When you’re always a little late…

Bumper to bumper traffic creeps toward Magic Mountain Parkway along the northbound Interstate 5 Freeway as viewed from the Valencia Blvd overpass looking north. Dan Watson/The Signal

For many of us, there are three little words that almost always accompany our delayed entrance into a meeting, class or date. It’s the phrase, “Sorry I’m late” that pops up; sometimes, more often than you’d like.

And while running late is never ideal, it does happen — whether it’s because you’ve got a bad habit of repeatedly pressing the snooze button, got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic or got a flat tire and it’s legitimately not your fault.

Tardiness is understandable because everybody is busy and everyone has stuff going on, said Larry Schallert, assistant director of College of the Canyons’ Student Health and Wellness/Mental Health Program.

Everyone has a different opinion on what it means when you’re habitually late, but most time management experts believe, more often than not, it’s a fault in the way we perceive the value of time, specifically, other people’s.

“What I’ve come to realize about tardiness is that when people have a habit of being tardy, I think the core of the issue is a disrespect for the function or the person they’re meeting with,” said Paul Butler, owner of Newleaf Training and Development, which provides time-management classes.

Butler believes tardiness is a very selfish mindset and implies self importance.

“There’s no greater way that you can show respect for someone than being on time, preferably early,” Butler said.

Butler goes on to explain that he believes the glue that bonds people together is trust, and one of the greatest way we lose trust is when people are late.

Dr. Shelby Pierce, a clinical psychologist, said that although that may be true for some people, most latecomers have the best intentions.

In fact, Pierce said there might be underlying psychological issues at work, like anxiety about getting somewhere they don’t want to be. We may show up a few minutes late to a dreaded dentist appointment or to a meeting with our horrible boss.

“They hate the uneasiness of being early, or they feel awkward and uncomfortable waiting,” Pierce said.

Schallert agrees, and said there are also many who have a hard time structuring their day, like those with attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder.

“From a mental health point of view, often there’s stuff going on that we just have to be aware of,” Schallert said.

Yet, there are others believe being early is inefficient and a waste of time, including Schallert.

“When you get to a meeting early and its not starting, you’re just sitting there with nothing to do,” Schallert said. “It feels like wasted time.”

Just as someone else’s time is valuable, so is your’s, and the time spent waiting is just short enough to ensure you can’t get into another project because as soon as you do, your time is up. It makes perfect sense that you’d rather use that time productively rather than wait around inefficiently.

On the other hand, people who are always punctual tend to arrive early simply because they hate being late, Schallert said.

Pierce agrees, and said, “just like those who get anxiety and end up being late, there are those who get anxiety from just even thinking about being late and inconveniencing someone else.”

One “ridiculous” myth is that tardiness runs in our DNA, Butler said. That is not the case, and it has really just become a habit.

“We can change our habits because we have free will and free choice to choose to change in the present,” Butler said. “Woody Allen said, ‘80% of success is showing up’ — I’d like to add ‘on time.’ Why don’t you make a conscious effort to be good at something that most people aren’t good at? Then you stand out head and shoulders at the workplace.”

While reasons for being perpetually late range, the solutions are relatively simple. Here are some tips to stay on track and on time.

Start thinking about being early as something valuable to make yourself feel like your time is being used constructively. This can be done by simply imagining how people must feel waiting for you, according to Pierce.

“It’s not fun to sit alone through the first half of a movie, or having to wait around for someone to start your meeting,” Pierce said.

Figure out why you’re always late. Whether it’s because you don’t wake up on time or just that you don’t leave the house early enough, identifying the problem can help you begin to address it, Pierce said.

Getting familiar with your internal clock can help with this. Most underestimate how long it takes them to complete tasks or get somewhere, according to Schallert, so knowing how long it takes you to get yourself showered and dressed allows you to plan accordingly.

You’ve probably heard that setting your clock a few minutes early can make a difference, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. Both Butler and Pierce suggest it, and said that even if you are aware that it’s actually earlier, it still creates a brief emotional response that will trick your body into gear.

Butler believes that if you’re less than eight minutes early, you’re late, because by the time you get yourself situated, you’re actually late for the commitment you made. That’s why it’s a good idea to leave space in between meetings.

Leaving at least 15 minutes between events not only gives you time to plan for the next one in between, but also allows for unexpected conflicts, like meetings that run long or traffic.

Not only should you keep a calendar with your scheduled events, but being on time also means checking your calendar for the following day the night before, Schallert said. That’ll allow you to refresh your memory and ensure you’re prepared for what your day will is going to look like.

If this isn’t feasible, setting a reminder that alerts you 30 minutes or an hour before a meeting can help so you’re not suddenly caught off-guard because it slipped your mind.

When you’re rushing you’re not very focused, so prepping the night before by laying out an outfit or packing a lunch as well as being organized and leaving your essentials, including your keys, purse and wallet, organized will help avoid last-minute chaos.

Getting up as soon as your alarm goes off also goes a long way. If you jump out of bed right away it’ll not only wake you up quicker, but also gives you more time to get ready, according to Pierce. And if you find that you’re too tired, you may want to start going to bed earlier.

Don’t leave tasks, like getting gas, grabbing coffee or checking your emails, until the last minute. This especially means avoiding trying to “knock just one more thing out” before heading out, Pierce said.

Focusing on the positive gets positive results, according to Butler. Instead of going around saying how busy you are, focus on what you’ve already accomplished. This can help you be in the mindset to accomplish even more of your to-do list.

Lastly, never send an email saying that you are running late because “almost no one is going to check their emails right before a meeting,” Pierce said. Instead, just shoot them a quick call or text.

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About the author

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga covers features and community for The Signal. She's new to the paper and Santa Clarita, but hasn't moved far from her hometown of Temecula, California. Emily graduated from San Diego State University in 2017 and has been writing and reporting since high school.