NEVER BE LATE AGAIN
7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged
Part One: Running Late
My most vivid memory of
Laura and Robert’s wedding is that I was late. It was a
stiflingly hot summer day, and the ceremony was to take place at
5 p.m. on a country club golf course an hour’s drive from my
home in San Francisco. By the time I finally sped into the
parking lot, hair flying and tires squealing, it was 5:10 (well
OK, 5:20). Sprinting madly across the manicured lawns of the
club, I headed toward a gathering of people seated in a
roped-off area near the eighteenth hole.
wedding hadn’t yet started, so I wiped the sweat from my face,
straightened my dress, and began to tiptoe down the center aisle
to find a seat. Just as I started though, the string quartet
struck up Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” The guests all rose and
turned to watch for the bride, but what they saw in the middle
of the aisle was me. As the music swelled, I frantically looked
for an empty spot amid the packed seats, but couldn’t find a
single chair. Suddenly I caught sight of the bride starting down
the aisle a few yards behind me. She motioned for me to get out
of the way, but with nowhere to sit and nowhere to hide, I could
only smile, wave sheepishly, and try in vain to flatten myself
against an aisle-side candelabra. As Laura drew nearer, I
decided to make a break for it. Disentangling myself from the
candelabra, I turned and dashed up the aisle toward the altar.
Making a quick left in front of the surprised minister, I ran
past the first row of guests, climbed over the velvet retaining
rope and headed back toward the rear, where I remained, red
faced, for the rest of the ceremony. Laura and Robert forgave
me, but I still cringe with embarrassment when I relive that
you ever suffered through an incident like this? If the answer
is yes, you’re not alone. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of the
U.S. population have trouble getting to where they’re going on
time. The Punctually Challenged are everywhere. From homemakers
to home builders, from CPAs to CEOs, we appear in all
professions and join ranks with such reputedly late luminaries
as former president Bill Clinton, supermodel Naomi Campbell,
singers Cher, Wynonna, and Whitney Houston, and actors Robert
Redford, Richard Gere, and Farrah Fawcett—who’s famous for
running on what’s known as “Farrah time.”
of the most talented and successful people in the country are
devoted disciples of the adage “better late than never,” many
more of us have been passed over for promotions, forfeited
raises, and lost face with families and colleagues. While movie
stars and politicians may wield enough power and influence to
get away with living in the slow lane, for the rest of us,
chronic tardiness can be a real liability. So if you’ve found
yourself apologizing to irate dinner hostesses, pleading mercy
from traffic cops, or inventing imaginative excuses once too
often, this book is for you.
I am a former
card-carrying member of the Punctually Challenged, and
punctuality used to be my Achilles heel. I was suspended three
times in junior high school for tardiness. I’ve been late for
surprise parties, client presentations, court appearances, and
classes for which I was the instructor. Planes, graduations, and
funerals have left, started, and ended without me.
times embarrassed me and wreaked havoc in my personal and
professional relationships. My friends and family members
finally resorted to lying about the time an event began. If
dinner was at 7:00, they told me 6:30. My assisstant took to
scheduling meetings at 9:15, knowing I couldn’t reliably be
counted on to show up any earlier. Evenings out on the town
began with my husband calling, “I’m going down to start the
car,” knowing I’d feel terribly guilty if I continued to dawdle
with him in the driveway and the motor running (his and the
I hated being
late and often resolved to improve my timeliness, but rarely
with any success. One New Year’s Day, I finally got serious
about it. “I’ll never be late again,” I announced to my husband.
Eyeing me with
disbelief, he replied, “I have an idea. Why don’t you give
yourself an extra fifteen minutes to get ready?” I thought about
this remedy and realized it wasn’t quite that simple—it was like
suggesting a dieter simply stop eating so much. Besides, I could
get up at 6:00 a.m. and still be late to work at 9:00. It began
to dawn on me that I might be getting something out of my
frantic rushing, from the whirlwinds I created for myself. Being
on time meant figuring out what that something might be and
learning to live without it.
research and introspection, I discovered that the excitement of
having to rush gave me a jolt that motivated and spurred me on.
I found that my need for stimulation was caused by a tendency to
feel easily bored and restless. Once I saw why I liked to
hurry—why I preferred the sprint to the stroll—not only did I
leave the ranks of the punctually challenged, I began to
procrastinate less in general. I started to plan my time more
effectively and to use more organization in my daily affairs. As
I worked toward the goal of being more timely, I began to see
the importance of becoming a reliable person. Developing that
side of myself soon became a priority.
But it wasn’t
easy. The truth is, chronic lateness can be a surprisingly
difficult habit to overcome. Research indicates that in many
ways, it’s like overeating. Just as the dieter wakes in the
morning resolved not to overindulge, the late person vows to be
on time for work. Yet, just as the dieter falls victim to the
chocolate-covered doughnut, the straggler succumbs to the
temptation to do one last thing before leaving the house.
Resisting that sudden urge to make the bed, unload the
dishwasher, water the plants, or finish a newspaper article can
be nearly impossible.
are those who get a charge out of keeping others waiting—a
condition I’ve found most prevalent among men (sorry guys)—if
you’re typical, you dislike being late. Chances are you’ve tried
more than once to reform. Following each fiasco, you’ve sworn
your late days are over. You’ll turn over a new leaf, skip
breakfast, get a new clock, stop shaving your legs in the
morning. You’ve made all the right resolutions, yet tardiness
remains your nemesis.
have theories about late folks. Even Sigmund Freud had a
hypothesis, believing lateness to be an anal characteristic. The
child who had difficulty with toilet training, he hypothesized,
would have a similarly challenging time when it came to other
self-management tasks like punctuality.
at the psychology of lateness comes from a 1991 Cleveland State
University study in which trial participants underwent a number
of psychological tests. Researchers found that the tardy
subjects differed from their timely counterparts in a number of
personality characteristics, with late people scoring measurably
lower on nurturance and higher on both long and short-term
Do late people
really differ from the timely in certain personality
characteristics? In 1997, I conducted a study in association
with San Francisco State University, aimed at asking that
question and determining what causes chronic lateness. We
studied 225 people who were given a battery of personality tests
and questioned about their attitudes and habits relating to
punctuality. As it turned out, the late scored higher in several
areas, including anxiety and distractibility, while placing
somewhat below the timely in the areas of self-esteem and
People Perceive Time Differently?
Part of my
research included a test to measure the differences in how
timely and late people perceive the passage of time. The test I
devised is a simple one you can try yourself. Choose three or
four pages in a book, mark the time, and start reading. Stop
reading when you think ninety seconds have elapsed, then check
your watch to see how accurate you were. I found that early
birds, almost without fail, stopped reading before ninety
seconds had passed, while lateniks put their books down well
after the ninety-second mark.
researchers at Cleveland State University also included a time
perception test in their study, this time using stop-watches.
Interestingly, their results were similar to mine, with late
people consistently underestimating the passage of time.
There are a
number of theories for why these time-perception tests turned
out the way they did. Although it’s feasible that late people
perceive time differently, it’s likely there are other
explanations as well. In later chapters, we’ll take a closer
look at the possible reasons behind the results.
Just Time Management
This is not
merely a book about time management. Certainly, knowing how to
be organized and efficient is key to being on time. And the
importance of establishing priorities, setting goals, and proper
planning cannot be overemphasized. However, consistent
lateness is not caused by disorganization alone, and
time-management skills in themselves won’t cure it.
important fact: Every time we perform an act, we get something
out of it—a benefit. This is particularly true with negative
habits. If there weren’t some kind of payoff, we wouldn’t
continue them. Although we often suffer from our habits, we make
decisions, consciously or not, based on the benefits versus the
costs. One of the most important steps in changing any
long-ingrained habit is figuring out what your particular
benefit might be. Once you understand what’s going on in your
mind when you’re late, you’re halfway there.
goal may be simple—to be more punctual—when you untangle the
roots of the problem, you’ll find yourself resolving other
issues as well. You may be surprised to learn that the source of
your lateness is something quite different than what you
thought. It’s much like peeling an onion—as you peel away the
layers, you begin to see what’s below.
reformed latenik said it well:
“I’ve always had a number of bad
habits—procrastination and lateness among them—and I’ve
struggled, usually without success, to overcome them. I realize
now that I’ve been dealing with my habits on a superficial
basis, never taking the time to really understand what was
behind my behavior. Once I got on track, I began arriving at
appointments and meetings early. Instead of the desperate dash
to the finish line, I learned to walk in the door calmly. Now as
I sit back and watch other people arriving late, flustered and
apologetic, I have a quiet laugh to myself, reveling in the
feeling of being so responsible and dependable.
“When I finally discovered the keys to overcoming my tardiness,
I solved much more than I thought I would. Changing this
lifelong habit gave me more self-confidence and control over my
life. I began to feel less like an anomaly, a butt of jokes. I
imagine it’s the way people feel when they finally lose weight.”
chapters to come, I’ll discuss why punctuality is important, how
you may have come to be chronically late, and what you can do to
change. You’ll discover the 7 Cures for the Punctually
Challenged, and find exercises that correspond directly to your
particular type of lateness.
contained in this book are based on the true stories of my
clients and associates, and are ones you’ll undoubtedly relate
to. While you’ll likely associate most closely to one particular
lateness type, please look through the exercises in each
chapter. You’ll find useful tools, such as tips for improving
time perception and advice on overcoming procrastination,
throughout the book. Although there are dozens of exercises,
choose only four or five initially to start you on your way.
When you’ve mastered those and are ready, select a few more.
Please be sure
to review A Few Words on Successful Habit Changing near
the end of the book. These summarize some fundamental habit
breaking concepts, and will help you to stay focused on your
Last but not
least, I've included a chapter for the early birds in your life.
Pass this along to your friends, family, and associates, as it
will help them better understand and support you as you work
through the process of changing.