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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.