The Real Reason You’re Always Late

I’ve always viewed tardiness as a touchy subject. If you’re a person who is consistently on time, you may feel like others are late because they don’t value your time. While this may be true in a percentage of cases, I know…from personal experience…that there are multiple layers to a person’s ability to be on time and that oftentimes, tardiness may not be rooted in a basic disregard for others. Instead, people who are chronically late often have legitimate struggles with learning to manage time effectively and are more likely to be prone to over-committing themselves to a variety of tasks and obligations. In addition, inaccurate time perception is oftentimes a culprit that only makes matters worse. Still, there are other cases in which hidden emotional stress or anxiety inhibits an individual’s ability to regularly show up on time.

Trying to Please Everyone

We live in a time of InstaPots, entertainment on demand, and “there’s an app for that!” It’s very easy to find ourselves taking on the societal expectations of “fast,” “easy,” and “always accessible.” Therefore, many of us have lost touch with our ability to say no, to plan things out, and to do things on timelines that are more feasible for us. We feel like we always have to deliver. We find ourselves always wanting to perform. We never want to let anyone down. Therefore, people are increasingly overstretching themselves without even realizing it until there is a logistical, relational, or physical breakdown. And then there’s the guilt. Society steadily streams the message that there is no room for us to attend to our human needs. But the reality is we must. The irony of adopting a mindset of over-committing in the interest of never letting anyone down is that by doing so, your risk of letting yourself and everyone else down rises sharply.

Taking time to plan your schedule is essential. Only after creating a schedule for yourself and deciding when you would like to make yourself available (and are logistically able to do so) can you realistically ensure you are able to fulfill the time commitments you decide to undertake. Moreover, you must say no whenever a request for your time is made and you are unwilling or unable to either a) provide sufficient time to comfortably meet the request or b) re-prioritize your current commitments to make the new request fit. If you are unwilling or unable to do a or b, saying no is within your best interest; doing so also better for the person who is making the request. The sooner that person is made aware that his or her request will not work with your schedule, the earlier he or she can request an alternative time or make other arrangements altogether. Sometimes we waste time and needlessly cram our schedules with things that don’t serve us or other people. In many cases, we can avoid these situations by being more realistic with our time management and planning ahead.

Inaccurate Time Perception

To some of us, a minute isn’t a minute, and an hour isn’t an hour. Those of us who are challenged in the way we perceive time know that this can easily lead to always arriving a little late or even showing up awkwardly early. But there are ways to overcome this type of time management hurdle. Addressing inaccurate time perception requires an initial assessment. I recommend spending a day or, if your schedule changes often, an entire week timing and recording how long it takes to do your normal, recurring tasks. Make a list of how long your commutes take, how much time you usually spend in the shower, how long it takes you to read through your emails at the office, the average length of your phone calls, all the major events that comprise  a  typical day. Next, you HAVE to begin maintaining a written schedule if you do not do so already. Keep your list of timed activities next to your planner or wherever you choose to record your schedule. When planning your schedule, ALWAYS reference the list you’ve created, and budget your time accordingly. That means if you know your friend wants to meet you across town after work and you know it takes you 45 minutes to commute to that area, go ahead and tell that person you will meet them a full hour after your workday ends. Not only are you accounting for the 45-minute drive, but you are allowing yourself an extra 15 minutes to have a quick chat with your supervisor before leaving, go to the restroom, and attend to any other small time “vacuums”  that tend to pop up whenever we really have somewhere to go. While it is important to actually allow yourself the extra time, the game-changing potential lies in continuing to behave as if you only have 45 minutes to get there. This means recreating that same sense of urgency despite knowing you have a time cushion. That part may or may not take a little practice, so be firm, yet patient and consistent with yourself.

Set Firm Time Barriers

Whether you have to set a very loud alarm, have someone call you at a particular cut-off time, or use an app on your phone, creating unavoidable reminders that you need to stop what you’re doing and move on to the next activity will greatly enhance your ability to avoid being late. Be very intentional about how you structure your activities and transition points (i.e. leaving one place to commute to another, stopping one task and beginning the next). Try to make it nearly impossible for you to ignore the reminders and time boundaries you create for yourself. By giving yourself the right tools and holding yourself accountable, you will immediately begin to see real change in the way you manage time and adhere to deadlines. Inviting other people you trust to also keep you accountable will only add fuel to your self-improvement fire.