Here's the Reason You're Always Late

July 24th 2015

If you're chronically late—or just know a friend who is—there is a reason for the perpetual tardiness. And while it might have to do with your personality, or the way you were raised, or just your sluggish morning habits, psychologists say people are simply underestimating how much time tasks really require.

One thing is for sure. Late people are often misunderstood, according to Diana DeLonzor author of "Never Be Late Again," who researched the consistently tardy. DeLonzor admitted that before she wrote her book she struggled with arriving on time, but whenever she aimed to make a plan to beat the clock—it didn't work.

“It didn’t matter what time I got up,” she said. “I could get up at six and still be late for work at nine.”

She found that although the natural reaction might be to blame people who have difficulty with time management, the truth is there might be more happening in their brain, preventing them from being on-time to appointments or duties.

"Lateness is really a commonly misunderstood problem," DeLonzor said. "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. Telling a chronic late person to be on time is like telling a dieter, 'Don't eat so much.'"

Why you're not on time.

Lateness can frustrate people around you and impact relationships and it often starts early in life.

"[For many] it started in childhood, and they're late for not only things that have to do with other people, but things that will only hurt themselves," DeLonzor tells HuffPost. They'll show up to the gym, for instance, 10 minutes before it closes, or they'll be late for job interviews."

For DeLonzor, she found her husband getting frustrated with her delays, faced trouble over it at work, and even her friendships were starting to crumble because she struggled to arrive places on time.

In her research, she discovered that some people actually view time differently than their punctual friends and family. She gave a test to measure how on-time people and tardy people understand the passage of time:

"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."

Cleveland State University researchers also used a time perception test in their study by using stop-watches. Their results found similar consistencies with DeLonzor's tests. They also found that tardy people underestimate how time passes consistently.

“People who are chronically late are often wrestling with anxiety, distraction, ambivalence or other internal psychological states,” said Pauline Wallin, a psychologist in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

What type of late person are you?

While the psychological traits behind chronically late people are all similar, DeLonzor revealed, and there are actually different types of late people – the most common of which are "the deadliners," "the producers," "the absent-minded professors," "the rebels," and sometimes, "the rationalizers," "the indulgers," or "the evaders."

"Deadliners" dig adrenaline rushes that come with the last minute sprint to the end of a task. They have a hard time motivating themselves without that looming deadline, without that crisis on the horizon," she said. "Then, as they realize there's no way they're going to make it on time, that positive feeling turns to dread. Then they start beating themselves up."

"Producers" are consistent over-schedulers, packing as much activity into one day than they can probably take on. "[The producer] thinks she can go for a run, clean the house, put in a load of laundry, pick up the dry cleaning, take a shower and get the kids dropped off at school in an hour," DeLonzor said.

"Absent minded professors" are chronically distracted and could even have a diagnosable condition that comes in the form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she explained. "When they head out the door, they might notice the drapes are crooked and they run over and fix the drapes. On the way back they'll get distracted by seeing the computer is on and they go to turn it off but have to surf the web first," she said. "They have a hard time getting from point a to point be without getting distracted by c, d and e."

"Rebels" are less common, a sub-type, DeLonzor explained. They like the thrill of lateness and enjoy the idea of a person waiting for them. Another sub-group that is also less common, and similar to "rebels" are "the rationalizers" who often blame their causes for tardiness on traffic, other people or influences. "Indulgers" tend to struggle with self control and might mention 'I don't feel like going,' or other excuses, and "the evader" who keeps correcting their outfit or shoes to postpone leaving the house for the day.

Don't take it personal.

You might have a tardy co-worker, friend or family member who just can't make his or her point of arrival on time. People shouldn't take that personal though, DeLonzor explained. There might be room for more empathy for those who take longer to get places. It doesn't mean that your friend is trying to be late on purpose and often psychological and physiological components can contribute to their last-minute arrivals.

"It’s not that they don’t value your time. It’s not that they like the attention when they walk into the room,” she told the New York Times back in 2007.

“Most late people have been late all their life, and they are late for every type of activity — good or bad,” DeLonzor said.

Huffington Post blogger Greg Savage asked in January 2013: "How did it get to be "OK" for people to be late for everything?" The answer to that, as DeLonzor explained, is complicated and related to our current relationship to technology. In a post that garnered 350,000 Facebook likes, he said:

It's simply that some people no longer even pretend that they think your time is as important as theirs. And technology makes it worse. It seems texting or emailing that you are late somehow means you are no longer late. Rubbish. You are rude. And inconsiderate.

While Savage argues that manners may have disappeared, technology and time management have to do with it, DeLonzor argues. By taking five simple steps, DeLonzor explains how you or other 'late-comers' can become better prepared.

  1. Re-think how long it takes you to prepare in the morning.
    Be honest. How long does it really take you to get to work, school, the gym, or any other locale you're trying to reach? As DeLonzor says, "Late people tend to engage in magical thinking," she says. It's time to relearn how to tell time."
  2. Reframe your thoughts, not just your actions. What are the positives to getting places on time? Jot down the things that can motivate you to be on time so that way there's no rush for you before the next deadline.
  3. Soak up the downtime.
    Between the rushing, look for ways to relax and enjoy your life, instead of rushing to fill time and pencil people in to your calendar.
  4. Budget your time in a different way.
    Don't try "split second timing" as DeLonzor calls it. If you need 30 minutes to arrive somewhere, give yourself that time—not 20 minutes. Be realistic.
  5. Disrupt your daily flow.
    Reschedule your day to reverse the bad habits, and behaviors that put you back into the tardy lifestyle. Make a list and reevaluate how you handle your timeline activities. What's your number one priority? Start to think incorporate more downtime in your daily flow, that way you have a grip on the big tasks or activities when they come.
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