Chronic Lateness, and How to Cure It

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Everyone has one of those friends in their social circle that is late for everything. I had one such a friend, and he always had the wildest, most incredible explanations for those of us kept waiting. His breathless stories always kept us entertained, but after a while it seemed like too much of a coincidence that all of these crazy things would happen every single time just as he was leaving the house.

It wasn’t until he showed up an hour late to a friend’s surprise party that some of us decided to try and fix the situation. We figured if he was always late by half an hour, telling him to meet us half an hour earlier would cause him to show up right on time. No confrontation, no problem.

Until, of course, he figured it out one day when he actually managed to make it out of the house on time and was forced to wait half an hour, fuming, before the rest of us showed up, cool as cucumbers. The game was obviously up.

Some might read that story and think that my friend didn’t like the taste of his own medicine, but in some ways I think he was more upset that none of us had been honest enough to tell him how we really felt about his chronic lateness, and how much this habit affected our group’s relationship with him. Interestingly enough, after he figured out how we had tricked him, his lack of punctuality became less of a problem.

Does this story sound familiar to you? Maybe it describes someone you know, or maybe it hit a little too close to home. Running late is never convenient for anyone, but when you’re forever falling behind it can have a negative effect on your life, and affects the lives of others in turn.

One of my favorite authors writing about time management is Julie Morgenstern (I talk a little bit about her books here) and she has an interesting way of diagnosing the causes behind chronic lateness. In her book Time Management from the Inside Out, she suggests that if you’re always late by different amounts of time, the problem lies within your schedule and work habits. However, always being late by the same amount of time demonstrates a certain amount of skill and consistency that Morgenstern speculates has psychological roots.

Years later, I found myself in a similar situation with another tardy friend. Remembering how badly my friends and I had handled the previous problem, I figured my best option to fix things was to be honest.

I’m so glad that I did. My friend opened up to me about how anxious it made her to sit alone in a public place, so she would wait until the last possible moment to leave her house and avoid this possibility altogether. It made me less irritated knowing she wasn’t trying to deliberately inconvenience me and instead I was happy to help. We agreed that on our next outing I would pick her up at her place and we would walk to our destination together. The problem was solved, but it made me wish I had handled the situation with my first friend better. Who knows? He may have harbored similar anxieties.

If you’ve got a punctuality problem, then I hope you take heart in knowing that you’re not alone. Everyone is late on occasion. But the more you think about the reasons why you’re falling behind, or always rushing, the closer you are to unlocking the clues to change your habits and finally start showing up on time.

If the problem is technical, try allowing yourself bigger cushions in your schedule between appointments, giving yourself more travel time and streamlining your process for getting out the door so you’re not constantly ducking back in to grab forgotten items or complete tasks.

If the problem is psychological, try figuring out what motivates you to get out the door in time. What’s stopping you? Changing your habits completely is often a challenging task, so push yourself to leave early and plan for an activity while you wait.

Now you know why I always carry a book in my bag with me. I hate waiting just as much as you do!

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What are some of the ways that you’ve cured your chronic lateness, or the chronic lateness of others? Drop me a line at keepingbusywithb@gmail.com or comment below. I love learning from other people’s stories.

I like writing about time management and productivity because it’s something we all struggle with from time to time. (Even me. Shocking, I know.) For more advice on what to actually do when you’re running late, click here. Want to start your mornings off on the right foot and not be late at all? Check out my blog post here. Finally, if you’re looking to create a little extra time throughout your day, I’ve got a few ideas here on how to make running errands a more streamlined process.

How to Salvage Your Morning When You’re Running Late

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$@#! happens. Even the most organized and prepared people (moi included) will on occasion find themselves having a hard time getting out the door in the morning. You know the kind of morning I’m talking about- your alarm doesn’t go off, there’s something wrong with your shower head, you find a stain on your favorite shirt.

Been there. Done that.

Let’s talk defense first. If you’re not a morning person, you may want to check out this post on how I survive my mornings (because, let’s face it, I’m not one either). Ditto if you’ve got kids, or you’re just generally a very busy person. An organized morning routine is one of the best ways to prevent the nightmare I’ve outlined above.

But sometimes, life gets in the way and even good organization can’t help us. Starting the morning off badly can set the tone for the rest of the day, so it’s important to have a good strategy to divert any crises and save your morning from complete ruin. Here are some of the practices that I use during my own crazy mornings.

Call ahead and admit you’re running late. Whether you’re running behind to get to a shift at work, or an appointment, equipping other people with the knowledge you’re running late gives them a opportunity to take action- either to cover for you until you arrive, or to rearrange their own schedules accordingly.

It can be hard to admit that we’ve made a mistake, and yes, your co-workers might be irritated with you, but they’re going to be a whole lot more irritated when you waltz in the door twenty minutes after their shift was supposed to end with no noticed or explanation from you. Believe me when I say it’s worth the hassle (plus you may be surprised at how much more accommodating people can be when you’re just honest with them).

Calling ahead also gives you the opportunity to give colleagues or staff the information they need to continue their work without you. It allows them to get on with their own lives, lets you off the hook until you’re able to make it in, and lessens the impact that your late arrival will have on the rest of everyone else’s day.

Once you’ve made the necessary arrangements, take a quick look at your schedule to see what other meetings and appointments might be affected by your late start. Giving people as much notice when rescheduling or cancelling appointments is not only professional, but also kind, and makes up somewhat for the inconvenience.

Lastly (and I know this is a hard one)- try not to panic. When you’re feeling rushed and frantic you are prone to make mistakes or forget things, which slows you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when nothing is going your way, but personally once I let people know I’m going to be late and rearrange the day’s schedule accordingly, I try to stop looking at the clock. Once you’re late, you’re late and no amount of clock-watching or teeth-grinding is going to make a difference.

Time has this funny way of continuing to march through our days without us. It’s important to pause, and find your moment to jump back in on the upbeat. If your timing is right, then I’m confident you’ll get your groove back and restore some of natural rhythm back to your day.

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I want to hear about your worst morning ever. No, seriously. Was there ever a time when you were horribly, inexcusably late for work? I once was stuck on a subway for two hours with no cell phone reception on the way to an appointment across town. I still have visions of the look on the secretary’s face. Comment below or drop me a line at keepingbusywithb@gmail.com if you’re just too embarrassed to share.