Always Late? 9 Tips for Overcoming Chronic Lateness.

If you’re chronically tardy, how do you start showing up on time?

Many people have the habit of constantly running late — and they drive themselves, and other people, crazy.

Now, I have the opposite problem — I’m pathologically early, and often arrive places too soon. This is annoying, as well, but in a different way. As I write this, I’m realizing that I assume that chronic earliness is very rare. But maybe it’s not. Are you chronically early?

In any event, more people seem bothered by chronic lateness. Feeling as though you’re always running twenty minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive…it’s no fun.

If you find yourself chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you’re late. As my Eighth Commandment holds, the first step is to Identify the problem – then you can see more easily what you need to change.

There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because…

1.You sleep too late.

If you’re so exhausted in the morning that you hit the snooze alarm five times, it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don’t get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. Try to turn off the light sooner each night.

2. You try to get one last thing done.

Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more email or put away one more load of laundry before you leave, here’s a way to outwit yourself: take a task that you can do when you reach your destination, and leave early. Tell yourself that you need that ten minutes on the other end to read those brochures or check those figures.

3. You under-estimate the commute time.

You may tell yourself it takes twenty minutes to get to work, but if it actually takes forty minutes, you’re going to be chronically late. Have you exactly identified the time by which you need to leave? That’s what worked for me for getting my kids to school on time. As I write about in Happier at Home, we have a precise time that we’re supposed to leave, so I know if we’re running late, and by how much.

4. You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses.

Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late. Designate a place in your house for your key items, and put those things in that spot, every time. I keep everything important in my (extremely unfashionable) backpack, and fortunately a backpack is big enough that it’s always easy to find. If you still can’t find your keys, here are some tips for finding misplaced objects.

5. Other people in your house are disorganized.

Your wife can’t find her phone, your son can’t find his Spanish book, so you’re late. As hard as it is to get yourself organized, it’s even harder to help other people get organized. Try setting up the “key things” place in your house. Prod your children to get their school stuff organized the night before — and coax the outfit-changing types to pick their outfits the night before, too. Get lunches ready. Etc.

6. Your co-workers won’t end meetings on time.

This is an exasperating problem. You’re supposed to be someplace else, but you’re trapped in a meeting that’s going long. Sometimes, this is inevitable, but if you find it happening over and over, identify the problem. Is too little time allotted to meetings that deserve more time? Is the weekly staff meeting twenty minutes of work crammed into sixty minutes? If you face this issue repeatedly, there’s probably an identifiable problem – and once you identify it, you can develop strategies to solve it — e.g., sticking to an agenda; circulating information by email; not permitting discussions about contentious philosophical questions not relevant to the tasks at hand, etc. (This last problem is surprisingly widespread, in my experience.)

7. You haven’t considered how your behavior affects someone else.

A friend was chronically late dropping off her son at sports activities until he said, “You’re always late dropping me off because it doesn’t affect you, but you’re always on time to pick me up, because you’d be embarrassed to be the last parent at pick-up.” She was never late again.

8. You’re rushing around in the morning before you leave the house.

Consider waking up earlier (see #1 above). Yes, it’s tough to give up those last precious moments of sleep, and it’s even tougher to go to bed earlier and cut into what, for many people, is their leisure time. But it helps.

9. You hate your destination so much you want to postpone showing up for as long as possible.

If you dread going to work that much, or you hate school so deeply, or wherever your destination might be, you’re giving yourself a clear signal that you need think about making a change in your life.

What are some other strategies that work if you suffer from chronic lateness?


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  • Natalie

    I used to be chronically early before I had children. Now I am usually merely on time. My best friend all through High School was always late, and in the days before mobile phones that meant a lot of waiting around for me. I hated it, it really made me feel like she didn’t care, she didn’t value me. She always had some excuse, but I thought if something ALWAYS happens then she needs to factor that in and allow for it!

  • Kitty

    I realize now that I had a food intolerance – so I was like a hungover drunk most mornings no matter how much sleep I got. My liver was fighting off invaders all night like I had the flu. Once I identified the hidden food issue, for the first time in forty plus years, I was able to just “wake up” and go through a morning routine to be somewhere on time.

    • Atenea

      Hi , How you discovered your food intolerance issue?

      • Kitty

        I was hiding the fact that I’d been up vomiting most nights (for months). Then it got to where I wasn’t able to do much and my job contract came to a close at the same time. I collapsed, healthwise, barely able to even do self care for about a year (gut pain, dizziness, headaches, disoriented, foggy, water weight swelling, sore throat, swollen glands, muscle aches). My chiropractor did a biofeedback test on me and wheat popped up on his equipment as one of the things I reacted to. He dismissed it as not too important but I began researching and decided it was worth testing with a ten day trial period of diet with no gluten. On day four I woke up a completely different person. I’m still healing my gut but I have many more good days than bad. And I know how to prepare if I accidentally get glutened (cancelling appts, etc.) because it will predictably clear out of my system in three days like a flu would.

    • Elizabeth

      Same here! Gluten was a big one for me, but also dairy and nightshade vegetables. It’s made a huge impact on my ability to get out of bed in the morning.

      • Kitty

        Thank you for sharing, Elizabeth. I tried all the tips and tricks for being on time over the years and only felt more and more self-loathing over it- until I discovered the deeper problem.

  • Siobhan

    Chronically Early person here too. I took a quiz in a magazine and it said “When you’re running late for a Doctor’s Appt you…A…” and there was no answer for “that has literally never happened.”

    I liked this Onion story:

    • Rachel Avery Harrison

      Haha! Thanks for the Onion story, Siobhan.

      I wish I had read #2 years ago! Even though I was never chronically late, I got happier when I figured out that I was comfortable getting places early so long as I had something to do.

      The key for me was simple- 1) find something I can do anytime and 2) arrange it so I don’t need to remember to bring anything special with me to do it. Now I keep my car stocked with a book of short essays or stories that I only read in the car, and some auto cleaning supplies for spot cleaning. If I’m early, I’m grateful for the opportunity.

  • Jessemy

    Also chronically early…it took many, many awkward moments with still-preparing hosts to realize that coming 10 minutes too soon is like arriving 2 hours too late.

  • Ellie

    My life changed when I started putting crosswords in my purse. Then I didn’t mind being early. So you don’t necessarily have to bring a useful task–just something to occupy you. I still struggle with trying to fit in one more task at home, but I’m on time much more often.

    • Melody

      I LOVE this idea. I always check email or respond to a few work things on my phone if I have extra time, but my kids are often with me so I need something that occupies all of us. Genius!

      • Jennifer

        Try the game “Pass the Pig.” It’s pocket-sized and can be played any place you have a flat surface. Great way to pass time with kids!

  • Brandi

    I am a chronically early upholder. My husband is also chronically early (much worse than me!) but he is an obliger. For me, it’s about the stress. I know I will start freaking out if I feel like I’m running late, so I’d much rather be a little early than deal with unnecessary stress. For my husband, I think part of it is the experience. He likes traveling so he’ll always suggest getting to the airport ridiculously early. He enjoys going to parties so we usually get there right on time. He likes going to sporting events and he thinks all of the pre-game stuff is part of the experience. He relishes the 30 minutes in the office drinking coffee before everyone else gets in. The other part of it is the typical upholder/obliger thing of not wanting to appear rude or not letting people down.

  • Lea

    I used to underestimate commute time. I always used to come up with firgures that didn’t account for traffic, basically the best case scenerio. But unfortunately that typically wasn’t the case.

    Another big one for me was getting read to leave when I should have left already. Had I been ready to go in advance to the time I set I would have been on time, but because I had to throw one last thing on or grab something really quick, I was late. Then add traffic to that lol.


  • Jessi Haggerty

    I’ve probably been culprit to all of these at some point, but I think #2 and #3 happen the most frequently. I like the idea of trying to “do a task on the other end.” There are also some people in my life I feel more comfortable being late to, and others I would never. It’s the obliger in me I guess…

  • Deborah T

    Thanks for this blog-post. I used to always be on time, then started to be habitually late, and wasn’t sure why. This has helped me to pinpoint a couple issues on which I can now take action.

  • Judy

    I am an on time person, I don’t like to be late or early, but I err on the earlier side – though I wouldn’t actually go to a meeting or event early – I’d occupy myself in the car or at a nearby coffee shop. I’d prefer that people are late to my function rather than have them arrive early. My husband is chronically late, but he is very focused and tends to get caught up in whatever he is focusing on and finds it hard to switch gears. I have learned to always have something to doing while waiting so I don’t get annoyed. We call it tolerance and appreciation, ha!

  • I’m chronically early, and having dated/lived with some chronically tardy people, numbers 2 and 3 are huge, in my experience.

  • Elizabeth

    I find that I feel obligated to the people in the place I am currently. In the morning, I feel obligated to my whole family to help them leave before I do. While at work, I feel obligated to my coworkers. So I end up late for things because I’m prioritizing my current situation more than the one I have planned to get to.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is fascinating. So maybe solution is to think of obligations on the other side?

    • Carla

      This. I always feel the meeting I’m in, the work I’m doing, the housework I’m taking care of is more important than whatever I’m supposed to do next. I get very focused on the now and don’t plan for what’s coming up.

  • Melody

    I have been driving every single person in my life crazy for as long as I remember (seriously, back to elementary school). I’m 10-15 minutes late to EVERYTHING. School, parties, trip starts, work. To the point where I was making others late. To the point where my college professor and a few friends that I went to school with bought me an alarm clock and vowed to call me each morning on a rotating schedule. To the outside world, it looks like I’m just rude, disrespectful and inconsiderate. To me, I tried SO HARD everyday to be on time but just couldn’t. It was frustrating and stressful and horrible, but I swear I tried.

    Not until I had a child in my spitting image that started school did I start to realize I couldn’t be late. I was rarely (if ever) late getting him to school because it directly affected him and I was struggling with the fact that I passed it on to him. In first grade, he really struggled with behavior so I started doing some research and inadvertently stumbled upon the answer to my chronic lateness. I am an underestimator!

    I massively underestimate the time needed to complete all my tasks before we leave anywhere. I do non-priority things first because I feel like I have plenty of time and I leave the things like showering and packing until the end, when I am racing. I am constantly trying to squeeze in ONE MORE THING because I haven’t left myself enough time to casually and calmly leave the house. It was like a big giant light bulb. As soon as I realized it, I have been able to identify the feelings and thoughts in my daily life AND in my son’s life. I promise, it is nowhere near being fixed, but the idea that I understand WHY is so giant in my life. This honestly would have never happened without the struggles my son went through at school and I’m so grateful we saw them early. For him and for me.

    So after the longest story ever, #2 and #3 are huge for me, but I underestimate EVERYTHING. Not just the commute.

    • annecore

      What a nice story!

  • cityfolks

    I am completely a chronically early person, as are my husband and several of my good friends. Our dinner parties often start early as everybody shows up early!

  • Jenny Honey

    I’m chronically early. I calculate the time I have to leave and add in a buffer, then later I forget and add in more buffer, so by the time I leave I have so much buffer it’s ridiculous!
    I can’t stand it when others are late. I feel it’s the height of rudeness. If I’m meeting someone and I’m on time (or early) and they’re late, what makes their time more important than mine? Why am I the one who has to wait for them? So selfish!
    I also can’t stand getting to a party on time and the hosts aren’t ready since they expect everybody to be fashionably late. Well why did you put that time on the invitation?

    • Bliss149

      This is what I was going to suggest. I do it more now but still backslide sometimes. I feel so busy like I don’t have time to stop for 3-4 minutes and figure out what time I’m supposed to leave. Also I never used to add in the buffer. (The buffer is good.) I went from being late probably 95% of the time to being on time about 95% (okay 90%) of the time. A book called “Never be late again” helped but the biggest thing was a lightbulb moment where I said why do you do this to YOUSELF. So now being on time is a gift I give myself.

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  • marilynmc

    I have a friend who was chronically 15 minutes late for her work. Her boss decided to solve the problem in a creative way. He told her, “I could fire you but instead I’m going to change your start time. You now begin work at 7:45 each day. If you are late, you will be fired. She then was at her desk each day by 8:00 sharp — late for her, on time for her boss. A bit crazy if you think it through, but it seemed to work of him.