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.

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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  • 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!

  • 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??

  • 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.

  • Very good! Although I can't help but suggest one last salient point that I feel may have been overlooked and that it: 5. They were born either A) in Germany or B) to German parents. :-)

  • Wonderful assessment...I'm the punctual person 90% of the time and the other 10% when I am late my it can throw off my internal clock. Thanks for sharing this I will definitely pass it on. Tina W.

  • I think the whole issue depends on how organized you are. I am pretty sure that most of those who are not punctual do not have good organization skills. If you go to bed at the right time, you will wake up on time. This will help you set off early and get to your office on time. Also, having a to-do-list is so helpful because when you wake up in the morning, you will not waste some of your time roaming at home thinking about what you should take with you or what have to prepare first. So, organization skills are so helpful in making you a punctual person.

  • Oliver Wood

    You can tell from the number off comments removed that most people disagree with this notion. People who are punctual have too much time on their hands to think about the time they have on their hands. Arrive when you are ready and not when time dictates. I would rather be the one calmly starting a meeting when I want to start it than being the nervy one wondwring when it will start subject to someone else. Slave to a clock or someone's timetable means you have no power or control - be proportionately respectful of someone's time but don't worry a bit about being a little late. If you worry about that, you are worrying about the wrong things.

    I cannot stand people being early. Be on time or a little late and I have respect but people announcing they are thirty minutes early are telling me they have little respect for their own time.

    Poorly written article with spelling errors.

  • I agree with you on early birds announcing their earliness being irksome. I actually liked this article. It nails many truths on the head.

    Note: 'Wondering' you include in line 5--if that's what you meant to write -- is spelled without a 'w' in the middle.

  • Hera Kain

    Deleted comments do not mean that people disagreed. There could very well be other reasons but I can see how you'd feel the need to use their remived comments to support your already weak argument.

    I won't even bother to go into the numerous reasons why your comment makes no sense to the point of sounding like a joke because other people will do that. However, as someone who is chronically late you have definitely inspired me to read this book because if I don't, I may start using excuse logic like you to justify my inability to work towards personal growth. So thank you for the push to be better than your comment above. Regards....HK