I am habitually late for appointments. I don’t like it, but I keep doing it. It’s embarrassing, and I know I have let friends down over the years. I know it is infuriating, and I hate being seen as unreliable, so why do I persist in doing it?
Popular opinion says that a late person is probably disorganised and lacking in consideration of others. Or deep down, they really don’t want to be at that appointment and are avoiding it. However, I am exceptionally organised in the rest of my life – I don’t forget appointments, I run a tight ship at home, I keep tidy space living space and mind. I spend a lot of time thinking about other people’s feelings. I am no saint, am probably around the middle of the ‘consideration for others’ scale. I really want to see the person I am running late for (I am definitely not avoiding getting my hair cut!) but then I still get to my appointment 10 minutes late.
It turns out my lack of punctuality is probably driven by personality traits. Late people can have personality characteristics of optimism, they may have low levels of self-control, be prone to anxiety, or have a penchant for thrill-seeking. They are also more likely to multitask. Digging in to my own reasons for being late was illuminating for me.
The optimism one immediately rang a bell. A loud one. Driving 2km from home for an appointment, I assume that will take 10 minutes. Driving 10km, I assume that will take 10 minutes too. As I get to my first red traffic light and groan aloud, I realise I have been absurdly optimistic about travel times. This is called the Planning Fallacy.
My tendency toward magical thinking usually allows 5 minutes in the schedule to walk my daughter into school. But come on, it takes a good 2-3 minutes to walk from the car each way, I enjoy checking in with her teacher, helping her get set up for the day. And I love people, I like to check in with everyone I see, asking how they are, having small moments of connection. It is always a minimum of 20 minutes. I get a lot of pleasure from connecting with others, and will always prioritise it. My magical thinking however, is deluded.
A San Diego State University study separated participants into Type A people (ambitious, competitive) and Type B (creative, reflective, explorative). Participants were asked to judge, without clocks, how long it took for one minute to elapse. Type A people felt a minute had gone by when roughly 58 seconds had passed. Type B participants felt a minute had gone by after 77 seconds.
If you want to know where you sit on the punctuality continuum, you can test this for yourself. Set the stopwatch on your phone, and start reading a book. Stop when you think you have been reading for 90 seconds. Check the stopwatch. Earlybirds stop reading before the 90 seconds has passed, Late-niks read well past it.
I consider myself to be Captain Sensible, so I am not a thrill seeker. However, sometimes I love the rush of being super productive, and sliding from one productive appointment to the next, with perfectly timed precision. See, no time wasted! It is not a thrill in the traditional sense of the word, but it feels really good to be in control of time like that. For some people it is quite an adrenaline rush of pushing as close as possible to a deadline. But who am I kidding that I can be control of time? Traffic lights, traffic volumes, kids needing the bathroom, weather, these will NEVER be in my control. Talk about setting myself up to fail.
It can be worth considering what reasons you offer up for being late. I wanted to be on time, but I couldn’t decide what to wear. What’s that about? I wanted to be on time, but I got distracted by some work I was enjoying. Hmmm, what are my priorities? A few well-aimed questions illuminated some things to think about.
Having learned why I was so terrible at this, what can I do about it?
Acceptance is the first step to change, so I talked about it with a few loved ones, and asked them to hold me accountable. A well placed “why are you late?” will not be taken defensively.
Then I got honest about how long things actually take. I am a practical person, so I started with Google maps. And I tested, how long does it take to drive to all my usual haunts? I would have said that school 10 minutes (Google maps said 12 minutes) and work 15 minutes (Google maps said 19). And then you have to add the time to find a park and walk in. That was a nice fact-based start to solving the problem. Stop guesstimating optimistically. This can be applied to how long it takes to get out the door, how long it takes to shower, anything. I am not obsessive about it, but it has dawned on me that I should always add around 30% to all my estimates.
The third thing I did was become very mindful about multitasking. I started viewing getting ready to get out the door as a task in itself, rather than something that can be done while I load the dishwasher or talk on the phone. And when I am driving, I don’t talk on my hands free phone if there is a remote possibility I will be late, so I avoid wrong turns.
And I am getting better at cramming less stuff into my day. Being more mindful about what I choose to schedule.
And lastly, I schedule all my appointments in Outlook for 30 minutes before they start. Which allows for travel time or preparation.
Is this familiar? Do you struggle with being on time? Do you hate it, and want to change? Come and talk to me about it!
Here’s to a healthy habit change, and annoying my friends less.