The List

How to Overcome Being Chronically Late

Late for everything? Here are seven tips to help you break the habit.

Photo by Andy Kirby / Getty Images


The following was adapted from an article by Angela Haupt in the Aug. 16, 2021, The Washington Post.

Elise Volkmann spent years operating on EST: Elise Standard Time. Her close friends and family knew that meant she would always be 15 minutes late.

“I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know how to fix it,” says Volkmann, 30, a massage therapist in Seattle. Until one day she did: She started leaving home at least 30 minutes before she needed to and realized that not being in a hurry was “awesome.”

Christina Garrett, 36, a mom of five in Montgomery, Alabama, describes herself as a recovering chronically late person. Being on time felt like “climbing Mount Everest,” she says. Something would inevitably pop up as she was on her way out the door.

Garrett reached a turning point when she was pulled over by the police three times in one week because she was rushing. One of the officers pointed out that lots of people get into accidents because they’re running late and driving too fast—and reminded her that she had “precious cargo” in her minivan.

Like Volkmann and Garrett, many of us are chronically late—to work, to dentist and hair appointments, to birthday parties and to anything else with a start time.

This tardiness can be explained by a number of factors, including specific personality traits and a lack of time management skills, experts say.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome chronic lateness. Here are experts’ favorite strategies:

Figure out exactly how long it will take to get somewhere, then build in extra time. People often underestimate the amount of time it will take to reach their destination, says Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist based in Massachusetts. You might assume it will take 20 minutes to drive to the movie theater—but that’s not accounting for traffic, finding a parking spot, walking to the entrance, standing in line and then settling into your seat. Go ahead and check Google Maps for an estimate on travel time, but don’t overlook all those transition activities.

Surround yourself with clocks. “We’re all familiar with digital clocks, but analog clocks—the ones with faces—give you a different visual cue, and you can actually see the passing of time,” says Rashelle Isip, a New Yorkbased time management coach. Prominently display clocks everywhere you spend time, she suggests, including your living room and office. Wearing a “good old-fashioned wristwatch” can also help you get in the habit of checking the time, Isip says.

Set lots of alarms. This is one of Solanto’s favorite tips for people who struggle with punctuality. “Set one for the time you have to start getting ready to leave and one for when you actually have to leave the house,” she says. Set another alarm for whatever time your appointment starts. These frequent audible reminders can help get your attention if you’ve lost track of time.

Create artificial deadlines. If you’re what Sapadin describes as a “crisis-maker,” you crave the thrill of a tight deadline. So set an extra early deadline for yourself: If you absolutely have to be out of the house at 7 p.m., tell yourself you’ll leave by 6:30, or else. “You’re fooling yourself, but we do lots of things to fool ourselves, and it works,” she says.

Don’t start an enjoyable—or important—activity before a pressing event. Solanto advises not diving into your favorite video game, or even beginning to tackle a work task, in the hour or so leading up to your intended departure time. “Putting the brakes on” is challenging, she says. It wouldn’t be surprising if you were still engrossed in the activity hours past the time you were supposed to leave.

Plan what you’ll do if you’re early. Many prefer to be late than to wind up with time to kill. The solution? Bring something you’ll enjoy, like a magazine you don’t get to read often or a special game you downloaded on your smartphone. That can make the waiting time more palatable, Solanto says.

Envision how you’ll feel if you’re late. When an alarm goes off, signaling that it’s time to start getting ready, imagine what it will be like if you’re late to your appointment. As Solanto puts it: “How is the other person going to feel? How is the employer going to feel, or the teacher? How are you going to feel walking in late, especially when there’s a group involved?” Transporting yourself to that moment, and imagining the consequences of being late in visceral detail, can be very motivating.

Bonus tip: If you’re punctual but dealing with a person who’s chronically late, address the tardiness in a one-to-one conversation. “Try to understand where they’re coming from and what challenges they might be facing,” Isip says, and talk about how you can best provide support. And be patient: “Like anything, we can’t expect people to change right away or on a dime.”


3 Keys to Breaking Through Stagnation

The following points from Ikeda Sensei were adapted from “How to Experience a Breakthrough Practice” in the July 21, 2017, World Tribune, pp. 6–7.

| 1 | PRAYER BASED ON A VOW

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo based on a vow enables us to bring forth Buddhahood. Ikeda Sensei writes of this great vow: “The heart of the great vow for kosen-rufu and the life state of Buddhahood are one and the same. Therefore, when we dedicate our lives to this vow, we can bring forth the supreme nobility, strength and greatness of our lives.” (January 2014 Living Buddhism, p. 8)

 

| 2 | CHANGE BEGINS WITHIN

When we reach a deadlock, it’s easy to look for answers outside ourselves, but our prayers diminish in power when we do so. Sensei explains why: “To seek the Mystic Law somewhere outside of us essentially amounts to evading responsibility for our own lives.” (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 31)

 

| 3 | DO YOUR BEST

Half-hearted prayer and action lead us to deadlock. Sensei encourages us to exert ourselves fully in any battle to win: “When facing any challenge, it is important to attack it with all our might. Focusing all our efforts on this challenge is the way to victory.” (June 2, 2017, World Tribune, p. 3)