The Homework Myth

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Why Are Some People Always Late? (And Other Human Puzzles)

I often find myself unable to let go of questions that don't seem to give most people any pause at all. For example, why do we cry at weddings? Read More

Or they're busy/unorganized

Or they're busy/unorganized and even though they try to plan enough time to get somewhere, when it comes down to it, they can't find everything they need to go to said thing when they need to and therefore run late to that meeting/event. Or, every once in awhile if they are anxious/don't really want to go, they may have to talk themselves into it; so they wait until the last possible minute to leave to get to that place (e.g. say it takes 7 minutes to get somewhere, they leave just that 7 minutes to get there, and if there is any sort of delay-can't find parking, accident, etc.-they are late.)

I do both...and I hate it. I always feel badly for the other person(s) and embarrassed for myself when I arrive late. I can stay organized/arrive on time for a few days at a time every so often, but I always fall back.

They could also be adrenaline junkies...rushing from thing to thing. I don't think that's my thing but maybe I outta think about that...

Recovering Adrenalin Junkie

I agree with your comment about adrenalin junkies. I am a recovering adrenalin junkie myself and I caught myself running late and scattered and stressed to almost everything (work, meeting up with friends, etc). It was a feeling of uncontrollable chaos, trying to beat all odds to make it somewhere on time. I grew up in an emotionally unpredictable home where this type of feeling was very familiar. Always being in the throes of chaos helped numb the deeper core feelings of grief, anger, etc. Again, I'm sure this may only apply to some people who always run late, but it was definitely the case for me. Interesting article!

i usually show up late to things because I feel like I'm wasting my time being there early

Well I usually try to show up right on time. But many times I plan a little too late and am late. But I'm not chronically late. And if I'm late it's usually not by many minutes. If it's something really important i wont be late tho

Finding the actual cause

I'm one of those people who's always late and there's one thing I can assure you: it's not because I want to and it's not because I don't care. I suffer the most from this, both at work and socially. It feels like an enormous handicap and it's driving me crazy, mostly because I can't even explain it myself, let alone to others. It shouldn't be hard to be on time, at least in theory, yet it constantly turns out to be. It's like I'm experiencing chronic blackouts and time just seems to jump, making it hard to manage. It's not even funny to hear the reasons most people seem to come up with as to what they believe has to be why some of us are always late. These are by definition exclusively the most anti-social reasons you can possibly think of. Even criminals and murderers get at least a "bad childhood" excuse handed to them, but being chronically late can apparently only be done by the truly evil amongst us. I just don't understand that primitive thought process we humans still tend to have sometimes. As long as there's no medical, or psychological explanation for an unliked behavior and therefor hasn't been added to the big book of politically correctness under the label "we're supposed be understanding about this now", it's automatically classified as "must be bad intentions". It's the easy way out: no responsibility and all the justification to just punish and condemn. Sometimes it even seems like that feels a little too good to some people. We like to believe humanity is civilized in this age, or at least the western world. In practice it's too often still guilty until proven innocent. Now there's a puzzle: aren't we supposed to know better by now?

I think there's really is something like an internal clock and it might just be that this can actually be broken for people like me. I have no other explanation.


I share this same behavior, of chronically being late but always being on time. I have a full-out routine in the mornings and before I go out, and I have everything ready and prepared by the time I need to leave- even usually early by fifteen minutes or so. I just have some weird feeling within me that holds me back from actually exiting the house, and I don't know what it is and it's driving me insane. I started noticing this habit for the past three to four years now, where I will stress out continually and stare at the clock counting down how late I am because I can't force myself to go. It's anxiety, I know, but I've been to every therapist known to man and no one can give me any ideas on how to help me push through the block. Once I do get out the door, it's like a rush and my day is back to feeling normal, except for feeling bad for having to apologize all the time for my absences..

i feel the same. something

i feel the same. something stops me from acting and planning and tells me to forces me or makes me get lost in the current moment/activity. i observe myself and certainly ..i don't know. th other stops me from posting

I have found the answer

The real reason for this kind of behavior is not enjoying your life or the task you are getting late for.
I am a victim of similar behavior pattern. I usually turned up 2-3 hours late for office. Unless it was absolutely necessary I would not be on time for a meeting. I needed someone to egg me to reach on time, At times I felt that I hated this person even though he was helping me for my own good. At the same time if I had to start something new or attend an interview or reach the park for a game, I would be invariably on time.

So If I enjoy something I will be on time else the mind thinks its doing the TASK (note not people involved) a favor by being on time. I request others involved to look at your respective lives closely and see if you are in a job or relationship that you have started to hate yourself for being in it. Try to amend it. It is said the real secret for lifelong happiness is loving what you do daily.

As for me I quit my job and am going back to studies.

sorry to disappoint you, but

sorry to disappoint you, but you'll probably find yourself again in that situation once you get back to work. hopefully not, but...
not to tell that you might be all the time late in preparing for your exams at uni.

as for me, I'm usually late even to things I enjoy, like parties and sort of things. what happens is that the more mandatory the punctuality (work, travels, dates) the shorteer the delay; so for example I'd turn up one hour late to a party, and NOT because I like being noticed :/

Well I'm harldy ever late,

Well I'm harldy ever late, but my mother often fails to get to places in/on time. Her reason is, as was said, getting caught up in preparations - eg. getting ready to go to work - and then when she remembers to check the time she is shocked to find out there are only a few more minutes left and does her best to hurry up (a little too late that is).

As for mysef I'm sort of an extreme in-time kind of guy. I get up an hour early and then have all the time in the world (one hour) to prepeare and fully wake up. Sometimes I just extended the alarm clock (if I feel like sleeping a bit more), other times I get up and then find myself very early, so I walk around the house for a bit, or find something short-term to kill those few minutes left. But either way, the truth is I could be ready in less then 10 minutes, but I choose to give myself an extra 50 minutes to get ready just in case something comes up - digestion problems, bad hair day, not finding what you need to take with you, requiring an extra 10-40 minutes of sleep (having trouble getting up). Every now and then if things go wrong I also tend to observe the clock more closely as departure time approaches but the only way I can truly be late is if I completely fall asleep.

So my suggestion to people who have trouble in this area is (not to get up another hour before go-time) but to establish some sort of routine so give yourself a bit of extra time and figure out how long individual activites take (getting dressed, packing up, brushing teeth, etc.) after a while you'll get the hang of it and have a good feel for how long it takes you to get ready and hopefully will have a better time at chosing the time when you should start the preparations for departure.

Ha - I sound like your mum. I

Ha - I sound like your mum. I am often late (not chronically, but regularly), particularly for one of my jobs, and the routine thing wouldn't change a thing for me. I can genuinely try to be on time - I can follow a routine and know exactly what I have to do, but I still get caught up. Is your mum the day-dreamy type? I get caught up in my head a lot. That's where lateness often comes from for me.

I have to say, I hate the judgement that comes across in this post. The author clearly prioritises being on time as something critical to being a good human. But in this, as in all things in life, different people prioritise things different ways. For me, lateness really isn't that big a deal. If other people are late meeting me, meh. It's not something that's going to worry me. I certainly don't see it as being a selfish act. It's just not their first priority.

It's much like cleanliness. Some people are by nature incredibly clean. Others, not so much. One isn't worth more than the other, simply by being. It's the judgement that we attach to the act that makes it so. Just because your world view is one where being on time is important doesn't automatically make it so for everyone.

Thank you. Your comment nails

Thank you. Your comment nails what I too thought when I read the post: definite judgement without understanding. There seems to be a real gap between those who are on time and those of us who are not--with the former pronouncing "Just Do It."

I have come to realize that I have a terrible sense of time. This is not unlike folks who have a terrible sense of direction. My husband can say "I'll be home in 15 minutes" and walk in 15 minutes later. My sense of what 15 minutes is, and what I can accomplish in that time period, is loose to the point of meaningless.

I will say that a characteristic of this handicap is that I frequently find myself in the flow, completely absorbed in what I'm doing-- and also that I am easily distracted, flitting from one planned thing (reading my email) to something time-gobbling and unplanned (reading this old post and commenting). I honestly could not give you a good guess about what time it is now, though I think I sat down to read my email at 7 a.m. (Glanced up to see it's 8:01, when I would have guessed about 7:35.)

I've come to some understanding of my inability to judge time and have made behavioral adjustments to keep it from sinking me. I use ROUTINES (reminding myself not to stray) for getting out of the house. I also create buffered deadlines.

But no matter how many times I run late, I can assure you I am not an unkind, rude, or angry person--any more than is my friend Laura who can't tell which direction she's facing.

No excuses

Honestly, people like you should just commit suicide - you offer nothing to society - to openly admit you get lost in your head - well... you might as well just end it all as you have no worth to other humans. I'm deadly serious this isn't trolling. People like you fuck the world up for the rest of us

worth what?

No, you're no troll in fact. You are just an unsound mind, a fool, nothing else.

You know what? Hitler too decided that some people meant nothing to the rest of the World and he ended up fucking it up himself. So you're in good company too ;)

some "insight" into *my* lateness....

I'm always late, and hate being rushed. Because of this, I will set aside extra *hours* so that I can get ready at a relaxed pace, but when it comes down to it, I still end up being rushed, and late. If I put aside 2 hours prep time it will take me the 2 hours, 3 hours and it will take me 3. I try to plan, and estimate, and prepare as much as I can beforehand, but it doesn't take into account everything. If I do happen to be on time (although never early,) as I leave the house I forgot something, or I notice the dog hasn't been fed and watered, so I tend to that, making me late once again (I always debate ignoring these last-minute tasks (aside from feeding the dog of course) but can never bring myself to do it.) Just having an appointment makes me anxious, and I very easily get overwhelmed when there is a lot on my plate (or probably what most people would consider a reasonable amount) making it hard to concentrate on the task at hand, the time, remembering my purse... it's always something. Do I just have too much going on? Does my memory just inconvenience me by reminding me of tasks at inopportune moments (YES!)? Is there something I could do about it?? I feel horrible when I'm late, and the jokes at family gatherings are getting old. I don't do it on purpose, and most of the others probably don't either, so go easy on them - perhaps it was stressful enough just trying to get there at all, let alone at a specific time.

Time awareness

I have noticed that one cause is sometimes that people have very bad time awareness.

I do that and what I end up doing is preparing with a lot of time before I'm supposed to leave. That way the worst that can happen is wait and watch tv if I'm too early to leave. I set up alarms and everything because if I think something is going to take 5 minutes it's actually 15 or more.

It doesn't mean the person wants attention or doesn't care as another person said. It's actually sometimes a bit shameful to be so late.

I'm intentionally late

I'm a habitual late-comer to events because I'm afraid of being the first one there. I HATE meeting friends for dinner, a movie, etc, and then arriving early to be caught in that awkward throw of "Do I stay in the car? Do I get a table? Do I go in? Do I wait outside?" I especially aim to be right on time or a few minutes late to events where there will be other people (church events, weddings, academic dinners, etc) so I don't have to be there early, alone and forced to talk to strangers. I tried for a time in college to combat this by getting ready with plenty of time to spare and setting my mind to show up early; but I would inevitably get caught up in something online, a book, TV show, etc, and run late even on those days (admittedly with an ounce of relief).

I am frequently late, but as

I am frequently late, but as others mentioned not because I don't care or want to. It is because I have so many interesting things to do besides of this social gathering, to which I just must go to stay connected to people. I so much enjoy solitude and have so many things to d o- read, surf, listen to music, enlighten myself that I don't find MOTIVATION to get to this useless (as it seems to me) social event. I simply force myself to leave my interesting activities. Isn't it the answer then? Lack of motivation?

Then you shouldn't agree to

Then you shouldn't agree to the social arrangement in the first place. You made a deal with another person that you would both prioritize your time to get together. If you know in advance that this event will not be a priority for you, don't ask the other person to prioritize seeing you above other things they may wish to do as well.

YES. Bang on. It's really

YES. Bang on.

It's really rude to be consistently late, especially for those who value punctuality

I am frequently late, but as

I am frequently late, but as others mentioned not because I don't care or want to. It is because I have so many interesting things to do besides of this social gathering, to which I just must go to stay connected to people. I so much enjoy solitude and have so many things to d o- read, surf, listen to music, enlighten myself that I don't find MOTIVATION to get to this useless (as it seems to me) social event. I simply force myself to leave my interesting activities. Isn't it the answer then? Lack of motivation?

I am frequently late, but as

I am frequently late, but as others mentioned not because I don't care or want to. It is because I have so many interesting things to do besides of this social gathering, to which I just must go to stay connected to people. I so much enjoy solitude and have so many things to d o- read, surf, listen to music, enlighten myself that I don't find MOTIVATION to get to this useless (as it seems to me) social event. I simply force myself to leave my interesting activities. Isn't it the answer then? Lack of motivation?

I am frequently late, but as

I am frequently late, but as others mentioned not because I don't care or want to. It is because I have so many interesting things to do besides of this social gathering, to which I just must go to stay connected to people. I so much enjoy solitude and have so many things to d o- read, surf, listen to music, enlighten myself that I don't find MOTIVATION to get to this useless (as it seems to me) social event. I simply force myself to leave my interesting activities. Isn't it the answer then? Lack of motivation?


I am fairly punctual but one of my best friends is habitually late. It used to bother me but once I was with her for a string of events and noted that she was very attentive with the people she was with and that seemed to be the cause of her tardiness. She doesn't like to leave people in the middle of a story or say "I have to rush off, tell me the rest later." One of the things I love about her is that she is a good listener and it appears that everyone else loves that about her too. Like a popular doctor, people put up with the late arrival if when the person does finally get to you, they are yours alone.

I know other late people who don't fit that bill, but I am generally more accepting of it now that I see that there are some people who just believe in me more than their next appointment.

Late again

I'm frequently late, too, and find that one of the biggest reasons is that I'm a terrible judge of how long it takes me to do something. So, though I may have the best intentions of getting somewhere on time, whatever tasks I need to accomplish before I'm ready to leave always seem to take longer than I anticipated and I'm late again.

I have the same problem of often grossly underestimating time needed for cooking (so dinner is later than planned), for sewing (so my projects are rarely done for the event I'd planned), or for house cleaning (so if I'm expecting guests, I'll be in a dither trying to finish before they arrive). Since I'm approaching my eighth decade, one would think I'd have learned to judge things better by now, but I seem to be a slow learner. I am a little better than back in my working days when I had so many irons in the fire, however.

Not enough time

Dear Late Again,
You sound so much like myself, I also find I am not a good judge of time!
Thank you for sharing!

I know why I am always late...

I am notorious for being late. I am usually late fifteen minutes, but sometimes I can be thirty minutes late or even an hour. On a couple occasions I was a no-show without letting people know.

So why am I late? I know precisely! I have NEVER ever been late to see the people I really wanted to see or to do something I really wanted to do.

I am late to places because I DO NOT WANT TO BE THERE. I have to attend meetings and go to various social events out of politeness or because I cannot refuse somebody's invitation. However, this is when my passive-aggressive side really shows.

Also, using Dr. Helen Fisher's personality types I am a Negotiator (my brain has developed under the influence of estrogen). I am the type of person who has a hard time saying "No" to people because I don't want to hurt their feelings. I would agree to see my friends even if I had something else planned on that day. So on that day I will be trying to do two things at once: the thing I want to do (and need to do) and also squeeze in meeting with my friends. Since I do not really wish to see them on that particular day I show up late. I have a good time once I am there, but I would rather not see them on that day.

Other personality types, i.e. Directors (testosterone) or Builders (serotonin) would never even think of being late due to the fact that the Directors are goal-driven and the Builders like order. My prediction is that Explorers (dopamine) would come early, being impatient, or late if they were too involved doing something else.

Hope this answers your question.

Interesting article. I

Interesting article. I particularly like the comments.

However, I think your attempts to separate the cultural influences from the personality-driven ones is a bit extreme. As someone who has lived on three continents and worked and schooled with people from many cultures, I can tell you for a fact that there is a lot of truth to the sterotypes.

You will not find too many late Japanese, Danes or Germans. One dear German friend of mine feels acutely pained whenever he arrives late. It is almost as if his world has collapsed, and you can see the burning shame on his face. On the other hand, Brazilians, Indians, Italians and Nigerians can't understand why anyone would put themselves under so much pressure to be punctual to the minute. Life is too short to be ruled by the minute hand, they seem to think.

So a large part of the behaviour is socially and culturally acquired. Then again, you are perfectly correct theat there is a personality angle as well, and I like how the commenters have shared their perspectives. I too know that bizarre feeling of almost deliberately being late. I will often dawdle or do things to kill time so that I leave home with just a minute to spare, rather than arrive early.

I think it has something to do with the irrational and bizarre urge to procrastinate- something which also afflicts me. Maybe at some deep, subconscious level, it is a way to take control of our lives, to resist being controlled by schedules and clocks and expectations. By being late even when we can be early, maybe we're signalling our independence by showing a little rebellion against society's attempt to regulate us to the last minute.

Last comment is spot-on

This last comment by Anonymous really rings true with me-- I found myself nodding my head at each one of the comments, thinking "oh yes, that does sound like me". However, your description of the subconscious procrastinator seems to mirror me perfectly.

I am frequently late as well, and I often find myself procrastinating getting ready or leaving, with whatever task I was involved in, however unimportant. I watch the clock, KNOWING that I am running late, and still can't pull myself away.

I do find, however, that I am more frequently late to functions/meetings that I care little about, as it gives me a bigger excuse to procrastinate. In my graduate program, I am known to be as one of the "token latecomers", running into class with a coffee between 5-30 minutes late.
However, if it is something important such as an interview, a job I care about, an event with a strict start time, I will try my very best to be on time, which works often but not always.

What a bunch of psychobabble.

What a bunch of psychobabble. Sounds like an elevator full of mental hypochondriacs. If I were to take a guess, you people are late to things you don't want to do. Dollars to doughnuts you would be on time if you were going to collect lottery winnings or anything else that is pleasing to the senses. Get your heads out of the Frazier Crane life manual. Psychology is meant to help you in your life not become your life. Excuse me while I'm being on time for my next class. In the future people like all of you will put my kids through college and afford me that beach house.

At the risk of replying to a troll...

Hi, troll!

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Alfie Kohn writes about behavior and education. His books include Feel-Bad Education, The Homework Myth, and What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?


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