Time Management Tip # 317: The Buffer Zone

There are about a million and three time management tips out there and scads of posts that list them all in order. This isn’t going to be one of those. Today I want to tackle just one tip. Baby steps, guys.

I’m also not going to delve into the reasons why people have poor time management, because we know it’s for loads of different reasons; your little granny is perpetually thirty minutes early to every event because she has terrible anxiety about getting lost even though she only frequents the same three restaurants on rotation. Your little brother is always late because his room is a mess and he can’t locate socks let alone keys and his wallet. Whatever.

The key defining difference between people who are prompt and those who are tardy is their knowledge of the “Buffer Zone.”

See here’s the thing: planning your schedule so as to show up to events, appointments, and meetings on time is well-intentioned. A for effort! type deal. Except you say “plan” and life says “ha!” and “see if I care,” and “take that, Hi-yah!”

In my experience, shit rarely, if ever, goes according to plan. That is why you need a Buffer Zone. The BZ guards against the unexpected.

Call the BZ into action for short term and longer term situations:

Short term – You have a doctor’s appointment at 3:00 pm. Allot yourself just enough time to make it there on time at 3:00 and the chances are high you’ll be late. But factor in a BZ that feels appropriate and realistic for you, twenty minutes say, and you’ll be on time for roll call at the doc’s.

Longer term – You’re leaving for your beach vacation in one week and need to order a new fabulous and flattering bikini. Choose the shipping speed that promises delivery one day prior to your departure and you’ll be standing on that beach barefoot and fancy free if you catch my drift. But assume that shipping speeds will vary, that some postal worker will be distracted, and that the bikini will be late if you don’t choose the expedited shipping speed that guarantees delivery in two days, and you’ll have suit in hand as you board the plane.

Even longer term – Your wedding is in three months time.

No BZ- you tell your caterer, seamstress, and florists that you need delivery on the big day. And then the caterer’s truck breaks down on the freeway, you gain five pounds and discover as you’re about to ascend down the aisle that your dress no longer zips in the back, and a sudden and rare drought descends upon the east coast, killing off every orchid and water lily in the region. You’re EFFED little bride!

But with a BZ, you tell your caterer to deliver prepared foods and the cake two days prior, you tell your florist to start assembling your arrangements the morning before the morning of, and you tell your seamstress to schedule a final fitting with a week to go before your upcoming nuptials. Listen I’m not a wedding planner so just give me a break and get my point!

You get my point?

I don’t mean to turn the universe into the enemy here, I swear; life’s out to get you and screw you over and yadah yadah. I’m just saying that to bank on everything going as smoothly as you would like is… risky.

Far wiser to take heed of the actual deadline, and then prepare everything involved to be ready IN ADVANCE– in minutes or days or weeks.

The Buffer Zone means that it’s okay if things go awry. Your life isn’t on the line yet! You still have time to get everything straightened out so that when the curtain opens, you’re standing there, composed, and to great applause.

Image credits: unknown, A Girl Like Me, Amy Atlas



  1. These words couldn’t be any more true, Annie! I used to get screwed all the time but now I’m better at planning ahead of time. It’s worth the extra effort or money :) xoxo

  2. Such a great post Annie! I actually find I’m better at planning the BZ into plans with longer lead times, I need to get better at it for shorter term plans! xx

    • I actually think that’s true for a lot of people Rachel.. it’s easier to factor in buffer time for deadlines that are further away. But equally important to do so for short term things!!


  1. […] Love Annie’s time management tip: the buffer zone. Brilliant and […]

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