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This is why you’re always late—and it’s not your fault

If you’re part of the 20% of the population who finds it hard to be punctual, this is why.

This is why you’re always late—and it’s not your fault
[Photo: Jaelynn Castillo/Unsplash]
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Confession: I have a tendency to be late . . . but only to certain things. For example, I rarely am late on a deadline or to an interview. I like to be exactly on time and not one minute sooner. However, I’m almost always late to a party, meeting, or appointment.

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Since I write about productivity, organization, and time management, this might seem absurd. And the truth is, I feel bad when I’m late. But after reading Grace Pacie’s book Late! A Timebender’s Guide to Why We Are Late and How We Can Change, I learned that I’m not inconsiderate or a slacker; I’m what she calls a “Timebender.”

“Research shows that 20% of the population finds it hard to be punctual,” says Pacie, who also identifies as a Timebender. “Time seems to work differently for us. We bend time; sometimes it stretches and sometimes it shrinks.”

What Are Timebenders?

The time-bending behavior is made up of components that combine together to make someone late. According to Pacie, Timebenders:

  • Have a problem measuring time and typically underestimate by 20% to 30%
  • Try to fit in extra tasks just before the deadline, because they feel uncomfortable with closure
  • Have a mental block about “transition time” and, as a result, regularly leave home around five minutes later than they intended
  • Subconsciously resist leaving until the last minute, shaving journey times to the minimum and not allowing for the unexpected (or even the expected)

“This is how our thinking becomes illogical, and we end up late even though we wanted to be on time,” she says.

It’s Nature, Not Nurture

People often wonder why you don’t just stop the behavior, but it’s innate, linked to the J-P element of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, says Pacie, adding that Timebenders are Ps.

“Ps have a deep preference for keeping our options open—we don’t like bringing things to a close,” she says. “On the other hand, Js seek closure and can’t wait to get things finished ahead of schedule.”

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Since we’re born this way, Timebenders have a hard time breaking the habit. “I don’t believe we can ever free ourselves from the mindset, but we can act out of preference in the same way that an introvert can adopt extrovert behavior,” says Pacie.

Fortunately, being a Timebender is not all bad. “We are universally criticized for being late, but our positive attributes are never acknowledged,” says Pacie. For example, she says Timebenders are often adaptable and flexible. They don’t mind being interrupted by something interesting. They can increase the speed at which they work, focus well under pressure, and are usually good at hitting real deadlines.

Being late is often seen as a character defect, especially in the workplace. However, Pacie says this negative view is out of proportion and should be challenged. “Colleagues who are obsessive about punctuality fail to notice that the person last to arrive is also usually the person last to leave,” she says. “People who arrive early for meetings and events are often less productive than those who arrived a few minutes late, because the Timebenders were working right up to the deadline on their previous task.”

In our personal lives, these advantages can be a harder sell. “Our loved ones can be very hurt when they realize we can be early ‘when it matters,’ but we’re always late for them,” says Pacie. “They think we do it on purpose.”

Breaking the Habit

If you want to kick your chronic lateness habit, there are several things you can do that Pacie outlines in her book. For example, always ask for a deadline.

“A deadline must be real and have consequences; it has no effect if plucked from the air,” she says, adding that deadlines kick Timebenders into action (which explains why I’m not late with my assignments). “We work most effectively just before a deadline.”

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But Pacie cautions Timebenders not to start a job too early as a way to compensate. “You will just fritter away your time until the deadline brings your mind into focus,” she says.

Breaking the habit might be hard, but it’s worthwhile. “Timebenders are often in denial and don’t see themselves as always late, because it doesn’t happen every time,” says Pacie. “This can damage relationships, because it causes pain and anger in our partners. It will help if they can understand that although being on time might be easy for them, it is a more complex problem for 20% of the population. They should know that your timebending also brings advantages to your relationship, and that together you make a good team.”