One of my husband’s biggest pet peeves is chronic lateness. He prides himself on being punctual for everything because he values other people’s time, and he thinks it’s incredibly rude to make people wait on him.
I agree that habitual tardiness is annoying and rude. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the offender is doing it on purpose, or that he/she is rude and inconsiderate. And it isn’t simply a function of poor time management skills. In fact, there are several psychological and perhaps even physiological components that can contribute to being perpetually late.
Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, says that “lateness is really a commonly misunderstood problem.” DeLonzor’s extensive research of perpetually tardy folks revealed that “the vast majority of late people really dislike being late, they try to be on time, but this is something that has plagued them throughout their lives.” And it’s often a problem that began in childhood.
DeLonzor also found that chronic lateness might have something to do with fundamental differences in the way we think. According to DeLonzor, late-arrivers tend to actually perceive time differently than their punctual peers. Psychological components can also contribute to chronic lateness. DeLonzor identified links between chronic lateness and certain personality characteristics, including anxiety, low self-control and a tendency toward thrill-seeking.
But here’s the good news: chronic lateness is not a fixed personality trait. We don’t have permanent personalities; we have shifting patterns of thought. And patterns can be interrupted and replaced with other patterns. We can reinvent ourselves. All it takes is relentless practice.
So, in the spirit of reinvention, here are some simple tips that you can start practicing today. I’ve tried these tips myself, and I can attest to the fact that they really work!
- Reevaluate how long your routines really take. Late people tend to remember the one time they got ready for a dinner date in 20 minutes, or the one time they got to work in seven minutes flat. They disregard the fact that, most days, it takes them at least 45 minutes to get date-night ready, and at least 20 minutes to get to work. DeLonzor recommends listing your daily activities on a sheet of paper, and then estimating how long you think it takes you to do each one. Then, over the next week, document how long each activity actually takes. “Late people tend to engage in magical thinking,” DeLonzor says.
- Change your thoughts, not just your behavior. Reframing the way you think about punctuality can be an effective cognitive trick. Instead of stressing about it, sit down with a pen and paper (when you’re not in a rush) and jot down all the positives that come with being on time, suggests Teri Bourdeau, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of behavioral sciences at Oklahoma State University. You might write, for example, that being punctual will make you look more responsible, or that it will stir up less conflict with family or co-workers. Think about the things that are going to motivate you to be on time, and remember them the next time you’re trying to cram in too much before a date, deadline, or appointment.
- Get down with downtime. Eternally tardy people often like to pack in as many activities as possible to maximize productivity, which can make any extra waiting time uncomfortable. Get more comfortable with downtime by planning an activity you can do when spare minutes creep up — whether it’s catching up on work emails on your iPad or calling a friend or parent you haven’t had a chance to catch up with. Another option is to reframe downtime as something to enjoy between all the rushing, i.e., luxury time instead of wasted time. “A big part of the enjoyment of life is just sitting back and talking to the person next to you or looking at the sky or smelling roses,” DeLonzor says.
- Budget your time differently. Timely people will give themselves round numbers (g., 30 minutes) to get somewhere. The chronically late, on the other hand, often budget exact times, like 23 minutes, to get somewhere. DeLonzor calls this habit “split second timing,” which doesn’t account for the inevitable delay factors that pop up. “If you’re exactly on time, that means you engaged in split second timing,” she says. “You should not consider yourself on time unless you’re 15 minutes early.”
- Reschedule your day. Start writing appointments down 30 minutes before they actually happen, which will help you start planning before the last second. And reevaluate your to-do list — chances are, you’re simply not going to get everything done. Bourdeau suggests splitting things into categories: what you absolutely must do, and what has a negotiable timeline. Try crossing a few of the latter off the list, or move them to a time when you’re less harried. And be sure to schedule in downtime every day so you know when it’s time to relax, and when it’s time to get moving!