Some people find it virtually impossible to be on time. No matter how important the event, they’re always in a mad dash and get there late — or just under the wire. Sound familiar? Maybe you need to reset your internal clock and stop being late before chronic tardiness costs you a friendship, a promotion or a reputation.
Why do we run behind schedule? “Some people get a psychological boost from that last-minute sprint to the finish line,” says Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged. “These people have difficulty motivating themselves without that crisis.” Others are “producers” who cram so much into their day that they don’t give themselves enough time to get to meetings or lunches. And some folks are chronic procrastinators who find that it feels good to put things off.
“No matter how you look at it, whether we’re talking about a psychologically or emotionally based issue, or even a functional brain issue, it’s an underlying symptom of a larger problem,” says Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical College and the author of The Ripple Effect.
To figure out what’s behind your lateness, “start by asking some tough questions to figure out which one applies,” says Saltz. The answers will help clue you in to your punctuality personality so you can change your ways. Here’s how:
Question: Do you always do one or two little chores before heading out because “it only takes a minute”?
Solution: Get real about time.
Chronic latecomers underestimate — by 25 to 30 percent — how long it takes to perform tasks. Keep a log of how long it really takes you to get dressed, get to work or run an errand, and then adjust your schedule accordingly. If your morning habit of emptying the dishwasher or checking email is cutting into your commuting time, cut it out.
Question: Do you prefer to arrive after everyone else because you get antsy waiting for them to show up?
Solution: Welcome the wait.
Arrive early and consider that extra time a luxury. Read a book, check your smartphone or just gather your thoughts.
Question: If your job interview is at 10:30 a.m., or if the kids have to be picked up from school at 3:00 p.m., do you arrive right on the dot?
Solution: Plan to never be right on time.
You’re not leaving enough wiggle room for unexpected delays. Instead, make it your goal to arrive 10 minutes early to wherever you have to be. Once you’ve added in this cushion, you should rarely run behind.
Question: Do you run behind mainly with one person?
Solution: Rethink your relationships.
Time to figure out why you’re always late with this person and deal with it, says Saltz. Your lateness may be a way of saying you’re still upset with your sister over a past disagreement, or that you’re not enjoying a friend’s company as much as you once did. Once you work on the relationship — or end one that’s not working — the punctuality problem should improve.
Question: Are you the sort who puts off dull chores?
Solution: Create a time mantra.
Come up with a short phrase you can repeat when you’re tempted to procrastinate: “If I get it done now, I won’t have to worry about it later,” or “Early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable.” This should put you in the mindset to complete the task at hand and move on.