For the punctilious, punctuality is as easy as falling off a log and as virtuous as feeding the homeless. But a sizeable portion of the U.S. population — 15 to 20 percent — consistently shows up late to appointments. (1) Experts on punctuality say habitual latecomers aren’t trying to send their punctual friends into an apoplectic fit. More likely, lifelong habits have locked them into chronic tardiness.
Sorry I’m late …
Rushing in breathless and embarrassed with an apology on your lips gets old for both you and for your friends and associates. The culprit may be optimism, combined with a tendency to significantly underestimate time. (2) Optimism is usually a tremendous asset, except when it turns traitor and convinces you that 90 minutes of tasks can be crammed into 60 minutes, because you are just that fast.
Researchers have estimated that repeat late arrivers underestimate time by 25 to 30 percent. (2) In one study, Type A individuals (a personality type that correlates strongly with being on time) and Type B individuals (a personality type correlates strongly with tardiness) were asked to estimate a minute’s time. Type A individuals timed a minute at 58 seconds, on average; Type B participants guessed that a minute passed in an average of 77 seconds. (3) Speaking for my Type B compadres, that extra 17 seconds per minute would solve the entire tardiness problem, if we could just have them.
The case for showing up on time
One good reason to work on punctuality is so your friends will stop telling you fake starting times whenever they invite you to something. The truth is, chronic lateness can breed resentment among friends and coworkers — many who make an effort to be punctual view the tardiness of others as disrespect for their own time. In the workplace, being late to work affects coworkers, who have to work around your lateness.
The best reason to work on punctuality is for you, however. Physical health may suffer from the multiple adrenaline rushes from each late arrival. Mental wellbeing takes a hit because of frustration at being late all the time. Finally, your career could be hampered. Punctuality predicts better academic and career success, and has been shown to leave a more favorable impression on employers, even when the quality of work is the same. (2) Researchers have found that managers are less likely to promote those who are not punctual (4)
Tips for prioritizing punctuality
Here are some tips for saying goodbye to all that frenzied rushing about, and change your habits for the better.
- Get rid of split-second timing. Instead of giving yourself 23 minutes to do something, round up to 30 and build in some time.
- Aim for fifteen minutes early instead of planning to walk in right on the dot.
- Embrace the “wasted time” of arriving early. Take a book and make those fifteen minutes “you” time.
- Figure out how long things REALLY take you to do, and not just when you don’t spill anything, your kids don’t ask you to find stuff or you hit all the green lights.
- Discipline your optimism. If necessary, start taking overly optimistic estimations and adding ten minutes to each one.
- Work on punctuality daily for one month, and don’t give up!
Read more on personalities and punctuality
How conscientiousness predicts success
More tips to overcome chronic tardiness
- Running late and wasting billions. ABC News website. Mar 3, 2007. Accessed Nov 22, 2016.
- Korkki P. For the chronically late, it’s not a power trip. The New York Times website. Jun 3, 2007. Accessed Nov 22, 2016.
- Macdonald F. Scientists have found out why you’re chronically late. Science Alert website. Feb 6, 2015. Accessed Nov 22, 2016.
- Ketchum D. Why is punctuality important in the workplace? Chron: Small Business website. Accessed Nov 22, 2016.