You frequently have to call business contacts and explain, “I am running a bit behind.” Or you have friends who lie about a meeting time, subtracting a half-hour to make sure you show up on time. Clearly you have a punctuality problem, but what’s behind your chronic tardiness?
Experts say chronic lateness often relates to personality characteristics and mindset, more than it does to poor time management.
Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, and Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and commentator for Fox News, say hidden emotions behind chronic tardiness don’t excuse it, but they do help explain it. And recognizing the problem goes a long way toward solving it.
The three most common causes for lateness are anxiety about the appointment, having a need to show power or superiority, or needing to know you are loved, Ablow says.
“If people are on their way to something where they feel apprehensive or stressed, the mind’s circuitry often avoids the area of discomfort,” Ablow explains. So they lose track of time and are late.
Some people are late because they want to show who is in charge. “If your boss is always late to meetings, it can mean he or she wants to be reminded of being superior and in control. It may not even be a conscious thought,” Ablow says.
For someone with a need to be loved or reassured, lateness might be a test to see if the person waiting for you cares. “This happens when people use being late as an affection gauge, testing others to see if they will sacrifice their time,” he says.
DeLonzor says additional causes for lateness may include a penchant for thrill-seeking— the adrenaline rush of the last-minute sprint to the finish line—or the need for an ego boost from over-scheduling and filling each moment with activity.
The experts agree that, if you are always late, you should first try to discover the underlying emotion causing it so your awareness can lead to change. Also, put yourself in the position of the person you’re meeting—and imagine that person’s frustration and wasted time. Then implement some of our expert strategies below.
Document. Make appointments real by jotting them down or entering them in your BlackBerry.
Create lateness buffers. Start getting ready earlier than normal and leave earlier too.
Track your time. DeLonzor says it’s important to avoid “magical thinking, repeatedly underestimating the time it takes to accomplish something,” by keeping track for a week of how long various tasks take and posting your new time frames where you can see them.
Don’t steal time. Don’t bargain with yourself about sending one more e-mail before you go, or sleeping 15 more minutes before you get out of bed.
Use your spouse as your on-time mentor. If your spouse is always on time, then say hello to your new punctuality coach.
Step into their shoes. Imagine how the people always waiting for you must feel.
Wear a watch. Even if you need to set it 10 minutes ahead, a watch is a time reminder you carry on you at all times.