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The Annoying Reasons You’re Always Late, and How to Outsmart Them

Punctually challenged or trying to reform someone who is? Figuring out your time-sucking triggers is the first step developing better time management skills.

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The key to managing your time

Being late, late, late for a very important date is all too common these days. The ability to bang out a “Be there in 5” text gives us a “looser attitude toward being on time,” according to Thor Miller, author of Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business, on his blog. But if you’re constantly operating in Your Own Standard Time, you may give your bosses and co-workers the impression you’re irresponsible (or give those you manage the impression you’re on a power trip), and make friends and family assume you think your time is more valuable than theirs. To develop better time management skills, it helps to identify the real reasons behind your lateness:

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You’re a terrible time budgeter

If you tend to be late by varying amounts of time each time (versus always 10 minutes late to work every day, like clockwork), your problem is likely that you’re not good at planning how long things really take you, says time-management expert Julie Morgenstern on Time management trick: Keep track of what you do for a week and how long it really takes you. You may learn that the five minutes you allot to blow-dry your hair really takes 10, for example. Set up mini deadlines to keep you honest to your schedule, recommends business psychologist Debra Condren, PhD, on “Say, now OK, it’s 7:15 a.m.; I’ve got to go for a 20-minute walk, then I have to be in the shower by 7:40, and I have to be out of the shower by 8,” she advises. These little pep talks help you to better adjust your plan if something takes longer than you budgeted.

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You can’t say no

You’re about to walk out the door to meet a friend for coffee when your husband asks you to track down his red fleece, or you’re about to power down your computer when your co-worker pops by with “one tiny question.” Being unable to say no these last-minute schedule busters is big reason many people run tardy. Time management trick: Get comfortable turning people down. Morgenstern says to practice catchphrases such as “I would love to help, but I’m on a deadline” or “I’m meeting people in half an hour. I can help you tomorrow.”

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You’re in denial about your busyness

Many of us are more overbooked than we’d like to admit, Elizabeth Fitelson, MD, director of the women’s program in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University, told  She says that her clients “would rather deal with the stress of always running a few minutes late—even though that feels terrible—than have to deal with the fear that their lives are just too complicated to work properly.” Time management trick: Cut yourself some slack, recommends When you agree to a deadline, don’t get big eyes. You may think you only need a day to bang out that report, but give yourself an extra one in case something unexpected throws your schedule off. Better to under-promise and over-perform.

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You thrive on drama

Common among procrastinators, this type of lateness tends to occur when you need a boost to get you going. “These are people who cannot get themselves together until they get an adrenaline rush,” psychologist Linda Sapadin, PhD, told “They need to be under the gun to get themselves moving.” Time management trick: Accept responsibility by giving yourself some kind of “punishment” when you’re late: buy your friend’s movie ticket, for example. Remove some of the unpredictability from your schedule by planning as much as you can in advance.  If you’re driving to a job interview, look up the directions the night before—not 30 seconds before you need to leave.

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You secretly dread something

Lateness is often really due to feeling anxious or stressed about a situation, Keith Ablow, MD, told “It’s as if deep, unresolved emotions are acting as resistors in the mind’s circuitry, redirecting us away from the source of our discomfort,” he says. This may be the case, for example, if you’re late to meet a friend for lunch because you’re worried you have too much on your work plate to duck out for a break, or if you’re concerned the restaurant is a tad out of your price range. Time management trick: Ablow suggests brainstorming practical solutions to overcome your angst. If the menu’s too pricey, suggest a “great food, great deal” alternative. If you’re stressed about your workload, stay late the day of your lunch date to compensate for your time out of the office.

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You get antsy when you’re not super busy

In a world where we can check email, book a plane ticket, and find a parking spot all from a few swipes of our smartphones, it’s no wonder some people run late because they hate the idea of having even a nanosecond of downtime. Time management trick: Morgenstern says people in this category often fall prey to “one more task” syndrome—they try to accomplish one more thing before walking out the door. A remedy: Vow to leave on time. “The minute you think of squeezing in one more thing before you leave, just don’t do it. Stop yourself in your tracks, grab your bag and walk out the door,” she told WebMD. If you find yourself waiting for someone else, bang out some of the little To-Dos on your list so you don’t feel like you’re wasting time, whether it’s catching up on your Facebook feed, reading a book or magazine on your Kindle, or sending a “hey, let’s catch up” email to a friend you’ve been meaning to connect with.

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You easily zone out

Ever look up at the clock and wonder where the past three hours went? These latecomers tend to “get so wrapped up in the present moment, they completely space out on other commitments,” according to career coach Chrissy Scivicque on her blog. Time management trick: Scivicque recommends setting a timer (on your computer or phone) to remind yourself to stop and move on.

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You’re exhausted

Sleeping in until the last minute (thanks, snooze button!) is a recipe for starting your day late, says Gretchen Rubin on TheHappinessProject.comTime management trick: Hit the hay earlier. And if you’re just not a morning person, prepare yourself and your family as much as you can the night before (lay out clothes, make lunches, sign permission slips) to avoid hiccups the next day. And don’t miss these tips for a better night’s sleep.

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iStock/Drazen Lovric

When you’re the one who’s always on time …

Always frustrated by your best friend Tardy Tanya or Never-on-Time Ned? Let them know how you feel, says Ablow. They may not realize how much their lateness bugs you. He suggests that you say something like, “When you’re 20 minutes late—and it happens a fair amount—I start feeling like a second-class citizen. I doubt you want me to feel that way. Could we agree from now on to meet at a time that actually works for both of us?”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest