Why You’re Always Late (and How to Fix It)

When I first started doing research on this topic, I genuinely believed that late people just had total disregard for anyone’s time or that they were terrible at time management. Any Type A person, like me, believes in the mantra, “If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late.” And if you’re that person, I bet you have the same preconceived notion I do about those who are never on time to anything, including work.

But, what I found out from research has made me change my mind – something that I never thought I could do when it comes to punctuality. While the act of constantly being late is perceived as rude, it doesn’t necessarily mean said late person did it on purpose. There are actually several psychological and physiological components that can contribute to being perpetually late.

The Misunderstood Problem

Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, conducted her own research on the perpetually tardy. She told Huffington Post, “Lateness is a really a commonly misunderstood problem. Yes, it’s a rude act, but I’ve interviewed hundreds of people and 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.” She continues, “Telling a chronically late person to be on time is like telling a dieter, ‘Don’t eat so much.’”

According to DeLonzor, this problem often starts in childhood and may have something to do with the fundamental differences in the way people think. She wrote in her book:

Part of my research included a test to measure the differences in how timely and late people perceive the passage of time. The test I devised is a simple one you can try yourself. Choose three or four pages in a book, mark the time, and start reading. Stop reading when you think ninety seconds have elapsed, then check your watch to see how accurate you were. I found that early birds, almost without fail, stopped reading before ninety ­seconds had passed, while lateniks put their books down well ­after the ninety-second mark.

The researchers at Cleveland State University also included a time perception test in their study, this time using stop-watches. Interestingly, their results were similar to mine, with late people consistently underestimating the passage of time.

In the late 1990s, she led another study at San Francisco University where she found links between chronic tardiness and certain personality traits, including low self-control, thrill-seeking and anxiety. With this research, she was able to identify seven different types of late people:

  • The deadliner: someone who has a hard time motivating themselves without pressure, and then when they realize there’s no way they’re going to make it on time, their positivity turns to dread.
  • The producer: the person who constantly over-schedules their days.
  • The absent-minded professor: someone who may have a diagnosable condition, such as ADHD, and have a hard time staying on track from point A to point B.
  • The rebel: an uncommon subtype that actually enjoys being late because they like the idea of knowing the attention will be on them once they arrive.
  • The rationalizer: someone who will blame outside factors for their tardiness, like traffic jams.
  • The indulger: this type struggles with self-control, someone who just doesn’t feel like attending to the task at hand.
  • The evader: someone who tries to perfect the situation before leaving the house, like finding the right outfit or having their hair just so.

Fixing the Problem:

When it comes to addressing constant tardiness, it’s the way they think, not just their behavior, which needs to be addressed and reframed. Here are a few tips to reconfiguring the way the tardy can retrain their brain to be on time:

  • The cognitive trick: Associate being on time with positivity and less stress. Write down all the positive aspects of being on time. The physical act of acknowledging these pros on paper will motivate you to be one time.
  • Time your routine: Do you really know how long it takes you to get ready? As a consistently on-time person, I know it takes me approximately 30-40 minutes to get ready every morning from the time I open my eyes to having my keys in my hand to walk out the door. Like the tip before, write down your daily habits, how long it takes you to do them and spend a few weeks doing this. You’ll get into a habit of understanding your routine and allowing yourself plenty of time to complete it.
  • Rethink your timing: According to DeLonzor, timely people will give themselves round numbers to get somewhere, like 30 minutes. Those who are chronically late will budget exact times to get somewhere, a habit she calls “split second timing”. This type of time budgeting doesn’t account for factors that may pop up to delay your arrival. Training yourself to rethink how you perceive time could play a major factor in your punctuality.

Fixing tardiness, ironically, takes time. But with the help of this important research, it has become a little clearer as to why people have an issue with time and how they can address it. Are you someone who is chronically late? What do you think about the above research and do you identify with one of the subtypes of the chronically late? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter and let us know.

About Andrea D.