Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Are You Always Late?

Becoming punctual will make you more popular and feel more confident.

I'm generally 15 minutes late. Not long ago, a friend who is always early informed me that 15 minutes late was still late.

I ruefully told her about a memorial service I had attended in which every dear friend told a story about the dear departed's chronic lateness.

Punctuality may not seem like a big deal to you—but it is a big deal to the people who are waiting for you.

Note: Texting that you'll be there in another 10 minutes isn't the fix.

The fix is to change your ways, which isn't easy. Becoming prompt requires the same kind of commitment as dieting or sticking to an exercise routine or learning to listen more than you talk.

One question to ask yourself is whether you are late to everything or just some types of engagements.

Another question: Are you always late by the same amount of time or does it vary? If, like me, you're late by the same 15 minutes, you may have a psychological hurdle you're battling every time you go anywhere. If your lateness fluctuates, your problem will be easier to fix. You just have to pay more attention.

Some chronically late people enjoy the rush of deadlines and urgency. Rushing makes them feel busy and important. Underneath, they may be bored.

Other people consistently underestimate how much time tasks will take and over-schedule themselves. They're working hard to feel good about themselves by being productive, probably compensating for a sense of failure.

Some are distractable, and lose track of the time, forget appointments until the last minute, or misplace their keys. They face little emergencies every time they move from one thing to the next.

You may be over-indulgent in other areas of your life, or rebelling and asserting yourself by making other people wait for you.

Perhaps you always need to do One More Thing before you leave your home or office.

Noticing your bad habits is the first step to changing them. If you're always late, break down the task and resolve to be on time to one regular event. You may find it feels so good you'll start being more punctual in other forums. For me, it was yoga class. I got to the point where I hated barging in after everyone else had already set up their mats and said "OHMM."  I also noticed that I spent the first five minutes (after arriving five minutes late) feeling badly about being late.

I'm now on time for about half the yoga classes I go to. For me, this is big progress and I find it makes me feel surprisingly good every time I pull off a punctual arrival. 

For editing or coaching on creative work habits, get in touch with me at expertediting.org.

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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