be coming at 6:00 pm then that means that it could be anywhere between 6:00 pm and 7:30 pm. He believes that a happy go lucky lifestyle is the way to go.

Who would you like to work for, hire or marry?

Now here is a question that I would like you to answer honestly: if all other attributes were the same—education, competence, looks etc—and you had the choice of working for, hiring or marrying either Ahmed or Zain (or Aisha or Zaina), who would you choose? Close your eyes, imagine the personalities and answer.

Personally I think that you would choose Ahmed.

If I were to ask you why? You would give me many reasons but the most important would be that Ahmed is predictable. You can count on him. He is dependable.

A few months ago, in a workshop in Abu Dhabi I asked the participants to tell me what attributes come to mind about a person who is never on time as opposed to someone who is always on time. Here are the attributes that the group came up with:

Ahmed Zain
Dependable Undependable
Trustworthy Irresponsible
Responsible Careless
Organized Inconsiderate towards others
Respectable towards others

The interesting thing is that this may be true or it may not be true but the image that this behavior creates is the above and you will agree how damaging such an image would be.

Who would you like to be?

This is your choice. If you say that you would like to be Ahmed then we are on the same page and if you feel that you would like to be Zain then I would recommend that you should reconsider. Please check with people around you: friends, colleagues and family members and ask them as to what they think of a person like Ahmed or Zain. You will be amazed at the responses that you would get and I have great hope that these responses may help you to change your perception.

The Art of Never being Late

Ahmed and people like him follow the art of never being late and it is very simple. It has two elements:

Correct time estimation

The first is to correctly estimate the time for all activities. Of course, we can't become too scientific in this but a good guess is what we are looking for. So if this is traveling somewhere then how much time it would take from the beginning to the end. Similarly, if your task is writing a report or working on a project then how long will it take?

All it takes is to sit down and calculate the steps that an activity takes and individually calculate the time for each step and then add it up; the more complex the activity is, the more steps you should divide the task into.

For example, if you are going to catch a flight that takes off at 5:30 pm work backwards from the time that you plan to be at the airport and estimate the time that it requires you to be ready and travel to the airport. This will look like this:

Activity Estimated Time Time
Flight time 5:30 pm
Arrive at the airport 2 hours 3:30 pm
Travel to the airport 30 minutes 3:00 pm
Taking the luggage from the home and loading up the car and taking the car out of the garage. 10 minutes 2:50 pm
Shower and getting ready 20 minutes 2:30 pm
Packing up 30 minutes 2:00 pm

The interesting thing about breaking up an activity is that you would get a realistic picture. For you to catch a flight at 5:30 pm, you would need to start moving at 2:00 pm.

Now go ahead and apply the same concept to other activities in your life.

Keeping a buffer

I define a buffer as the additional time kept into an activity that accounts for delays that can be anticipated. For example in the above example, we can have traffic delays or if you have an old car which develops a flat tire once in a while then you should keep a buffer. The length of the buffer differs from situation to situation. For example in the above case you may decide to keep a 15 minutes buffer. This means that you need to start moving at 1: 45pm and not 2:00 pm.

Welcome to Ahmed-hood

So if you can follow the above two steps, i.e. proper time estimation and keeping a buffer, I welcome you to the life of punctuality, where people consider you trustworthy and dependable. A life which is much less stressful and a lot more structured.

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23 comments

  1. No, I am not punctual. But neither am I

    Undependable
    Irresponsible
    Careless
    Inconsiderate towards others

    I am employed, have my own side-business and am happily married.

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  2. Not a bad start, but seems a bit basic and needs more practical tips. I would like to see:

    - Tips on how to estimate time better (something humans are not so good at)
    - Tips on picking a realistic buffer

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    • @ashes999. One way to estimate time is from your past experience. Lets take the example from this article. It is common to travel these days and people know how long it takes to go from point A to point B, how long it takes to pack their luggage etc. This will give you a realistic time guesstimate.

      For buffer, you will need to add things which may go wrong, such as traffic jam, flat tyre etc. People usually have some idea about the peak traffic times and depending on the importance of the activity, you will need more time for buffer. I guess for most people missing a flight is a major thing, so you put little bit extra buffer time.
      Here is the other side of having too much buffer. Lets assume everything went OK and you end up getting few hours early at the airport :) Now you need to have some important activities which you can do in that time. e.g you may want to read a book and couldn’t find time to do that. Or you want to work on a business plan or prepare for a speech etc, this waiting time can be used for such activities which are not urgent but important.

      I hope this helps.

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  3. For those of you unfamiliar with Suleman Ahmer, MashaAllah I have seen his workshops completely change lives of people (in a good way ofcourse). He has a way of getting you to see things in a new light and I pray that through his articles on MM he will be able to affect a larger number of people.

    Welcome on board Suleman Bhai and looking forward to articles where the “dosage” is increased InshaAllah.

    -Aly

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    • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      If I were you, I would enforce salams. The angels record everything we do, even on the internet.

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      • WaAlaikum Assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh:

        JazakAllahu Khairin Mahmud for your advice. I discussed this with a mufti (and his view is one of many) and basically in places like comments etc where by saying salam we may be placing a hardship on the others reading to reply to us (and typing out WaAlaikum Assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh can get cumbersome). In his opinion a reply to salam becomes wajib on all reading until one replies to it (in a manner equal or beter than the greeting) and thus it may be better to avoid it.

        And Allah knows best.

        -Aly

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        • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

          The mufti was right-to a degree.

          It is a hardship. It will make people take a little longer to write their comments. As a result, they will inshaa Allah self censor more(yes, ironic me saying this, ignore the irony. I use you as my censor anyways.)

          How many people on Yawm Al Qiyamah would wish that they could have an extra second to consider what they said before uttering it?

          Also, we will NOT ENTER Jannah until we love one another and one way to love one another is spread salams…

          Also, saying salams forces on to make mention of Allah which will inshaa Allah increase taqwa so when anyone types something they will be more cautious.

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  4. Great leadership starts with managing time efficiently.One of the things Allah will ask us on the day of Qiyamah.

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  5. @Scarfiez:

    The author isn’t saying that a person who isn’t punctual is inconsiderate,careless etc. He’s just pointing out that when people meet or hear about such a person they usually associate with him these negative qualities, although he might be a really nice brother.most of us,if we are not punctual or are always late,it’s not because we don’t care, it’s just a skill that we need to develop,and he’s trying to help us do that.

    JAK bro.ISA we’ll all benefit from this article.

    When the going gets tough
    The tough make dua :)

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  6. Wonderful article, very beneficial. If only instead of complaning and pretending nothing is wrong, we could seriously take this amazing advice and benefit from it. We are required to keep our words and promises. So when we are expected to arrive some where at a particular time, or tell some one we will do this at this time, delaying it is like lying. Unintentional lies. Look at our weddings and other gatherings, generally they never start on time. Thank you for this article.

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  7. Jazak Allahu khairan. It’s good advice; however, when you throw toddlers and babies into the picture, it becomes a lot more complicated.

    Could you please comment on how to apply the same principles to a person who is married, has very active young children and has very limited support (from family, babysitters, etc)? How do you account for the unpredictability of their behavior (e.g., tantrums, whining, etc.)?

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    • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Please don’t throw toddlers or babies into anything….pictures, picture frame, desk, wall, sofa, dishwasher, oven….

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  8. Salams. Br. Suleman, before reading your article, my children & I were chronically late for school and other functions, despite “trying” not to be & discussing the issue frequently (such as, “We must try harder to be on time; it is important,” etc.) Then, I read your article to my 8, 10, & 11 year olds. All were sobered by realizing the impression their lateness might give to others, and all wanted to be like “Ahmed” and considered trustworthy. We applied your method of time estimation + buffer and have now been on time for school and other activities every day–even today, though I overslept for 20 minutes and woke them too late–as they didn’t want to break their new record of punctuality & so made a great effort to be quick, mashala. We have discussed puntuality as a part of akhlaq, & agree that it shows respect & consideration for others, & as such, is an “Islamic” issue & part of akhlaq. Your article inspired my family, & now I’m hopeful that my children will become punctual adults, nshala. It has also motivated and helped me to be on time. Plus, we feel much less stressed in the mornings now, and agree that we’re much happier being punctual. Jazak Allah kheiran for your efforts. I look forward to your future articles, nshala.

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  9. Jazakallah Khair! This was a very nice article. I’m about to finish with university and really needed to read something like this to keep my short time left planned.

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  10. That awkward moment when you realize you are zain=/ I can never be on time – anywhere. I am always running late, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes, on rare occasions, I get to places a few minutes early but then I feel like I have wasted those minutes of my life. Like last week, I got to school at 10:40a.m. when my class starts at 11a.m. Because I had gotten to school earlier than I usually do(around 10:50ish), I got to class 10 minutes earlier and sat in the auditorium for 10 minutes thinking about all the things I could have done in those 10 minutes and constantly checked my phone for a new email or a text to pop-up. Usually I miss the first 5-10minutes of class and on the brighter side, I feel like at least I didn’t lose anything(except for the lecture notes). All my bosses have hated my habit of never being on time (some more obvious about it than others). That’s why I like to change jobs every now and then… My point here is, I know my life is a mess because I’m not punctual but I just cannot help it. I hate going to parties on time too because you just wait for people to show up when you could have just shown up later. I changed my major freshmen year in college because the previous one had to do with deadlines and I know this is pretty much taking over my life, lol, but like I said, some of us just cannot help it!! (sorry for taking the frustration out on your article but its a LOT easier said than done).

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    • Rabiya:

      Generally there are plenty of things that can be done while waiting:

      1) Make a call to someone you need to call back
      2) Read a book – recitation from the quran, duas all can now be on any smartphone. Or a physical book.
      3) Collect your thoughts and plan on what you need to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month etc
      4) Make zikr – nothing is needed – use your fingers and read Astaghfirullah – no counts needed
      5) Lot of other stuff you could do – make a list of 10 min to-dos :)

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  11. FINALLY! Someone to guide me in being punctual!
    Thank you very much………………. JAK

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  12. This is such an important issue, I’m very glad it’s being brought up. My life has been made so much more difficult because of my constant lateness and procrastination. I had so many goals and dreams in life but I haven’t been able to achieve most of them because of my tardiness. Handing in late assignments, getting to work late, not responding to emails on time, etc. Every thing adds up and now I am struggling to get my life back on track.

    I do agree with sister Rabiya above that sometimes, this is not merely a person’s ‘laziness’ but an actual symptom of something greater that they cannot deal with on their own and and they need to look into it with a trained therapist or psychologist/psychiatrist. This is indeed what happened to me. I was diagnosed with ADD later in my life and my procrastination was just one symptom of the illness. Your mind literally cannot focus on a task at hand, it wanders and causes you to be late for whatever it is you’re doing. it becomes so constant that it becomes defining feature in your life and completely devastates you. Had I been diagnosed earlier, I might have been able to treat the symptoms. I was late for everything starting at a very early age, also depressed and had anxiety attacks, but I only realized later on when I was diagnosed that this was all a result of the ADD and it can be helped.

    With proper time-management training, practice and the right therapy and/or medication if needed, this CAN be helped, inshAllah.

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