I’m so sorry, really. I just got stuck (in traffic, with the kids, with a call… Fill in your own mostly real excuse).
Sound all too familiar? Do you have a friend or family member who can’t seem to show up at the appointed place at the confirmed time—or perhaps is it YOU who’s frequently late?
We all have an occasional life challenge that presents a speed bump in the schedule, but habitual lateness says quite a lot about you. Volumes, in fact, and sorry to say, much of it is negative.
Last-minute rushing creates stress for you, no doubt. But also consider the worry and irritation it causes for those who are left waiting. No charm lies in “fashionably late” from the perspective of others. It’s a habit that people find annoying if not disappointing, insulting, and infuriating.
Is tardiness becoming your M.O., a trait that detracts from your popularity or trustworthiness? Good news: This damaging habit can be reversed.
Think about the last time you had plans to meet or were expected to arrive at a particular time—and didn’t. What did you say when you finally got there? Hint: It usually starts with “I’m so sorry I’m late, but…”
- “I thought I could squeeze in just one more thing.”
This is admirable but usually just wishful thinking. Chances are you’re already cutting the arrival time very tight, and adding another to-do, even a quick one, will put you over the edge in time.
We women are such multi-taskers—or people pleasers—that putting on the brakes, let alone leaving a detail unhandled is hard. But being late is the common result. Next time, just say “No” to last-minute requests, or let your voicemail pick up that last-minute call.
- “What I’m doing is really more important than you or this meeting.”
Okay, you’re probably not saying this out loud, but it’s a subconscious thought that can instigate lateness.
Are you perhaps the rebellious type who doesn’t like to be told what to do, or perhaps a little passive aggressive? By showing up in your own good time, you’re silently declaring you’re the one with the power to follow through—or not. You’re grasping at control.
The trouble is, though you don’t voice it, your meaning is loud and clear to those on the receiving end, who may come away feeling slighted or manipulated.
- “I’m so frustrated—I couldn’t find my keys/wallet/phone at the last minute.”
Hmmm. That would be me. Seems like some important item has often and mysteriously gone MIA at the very moment I’m ready to walk out the door. After I call my phone to find it and rummage to find my keys, I swear I’ll have them out and ready next time. I promise.
- “I’m more focused when I wait until the last minute and feel that adrenaline going.”
Could you could be “addicted” to a crisis mentality? While uncomfortable, this state forces you to crank all cylinders up to turbo. Pursuit of that supercharged “high” can manifest in several ways. Procrastination is one example. Putting off a task until the deadline is near practically guarantees an adrenaline rush.
You’re likely to experience a downside to that energy charge, though. Adrenaline is one of the stress hormones. Think about that for a moment: Seeking out an adrenaline rush unnecessarily puts your body systems under stress.
Need another reason to kick this addiction? Rushing around frantically probably also means you show up to your date or meeting looking flustered and disorganized. Not a great first impression—or second, or third.
- “I’m a Type B personality. It’s just the way I am.”
Actually, this thinking has some scientific truth to it. A recent study revealed that Type As think that a minute lasts 58 seconds (and will likely be on time), whereas a Type B “senses” one minute has passed after about 77 seconds. Misjudging time may make a B more likely to be late.
If you’re a Type B, then it’s time to look at your watch.
- “I have a real excuse this time: (insert kids, weather, traffic, bad hair day). Really.”
Sure, life does get in the way sometimes. But be realistic. True emergencies are rare, and you can probably plan better for those other time-sucking details that come up. And climbing over moviegoers in a dark theatre is never fun.
- “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable by arriving too early.”
Believe it or not, this unconscious thought can be an underlying reason for chronic lateness. For many, being idle or just waiting around can feel awkward, so being late is one way to prevent this possibility. Keep in mind that this “solution” is a problem in itself.
Seeing these seven common thoughts in black and white, you’ll agree that they sound like feeble excuses, don’t they?
It’s time to get serious about habitual tardiness. Realize that others have a hard time making plans with you because they don’t find you dependable. Or resent the time wasted waiting for you to arrive. Or feel hurt and inconvenienced by your behavior.
We’re exposed daily to hard news, disappointments, illness, relationship troubles… So many stresses in the world are beyond our control. But being late? It’s a serious stressor, but it’s also preventable. You owe it to yourself and others to change this habit.
You can be different. Here’s how: Don’t shoot for “on time.” Plan instead to arrive 10 minutes early.
No, you probably won’t get it right the first time you try. Like anything else, learning punctuality will take practice. Until you’ve established that new 10-minute habit, you’ll have to remind yourself again and again of the effect of tardiness: Not showing up on time inflicts unnecessary stress on you and those around you.
That might make you think, “But what about #7 above?” Simple planning for any extra moments fixes that problem. Pack a paperback or crossword puzzle in your purse before you go. Or, once you arrive (early!), use your newfound time to buy and drink some tea, or just take in your surroundings and enjoy the peace and quiet of not rushing around.
A note from the other side of the coin: If you’re punctual but dealing with a chronically late individual, it’s time to have a real, direct conversation. Explain honestly how you feel when you’re constantly kept waiting. Point out gently but firmly what the person may not realize, that this behavior erodes trust and good will, regardless of effusive apologies. If the late habit doesn’t change, perhaps it’s time to stop making plans with this person—because the stress can undermine even the best of relationships.
If you’re habitually late, imagine the relief you’ll feel when you’re on time. Relieved? It’s no exaggeration to say that your relationships, jobs, and dependability are at stake if you can’t get chronic tardiness under control. You have your elegant, professional, reliable image to gain, and not a thing to lose but stress. Ahh!