4 Habits Of Punctual People

Those people who are always on time? How to they do it? If you are part of the 20% of Americans who are chronically late, get ready to change everything.

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Plan any event and chances are one in five of the people you invite will be late.

A study done at San Francisco State University found that about 20% of the U.S. population is chronically late—but it’s not because they don't value others' time. It’s more complicated than that, says lead researcher Diana DeLonzor.

"Repetitive lateness is more often related to personality characteristics such as anxiety or a penchant for thrill-seeking," she says. "Some people are drawn to the adrenaline rush of that last-minute sprint to the finish line, while others receive an ego boost from over-scheduling and filling each moment with activity."

In her book Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged, DeLonzor says our relationship with time often starts in childhood and becomes an ingrained habit.

"Looking back, you were probably late or early all of your life—it’s part physiological and part psychological," she says. "Most chronically late people truly dislike being late, but it's a surprisingly difficult habit to overcome. Telling a late person to be on time is a little like telling a dieter to simply stop eating so much."

DeLonzor says the majority of people have a combination of late and punctual habits—usually on time, but with a frantic rush at the last minute—but we can all learn from those who are chronically punctual. DeLonzor shares four traits that always on time share:

1. They’re realistic thinkers.

Punctual people know how long things take. Chronically late people, however, engage in what DeLonzor calls "magical thinking."

"If once, 10 years ago, they made it to work in 20 minutes, they believe that’s how long it should take," she says. "They forget about the 99% of the times that took 30 minutes."

To develop realistic habits, DeLonzor suggests relearning to tell time. Write down how long you think it takes to shower, get ready in the morning and drive to work. Then for a week, track how long those things really take. Chronically late people are often off of their time estimates by 25% to 30%, says DeLonzor.

2. They give themselves buffer time.

Punctual people are usually early, says DeLonzor. "Being late makes them stressed out and they don’t like feeling rushed," she says. "Late people get stressed out from being late, too, but they don’t strive to be early; they tend to time things to the minute."

For a 9 a.m. meeting, for example, a punctual person would try to arrive by 8:45 a.m. or 8:50 a.m., allowing enough time for an unexpected delay, such as traffic or a full parking garage. A punctual person reviews directions online, checks traffic reports before leaving, and some will even drive to an new location the day before to understand the route. To be punctual, plan to arrive early.

3. They’re organized.

DeLonzor says that 45% of everything we do on a daily basis is automatic: "Our lives are filled with habits—from the way you brush teeth to how you get dressed and leave for work," she says, adding that they’re necessary. "If we didn’t do things automatically, it would take us forever to get through our day."

The habits of people who are always on time are highly structured. They analyze their daily activities, set routines, and stick to them on regular basis. Chronically late people, however, don’t have structure and often fall on the attention deficit disorder spectrum, says DeLonzor.

"Instead of thinking about why their routines don’t work and trying something different next time, chronically late people simply hope that tomorrow will be better," she says.

To become punctual, DeLonzor suggests putting more routines and structure into your life. For example, do everything you can to prepare for the morning the night before.

4. They’re comfortable with downtime.

Being punctual often means getting to meeting or an appointment early. Punctual people use the extra five or 10 minutes as a chance to catch up on emails, read over notes, or simply enjoy the solitude.

Chronically late people, however, hate downtime. They enjoy the thrill of that last-minute sprint to the finish line and crave stimulation. To be more comfortable with downtime, bring along something to fill those spare moments.

"Knowing that you have something to occupy your time will help," says DeLonzor.

[Image: Flickr user David Sim]

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54 Comments

  • Azatuhi Ayrikyan

    I was one of those chronically late people too...and then I moved to Germany. Here, being late to an appointment can lose you business and even get you fired. In my efforts to adapt to these new cultural norms, I have begun to practice many of the approaches discussed in this article, and find the analysis quite accurate. For instance, I always overplan, and try to do too many things before my appointment. Yes, people are often busy and have many tasks to accomplish, but making time to focus on one task at a time and planning ahead for a meeting has brought me more peace of mind. If you work in a culture where mild tardiness is acceptable, this advice may seem overly critical. However, if your job or livelihood are on the line because you are in a work culture where punctuality is very important, this advice is quite valuable. Even if you don't work in Germany or Switzerland, working with people from these countries will require you to adapt to their standards.

  • I call BS on this. All that negative labling(selfish, unorganized, uncomfortable with down time--really?) doesnt make anyone feel great or get them to their event/engagement any earlier! Not everyone is thoughtless some people are just a few minutes late whether due to traffice, valet, mitigating circumstances, having a life that can sometimes derail things, or comes firts over everything, etc.. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  • Zack Oliver

    I think that, speaking from my experience, late people are stressed about a few things; in general late people have a handful of big problems they can't solve. When you have stuff on your plate, the last place you want to be is at work where you won't have hardly any 'me' time, and have to solve company problems instead of your own. The worst is that because work takes so much energy and focus, you are burned out by the end of the day and don't have the emotional or physical energy to solve your personal problems...so the cycle begins again the next day, and people show up late because, well, they would rather be somewhere else.

    The weird thing about the rush you get being late is it is almost the best part of the morning. You get to focus on something else other than your problems as you are driving to work, trying to speed safely and avoid tickets, hitting every green light and avoiding the slow traffic. When you just barely make it on time, there is no sweeter relief!

  • Pratiti Nath

    this is true. you perfectly described my habits. i am always 10-15 mins early for every event.

  • Sue Miller

    Try 7 kids, all of whom refused to come out of the 'oven' until the DR forced them at 10 months and then they presented at 40% overweight !
    Surely this trauma was enough to cause serious conflict in my adult life !

  • Good article. I realized years ago that a good part of the reason I tended to be late was because I was always trying to arrive right on the dot in order to avoid being early. Being early makes me incredibly anxious. I just hate everything about it. I hate the uncomfortable attempts at small talk. I hate looking like an over anxious, neurotic brown nosed. I also understand that a lot of people run late and hate that me being early makes everyone else feel pressured. I just truly despise showing up early. But I've learned to suck it up and hide in my car or a bathroom until I can walk in right on time.

    Also, I've never understood the people who view those who are late as selfish people who have no respect for other people's time. No one likes being late. I'm not nearly narcissistic enough to be upset at someone who is clearly already anxious and probably ran into multiple hiccups on the way for not thinking about me more! Good grief, get over yourselves, people.

  • Jannifer Stoddard

    I totally agree. I never understood the selfish label or why some people get so angry if you're even a little late. If someone is late to meet me, I never get upset with them. Life is hard enough!

  • Geoffrey Tillman

    I am sorry but that is just plain rude. Being late repeatedly IS selfish and disrespectful to all of the people who show up on time. Quite frankly if someone is late more than 3 times in a month they should be fired on the spot.

  • Romana Khanom

    Sounds like you are the sad, selfish and obnoxious one. People who are too proud to be early are so obsessed with clock watching and the type who is not a relaxed, warm and friendly person to be around. Busy people or those with a lot on their minds will be late because they got more important things to deal with then constantly clock watch and ridicule those who are a little late. If I'm late, people just have to deal with it. Traffic, stress and being a single parent is a major factor in being late. You should get therapy if needed because that kind of stress cannot be great for your organs.

  • Daleen Mason Haifley

    I admit it; I read this article because I am habitually sliding in right on time or a couple minutes late and was hoping for some insight on what I could do differently. However, I am highly organized, very routine-oriented and completely realistic about time. I do enjoy and plan down-time in my day. So reading this, it would seem that one of my problems is not providing myself buffer time and I would completely agree with that. But here's something you didn't mention: I don't like to be early. On occasions when I am early, all I can think about is what I could have been getting done at home. (I am a homemaker and also work from home.) That is usually why I am late, too, come to think of it. I'm always trying to get one more thing done before I leave. I guess maybe that could come under not being realistic about time??

  • Nancy Austin

    What you describe makes me think, this is a person who truly needs to learn about mindfulness. Be present, right where and when you are instead of projecting yourself backwards and forwards in time. That time travel stuff makes people discontent every darn time. If you get somewhere 10 minutes early allow yourself to enjoy your surroundings, do a little exploring, just breathe for a bit--relax! Do you really think that when you're on your deathbed you're going to regret the few minutes early you were to that event? Why not pay attention to the play or light or the birds singing?

  • Yes, I used to think like that too, however that meant that I'm always late. It was frustrating, so I made a change. Now I know – when it's time to go, it's time to go.

  • This is THE MOST accurate account of being timely I have ever read! The only comment I could add is that I feel like people who are chronically late are often self-centered....thinking of themselves only. Those who get up early, get children ready, plan the night before, etc., are thinking of someone besides themselves. To arrive late is to say you are not thinking of the person who jumped through hoops to be on time.