What is Habitual Lateness and How to Cure It
Most of us have a treasured friend, spouse, or co-worker who can be counted on to arrive at any event at least half an hour late. If you can’t think of anyone who fits this description, there’s a strong possibility that it’s you – according to ABC News, fifteen to twenty percent of people admit to being habitually late. As someone who consistently runs on-time or even early, this mentality drives me nuts. I was raised in a military family where lateness was rare, stressful, and anxiety inducing. For this reason, I was eager to research this topic. Why are people late? Can they change? How?
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Here is what I found out:

What Causes Habitual Lateness?

Tim Urban, a man who openly admits falling into this category, coined a delightful term for people who are always running behind: Chronically Late Insane People, or CLIPS. He proposes that CLIPS like himself are simply irrational in how they view time, consistently under-estimating the number of minutes they will need to get ready and to travel to their destination. I can support this based on a conversation I had with a CLIP friend about her plans for the day, in which she detailed her workday ending at three, followed by her daughter’s dance class…which was also at three. “Are you going to teleport there?” I asked her. She stared at me blankly – it hadn’t even occurred to her that she would have a fifteen minute drive to get from one place to the other, not to mention preparing her daughter for class. Already, she had set herself up for lateness.

Another theory is that chronically late people are simply overly optimistic – they envision themselves never hitting the snooze button, flying through their morning routine, and making every green light on their way to work. When none of these things happen, they find themselves tardy by close to an hour. This, I believe, is a driving force behind the irrational way that CLIPs view time, and it ties in nicely with the first explanation. A CLIP’s insane level of temporal optimism might push them to grossly underestimate preparation and travel time, while someone who is usually on schedule might even be pessimistic enough to build in a ten-minute buffer just in case – so when a child throws a temper tantrum or a road is closed down for construction, their timeline is not entirely ruined.

However, contrary to popular belief, lateness is not the result of a rude or self-centered nature. Logically, it would make sense that a CLIP is late because he does not value the time of others and does not care about the twenty minutes you wasted waiting around for him. In fact, often just the opposite is true – many people are late because they want their work, appearance, or some other factor to be absolutely perfect for you. Of course this does not apply to every CLIP, but even those who are not perfectionists feel simply terrible about their tardiness. Starre Vartan, a small business owner and freelance writer, felt a tremendous amount of shame over her CLIP status. “I hated it about myself,” she said, “because I felt like it disrespected other people’s time. I felt like a huge jerk, I felt irresponsible, I felt like I hadn’t mastered a part of being an adult.”

So the question looms – can a true CLIP really change?

Can Late People Change?

Just as a natural pessimist cannot easily turn into an optimist, or an introvert an extrovert, a CLIP cannot magically morph into a naturally punctual person. However, just as the shyest of introverts can learn to hold a conversation, a true CLIP can develop habits that minimize their tardiness and keep them on track. Linda Sapadin, a psychologist who specializes in time management, puts it this way: “You literally have to train your mind to approach things differently than its current default way of thinking—so you have to be ready to make that investment.”

What Habits Can Help to Cure a CLIP?

While a natural tendency towards tardiness seems to be an innate and unchangeable character trait, there are ways to manage its effect on your life. Here are some tips for getting yourself back on the punctual track:

  • Be patient with yourself, especially if you are a CLIP-perfectionist. “I thought of curing my lateness as a 90 percent thing,” says Vartan, “Like, 10 percent of the time, I’m not going to be successful, like anything else. If I hew to a ‘perfect’ standard, I fail, then get discouraged and quit.”
  • Accept imperfection. Your daughter’s playmate would rather she be on time than be late with flawlessly braided hair.
  • Learn to say “no” – if you over-commit your time, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  • Work backwards. If you need to drop your child off at 9:00am, plan to leave the house at 8:30am, which means you will need to begin to dressing your son and collecting his things at 8:00am. This means you will need to begin to get ready yourself at 7:30am, which, if you are like me, means setting your alarm to ring at 6:45am, again at 7:00am, and again at 7:15am. Write down your itinerary the night before, and include absolutely everything. Be realistic. You’ll be surprised how much time gets sucked up by tasks you had never considered, like simply getting out of bed.
  • Build in a “buffer” of fifteen minutes in case anything goes wrong – this is especially important if you have children.
  • Motivate yourself. Tell your friend you will buy her dessert if you are ever late to dinner again – and hold yourself to that promise.

If you are a CLIP, don’t beat yourself up over it – you are certainly not alone. Do consider trying one of the hacks above though. We on-timers love you guys, and would like to see more of you!