How to tackle the habit of chronic tardiness

How to tackle the habit of chronic tardiness


Life & Style
Do you pull this face multiple times a day? Photo: Shutterstock

Do you pull this face multiple times a day? Photo: Shutterstock

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Time is a scarce resource: you can always make more money, but you can't make more time.

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Time is a scarce resource: you can always make more money, but you can't make more time. It makes sense to use it efficiently, and one way to do this is to break the habit of chronic lateness. According to Dr Linda Sapadin, a US psychologist specialising in time management, there are four types of personalities especially prone to being chronically late: the Perfectionist, the Crisis Maker, the Defier and the Dreamer.

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists simply can't leave home until the dishwasher is packed and set running. Furthermore, everything else has to be perfect, including their appearance and the project they're presenting. Unfortunately, they don't realise that being late for the meeting rules out the possibility of a perfect presentation.

The fix: They need to learn to see the big picture, and to realise that small details can be left till later. They can try to leave the dishwasher unstacked, and arrive early enough to set up the presentation before people come into the meeting room.

The Crisis Maker

Crisis Makers might not want to be always late, but the pressure and the adrenalin rush gives them a nice thrill that they keep chasing. They can't start on something until just before the deadline, because they think they can't function well unless they're fully hyped up. These people actually prefer to be desperately rushing to get to their next appointment than to stroll calmly into the building five to 10 minutes early.

The fix: They'd be better off getting their adrenalin from physical activities, not the terror of an approaching deadline. That is, thrill-seek on their own time, not on other people's.

The Defier

​ Defiers feel they have to stand up against the broad authority of our existing societal constructs that tell us what to do, and when to do it. An "easy" way to Fight the Man: being late.

The fix: This person needs to realise that they are always reacting to what they see as the oppressive forces of society. Instead, they could "act" rather than "react". They could face society on their terms, not society's terms. And part of that would be to unnerve the Oppressors of the Honest HardWorking Proletariat by being fully prepared, even on time.

The Dreamer

Dreamers live in a different reality. They are bizarrely confident that they can have a shower, pack all their luggage, take the elevator downstairs, wait in the queue at reception, check out of the hotel and get a taxi to the airport in a total of 10 minutes. They "see" travel times as really short and imagine that it's perfectly reasonable to fit five jobs into a five-minute window.

The fix: Travel apps on a smartphone often help. If these people can see the reality of the situation on the screen (31 minutes to the airport, not 10), they can reset their schedules.

Learning from your lateness

On average, the "chronically late" will underestimate how long tasks or events take by about 40 per cent. Some people need to relearn how to judge the time. On each occasion you are late, take the time to work out why this happened. One tactic is to find the "pain points" when you are late, and pick on just one of them. For example, a bus trip might take 30 minutes – but your waiting time for the bus could be 10 minutes. So allow 50 minutes (not the optimistic 40 minutes or the irrational 30) for the whole journey.

Start small, succeed with that one pain point, and repeat over and over to lock it in. Then add a new pain point. You'll start getting positive feedback, such as having the time to gather your thoughts and analyse situations. You might even arrive at the party before all the food has been eaten! You've spent decades locking in the habits of lateness. It will take months (not days) to quell them. But it's never too late…

  • Edited extract from Karl, the Universe and Everything by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (Macmillan Australia).

How to turn into an early bird

• Wear an old-school wristwatch instead of relying on a distracting smartphone.

• Avoid split-second timing; arrive early and bring a book to read while you wait.

• Write down daily plans to get an overview of your time.

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