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11 Psychological Reasons You’re Always Late (and 13 Strategies to Be on Time)

No one’s on time 100 percent, but if you’re chronically late, here’s what might be happening.

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BY Wanda Thibodeaux - 12 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Being late generally makes you look wildly unprofessional, not just because it makes you seem disorganized, but also because it keeps people waiting and, therefore, makes them feel disrespected. But lateness isn't just about poor time management. According to psychologist Dr. Pauline Wallin, "people who are chronically late are often wrestling with anxiety, distraction, ambivalence, or other internal psychological states". Here is just a handful of what really could be going on under the surface.

What could be motivating you

Lindsay Holmes of The Huffington Post, Alfie Kohn of Psychology Today, Adoree Durayappah-Harrison of Psychology Today and Time list the following as possibilities for lateness:

  • You're multitasking so much that you lose your sense of whether you're doing what's necessary to stay on schedule. This might be because of personal goals, requests from others or the feeling that you're wasting time if you're not using every second.

 

  • Your internal clock is off and tells you that you've got more time to finish when that's not true. People with Type A personalities, incidentally, are more likely to have accurate internal clocks than people with Type B personalities.
  • You like the attention or feeling of power you get when you finally enter a room.
  • You want to minimize feelings of anxiety by minimizing the time you have to be present or involved.
  • There's something you need to apologize for. You don't want to or can't admit what that is outright, so you're late on purpose to have a substitute reason to apologize.
  • You're genuinely egocentric and lack empathy toward the people you offend by being late.
  • You watch the clock but have trouble adjusting your behavior (e.g., changing pace, eliminating items from your to-do list, etc.) to stave off lateness. This could be because you get too engrossed in what you are doing, see everything you want to do as a priority or get swept up in the inertia of doing.
  • You don't want to be early because it is inefficient, wasting your time--you're not willing to accept the opportunity cost of leaving earlier.
  • Lateness helps you avoid the feelings of foolishness, awkwardness or being judged that sometimes come with being early.
  • You're bored and thrive on the urgency being late creates.
  • You're absent-minded and just forget.

Tricks to get back on schedule

Undoubtedly, the above possibilities just scratch the surface. If you're an empathetic extrovert, for example, you might find it hard to stop talking with others when it's time to go, simply because their company and opinions are valuable and energizing to you. Or maybe you're still rebelling against the parent who rushed you to everything under the sun. Additionally, you might have more than one element contributing to your lateness at the same time. But these tricks should help you get a handle on the clock.

  • Make yourself a to-do list. Prioritize what's most important on the list and then cut it in half based on that prioritization. This will keep you more grounded about what you can fit in the time you have.
  • For a week, jot down estimates of how long you think tasks will take. When you're done, write down how long they actually took. Use the actual time for completion in future scheduling.
  • Based on your weekly journal, identify patterns. Are you late to some things and not others? Maybe there are psychological or logistical issues related to only certain things you're doing.
  • Say no rather than trying to cram more in.
  • Set alarms on your phone or watch 10 and 5 minutes before you need to leave. At the 10 minute alarm, wrap up what you're immediately doing or tell others you need to leave in 5 minutes. At the 5 minute alarm, log off, gather your things and say goodbye.
  • Schedule time for the other things you know you want to do, like reading or checking in on Facebook. If those are in your plan elsewhere, you probably won't feel like you're giving them up by leaving on time.
  • Bring something simple with you to do. If you are early, you can work on that without feeling awkward or deprived.
  • Ask yourself what you're feeling, putting off or aiming to do by not leaving.
  • Keep a list of things you accomplished so you can prove to yourself you can get attention in positive ways.
  • Ask others how they're feeling or what they need.
  • Try something new, like a stretch project or a different hobby, instead of taking on more.
  • Find a buddy who can hold you accountable.
  • Switch your routine so you don't fall back into the habits that make you late.
  • Automatically add 5 minutes to the time you think you need to get somewhere.

Remember, it's not just about the clock. So if you don't hit it the first time, it's OK. Just try again (and again and again if need be), and don't be shy about talking to a professional to sort out what you're dealing with. Eventually, you'll make it.