Disney/YouBeautyBefore writing her book, “Never Be Late Again,” management consultant Diana DeLonzor was always, always late. “It didn’t matter what time I got up. I could get up at six and still be late for work at nine,” she recalls. She was reprimanded at work, lost friendships and her timely husband was always mad at her. She couldn’t stand being late, yet she just couldn’t change.
“Most people really hate being late and have tried many times to fix it,” DeLonzor says. “Punctual people misunderstand. They think you’re doing it as a control thing, or that you’re selfish or inconsiderate. But it really is a much more complex problem than it seems.”
In a study she led at San Francisco State University of 225 people, she found that about 17 percent were chronically late. Among them, there were clear patterns. Late people tended to procrastinate more, demonstrated trouble with self-control (were more prone to habits such as overeating, drinking too much, gambling and impulse shopping), showed an affinity for thrill-seeking and displayed ADD-like symptoms-restlessness, trouble focusing and attention issues.
“People who are chronically late are often wrestling with anxiety, distraction, ambivalence or other internal psychological states,” says Pauline Wallin, Ph.D., a psychologist in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Jeff Conte, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University who has studied lateness in the workplace, says that there are deep-rooted personality characteristics at play, making lateness a very difficult habit to break. DeLonzor quips that telling a late person to be on time is like telling a dieter not to eat so much. “If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have Weight Watchers.”
With the right approach, however, the eternally tardy can change their ways.
What Kind of Late Are You?
The first step toward timeliness, says DeLonzor, is self-awareness. Sit down and go over your history and patterns. Are you late to everything or just some things? How do you feel when you’re late? What causes you to run behind?
Julie Morgenstern is a professional organizer and productivity expert. When meeting a new client she always starts with the same question: Are you always late by the same amount of time or does it vary? If it’s always the same, that is indicative of a psychological hurdle. Maybe you’re afraid of downtime, or feel that you have to fit as much as humanly possible into your day (even if it’s not humanly possible). If you arrive late by 10 minutes to one thing and 30 minutes to another, the problem is likely mechanical. Your time management skills need work.
DeLonzor describes seven types of late people. Most fall into the top three categories:
The Deadliner enjoys the rush of the last minute. She thrives on urgency and often claims to work best under pressure. Sometimes it’s difficult for Deadliners to motivate unless there’s a crisis (even if that means creating crises of their own). Rushing from here to there serves as a way to relieve boredom.
The Producer needs to get as much done in as little time as possible. She feels better about herself when she’s checking things off a massive to-do list. Producers tend to engage in “magical thinking,” consistently underestimating the amount of time their tasks will take. They hate wasting time, so they schedule themselves to make use of every minute of the day.
The Absent-Minded Professor is easily distracted. Distractibility is thought to have a genetic basis and can range from full-blown attention deficit disorder to innocent flakiness. Absent-Minded Professors often lose track of time, misplace car keys and forget appointments.
People typically identify with more than one lateness personality. The other four are: the Rationalizer, who never fully admits to her lateness (many late people are at least one part Rationalizer); the Indulger, who generally lacks self-control; the Evader, who tries to control feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem by being late; and the Rebel, who arrives late to assert power (Rebels are usually men).
What Is Making You Late?
Watch yourself carefully to identify what is actually making you late. Producers often schedule more tasks, chores and appointments than they can get done in a day (without a Star Trek transporter and a time machine). Perhaps you suffer from what Morgenstern calls the One More Task Syndrome. “I think this is a technical fix for a psychologically-driven behavior. You feel you have to be productive, so you shove one more thing in before you have to leave,” she says. DeLonzor says many late people- including herself-have an aversion to leaving the house, and suddenly feel the need to straighten the blinds or open the mail when they should be heading out the door. To combat this she uses a mantra of sorts: “When I catch myself doing this, I’ll snap or clap and say ‘This can wait.'”
A note to late-leavers: Texting that you’re “five minutes behind!” doesn’t absolve you-or buy you extra time for one last thing. Allow us to reimagine an old adage. Stop (yourself). Drop (what you’re doing). And roll (on outa there).
Transforming yourself from chronically late to perfectly punctual is a big task. Wallin says it is important to make deadlines non-negotiable, “like a promise to yourself.” Start with something easily attainable, like vowing not to hit snooze tomorrow-not even once. “If you can’t commit to a small inconvenience like that,” she cautions, “you are not ready to tackle your chronic lateness.” Before jumping in, try an experiment: Get somewhere on time. Just once. Just to see how it feels. Note your reaction. Are you relieved or anxious? Proud or bored as hell? Then work your way up from there.
Step 1: Relearn to Tell Time. Every day for two weeks, write down each task you have to do and how long you think it will take. Time yourself as you go through your list-showering and dressing, eating breakfast, driving to work, picking up the dry cleaning, doing the dishes-and write the actual time next to your estimate. Many people have certain time frames cemented in their brains that aren’t realistic. Just because once, five years ago, you made it to work in 12 minutes flat doesn’t mean it takes 12 minutes to get to work.
Step 2: Never Plan to Be On Time. Late people always aim to arrive to the minute, leaving no room for contingency. Say you need to get to work at 9:00. You assume it takes exactly 12 minutes to get to work, so you leave at 8:48. If you miss one traffic light or have to run back inside to grab an umbrella, it becomes impossible to make it in on time. Don’t chance it. Both DeLonzor and Morgentern say you should plan to be everywhere 15 minutes early.
Step 3: Welcome the Wait. If the thought of getting anywhere ahead of time freaks you out, plan an activity to do in the interim. Bring a magazine, call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or go over your schedule for the week. Make the activity specific and compelling, so you’ll be motivated get there early and do it.
Finally, if you have a friend or family member that’s always late, remember that it’s not about you. Tricking her by saying something starts a half hour earlier doesn’t work; she’ll eventually catch on. And scolding her won’t make you feel any better about her lateness. In fact, it will probably just amplify your bad feelings. Instead, have an honest discussion-before you’re totally fed up-and set some guidelines. Try this: Every time your friend is late by 15 minutes or more, she pays for dessert. If it doesn’t get her butt in gear, at least it sweetens the deal for you.