5 Reasons Why You’re Always Late (and How to Fix Them)

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LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images / LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images

If you're one of the 15 to 20 percent of Americans who is consistently late to appointments and meetings, you probably understand the struggle of trying and failing to be punctual. Perpetual latecomers aren't trying to make the lives of punctual people miserable: They're likely trying their hardest to be on time, waking up earlier and earlier and praying that Google Maps’ estimated arrival time is somehow wrong (spoiler: it never is). But for some, consistent punctuality just seems slightly out of reach. Here are five reasons you might be habitually late, and some ways you can fix them.

1. You underestimate how long things take.

Science Alert reports that many chronically late people fall victim to planning fallacy—the tendency to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete tasks. That’s usually because they’re too optimistic in their estimates and fail to take past experiences into account.

How to fix it: Research [PDF] published in 1994 suggests a few different solutions. In a series of five experiments, participants were most successful at predicting task completion time when they took into account a variety of factors, including their memories, their observations of others’ experiences, and their most optimistic estimates. Writer Jessica Greene poses a few other ideas: using a time-keeping app, for one, or asking someone else who knows you and your abilities to help you estimate your time.

2. You’re a habitual multitasker.

If you’re constantly filling your day with task after task because you can’t stand feeling inefficient, you may be what management consultant Diana DeLonzor calls a producer. Producers hate wasting time, so they overcompensate by scheduling multiple tasks for every minute of every day, often failing to accurately predict how long things will take. But multitaskers are often less efficient—they struggle to organize their thoughts when switching between tasks, which reduces the quality of their work and sometimes makes things take even longer.

How to fix it: First, turn off any distractions. Put your phone somewhere else, temporarily block tempting websites, and consider turning to an anti-procrastination app for help focusing. You may want to try clustertasking—a technique that involves doing related tasks at the same time every day (like only checking personal email accounts at lunch and before dinner, for example). A tried-and-true technique is giving yourself time limits. Set a span of about 15 minutes to completely devote yourself to one task, and extend that time once you’ve started to buckle down and focus.

3. You perceive time differently.

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While the concept of distinct Type A and B personalities should be taken with a grain of salt, there’s some evidence that more laid-back individuals tend to believe time passes slower than it actually does. According to research by San Diego State University professor Jeff Conte, Type A people tend to estimate a minute has passed after 58 seconds. Type B people, on the other hand, perceive a minute to be closer to 77 seconds. Those extra seconds add up, making Type B people more likely to be habitually late.

How to fix it: If you’re one of those Type B people living in a slightly slower world, there’s probably not much you can do to change your inherent perception of time. But with practice (either through time-tracking or by surrounding yourself with clocks and hourglasses), you may be able to fine-tune your timekeeping skills and put yourself back on schedule.

4. You’re a thrill-seeker.

Your life revolves around deadlines and you consider yourself a person who thrives under intense pressure. You may even believe you can’t focus until everything comes down to the wire. But that mentality is far from relaxing, and it can be dangerous in a workplace environment.

How to fix it: DeLonzor, the management expert, considers herself a former chronically late thrill seeker. She says she finally started becoming more punctual when she realized she could compartmentalize her thrill-seeking self. “I said, I’m going to take that part of my personality and put it in a box,” DeLonzor told Elle. “I can be a thrill seeker on my own time. But when it comes to arriving somewhere important, I can be different.”

If that describes you, you may want to develop thrill-seeking habits in other areas of your life. Turn toward adventurous travel experiences, explore new areas in your city, or chase that adrenalin rush by exercising regularly.

5. You hate being early.

And here’s the most basic reason you may always be late: You just hate being early. Waiting feels inefficient and even impolite (who wants to show up to a party 15 minutes before the host is ready?). You don’t want to arrive late. It’s your goal to get places exactly on time. But when you plan to arrive exactly at the minute, you don’t give yourself enough time in case of emergencies.

How to fix it: Psychology Today contributor Adoree Durayappah-Harrison recommends finding ways to make being early more valuable, rather than finding ways to be exactly on time. Focus on activities to fill waiting time (like reading a magazine or calling a friend) that motivate you to be earlier.

[h/t Science Alert]