What To Do When You’re Perpetually Late…

A former boss of mine was known for saying, “If you’re not early, you’re late.” My father is early everywhere he goes. When Dad says he’ll be there at 4:00, you better be ready by 3:00. Needless to say, I am imbued with the notion that lateness is, well, not the best thing in the world.


However, not everyone wants to catch the proverbial worm. I have been late to appointments and hold no delusions that it will not happen again. Everybody is late from time to time. However, for some people, “late” is the norm. A study from San Francisco State University* found that 17% of participants were chronically late.


Being organized is important, but that may not cure chronic lateness. So, aside from mastering good time management practices, how can you be on time?


If you are chronically late, the first step is to understand why. Most bad habits serve some ulterior purpose. What is being late doing for you? What function is it serving in your life?


For some people, perpetual tardiness helps them:

  • Alleviate boredom
  • Enjoy a crisis-based adrenaline rush
  • Assert power over others
  • Believe that more work got done in a day
  • Project the image that they are busy/in-demand/overburdened


Once you identify your drivers of tardiness, it may become easier to readjust your thinking.


If your causes of tardiness elude you, keep a time diary for two weeks. Note all activities that occur, planned and unplanned, and start and end times for each. If you are late to an appointment, highlight it on your diary. At the end of two weeks, assess the following:

  • How many times were you late compared to punctual? What was happening in the hour prior to your late arrivals that differs from your on-time ones?
  • Are you consistently underestimating the amount of time it takes to get from point A to point B? Do you forget to include parking and walking into the building in your travel time estimates?
  • What activities are you doing prior to leaving for an appointment? Are your good intentions to get “just one more thing done” delaying you?
  • How many of your late arrivals were caused by factors outside your control? What could you have done differently to mitigate those factors?


Tips for the Tardy Crowd:

  • Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to all appointments when you drive.
  • Plan to arrive 5 minutes early to all appointments within walking distance of your office.
  • Have an “early arrival” folder filled with interesting articles to read. That way you have something to do (that can easily be put away) while you wait for the meeting to begin.
  • Institute your own late fees. Put $5 into a jar in your office every time you are tardy to an appointment. Then, donate the money to a charity at the end of each month.
  • Book travel time in your calendar just as you would do for an appointment – especially if getting there will take more than 15 minutes.
  • Add 20% more time onto any travel estimates you make.


When assessing your own timeliness tendencies, don’t strive for perfection because it is simply not possible. Do remember that punctuality is an indication of the respect with which you hold others, though. Email me today and let’s talk about your penchants for punctuality. I can help even the tardiest of folks get to work on time.


Because…those early birds really do get the best worms…or seats…or bagels…or…


* As described in Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged by Diana DeLonzor


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Ankur Misra

    This is a great article. It helps. Thanks a lot!

  2. Caryn Sullivan

    I used to run behind fairly consistently. I suffered from the OMT syndrome. I’ll just do one more thing. Answer an email. Change the laundry. Read the mail. Inevitably, I’d run five to ten minutes late. Then I met my husband, who shares your father’s proclivity for punctuality. He taught me that being early was far less stressful than being late. Now I think ahead about where I’m going, how I need to prepare, when I need to leave in order to arrive without a hitch. I don’t have to make those tired apologies for making someone else wait. It’s so much better!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Caryn. I think that both lateness and earliness (is that a word?) are self-reinforcing. We get used to lateness and rewarded with all of those “one more things.” If we switch the reward structure to the early side and find ways to reward ourselves for being early, those behaviors will endure. B.F. Skinner is smiling in his grave right now…


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