Psychology Explains Why You’re Always Late
And what to do about it.
Despite your best intentions, you show up at least 10 minutes after you say you will. At least you’re dependable, right?
Chronic lateness isn’t thoughtlessness or “bad subway luck,” it’s a personality profile, according to research. There are multiple character traits at play that contribute to a person’s repeated tardiness, including some that may not be in your control.
But that doesn’t mean your timing problem is a pattern that will last forever. If you can identify what is behind the lateness, there’s plenty you can do about it. After all, no one wants to be the person who always arrives last.
You might be multitasking too much.
Time flies when you’re juggling multiple items. A 2003 study that examined the habits of New York City subway workers found that those who multitasked were more likely to be late for their jobs than those who focused on on single activity at a time.
This could be due to a phenomenon known as metacognition, or an awareness of what you’re doing (in the case of lateness, it could an awareness of whether you’re doing what you need to make sure you’re on time). Multitasking typically makes it harder to have metacognition, Business Insider reported.
The Fix: Set alerts or reminders so you can stay on track if you get distracted.
“Set a very firm calendar and set of reminders with prompts that occur 10 or 15 minutes before a meeting or appointment is supposed to occur,” Susan Krauss-Whitbourne, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told The Huffington Post.
Krauss-Whitborne also recommends mapping out how to get from point A to point B ahead of time and set your reminders based on that.
Your internal clock might be off.
Your internal clock could help with regulating time, according to Krauss-Whitbourne. And if you’re always late, you may not have such a reliable compass.
A 2016 study found that chronic lateness may originate in what’s called Time-Based Prospective Memory, which is a function of memory triggered by a time cue (like remembering to watch a TV show at 9 p.m. every week, for example).
The study measured TBPM by giving participants tasks like completing a jigsaw puzzle and telling them to finish it in a certain amount of time, which required them to pace themselves so they can get the tasks done. The participants were given the option to check the time while they were working. However, the experiment was set up in a way that made it unlikely they would check since they were so engrossed in their tasks.
For the most part, the study found that people relied on their own internal clock to regulate their time ― and those who were able to complete the tasks had a better handle on that inner clock and a better perception of time.
In a post for Psychology Today, Krauss-Whitbourne explained how the process can be applied to real life:
The situation in TBPM experiments is analogous to what happens when you’re engrossed in one activity, such as catching up on your social media feed, at the same time that you’re also supposed to be getting ready to leave your home to be on time for work. You think only five minutes have passed when in fact you’ve let 20 minutes slip by. People who are good at TBPM tasks seem better able to regulate their own clock-checking behavior, so they’re less reliant on their potentially flawed internal timekeeper.
The Fix: Work on perfecting your definition of time.
Make an effort to be your own best critic when it comes to managing your minutes. There are also tasks you can do to help sharpen your sense of time, Krauss-Whitbourne said.
“We all have internal clocks and if yours is constantly off kilter, you need to train yourself to recalibrate,” she explained. “One thought is to play games to guess the time without cues and then see how off you are. Resetting may be as simple as retraining your ability to estimate time.”
You have a “Type B” personality.
Studies suggest those who are typically late tend to underestimate their time ― and personality may be to blame. Research shows that those who display Type B behavior, or the personality type that’s known for being more laid back, may have an off perception of the clock.
The study found that those who associate with the achievement-oriented “Type A” character trait were more accurate in estimating the passage of time than Type B folks. Those who were Type B in the study suspected that less time had passed than it really did when trying to measure out a minute.
“Type A individuals estimated that a minute passed in 58 seconds, compared with 77 seconds for Type B individuals,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Fix: Practice empathy.
It’s totally fine to have a laid back personality (there are even benefits to it!) but it’s important to not be so relaxed that you don’t consider others in the process. Try adding more minutes in your schedule estimation, Krauss-Whitbourne recommends ― and do it for the people you’re meeting.
“Imagine that you’re the one always waiting for someone else,” she said. “It’s irritating to you and therefore irritating to others.”
“Always feeling you’re late contributes to stress levels, and this is also bad for your health,” she said. “So try to change, even if you think it’s hopeless.”
It’s never too late to stop being late.