My name is Jennifer, and I'm chronically late.
My knack for running behind has caused me to be known as "the late one" in my friend group, show up to work under-prepared, and even miss international flights (the new ticket that cost me $200 still stings).
So you'd think I would have learned to nip my tardiness in the bud. But just recently, I was 30 minutes late to a dinner *I* arranged, and I had no excuse when I found my visibly disappointed friend waiting outside.
It's been this way for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my mom would set the clocks ahead by 5 minutes so we could leave the house ahead of schedule. To no one's surprise, this never worked. These days I can sometimes blame the NYC subways, but even when I drove everywhere, you could count on me to arrive 10 to 15 minutes late.
It's not that I like this feeling. I'm certain my anxiety knowing my friends are waiting on me, or the unwarranted grudge I feel toward others when I'm trying to rush through them, isn't healthy.
So why do I do it? Time-management expert and all-around early person Laura Vanderkam has the scoop on why some people are prone to lateness, and how to reverse it.
You Have No Idea How Long Something Really Takes
There's one morning commute in particular I count as a personal victory. I was having a good hair day and the weather was agreeable, requiring zero outfit changes, so I was out the door in 20 minutes flat. The subway was speedy that day, getting me into the office after another 20.
I know this was a fluke, and Vanderkam explains I may be framing my morning routine based on these unrealistic measures. That's why, when I snooze my alarm twice thinking I can get ready in 20 minutes again, I'm usually running into the office an hour and a half later in a frenzy.
The Fix: The best way to figure out where you're spending your time is to actually track it. "It becomes harder to tell yourself your commute takes 20 minutes when three days in a row it's taken 35 to 40," Vanderkam says. "You start to question the story when you have evidence that's different."
Track your recurring habits, from your average commute time (not the one time there was no traffic) to how long it takes to get groceries. And don't forget to account for constituent elements, like how long it takes to drive to the store, bag your items and put them away once you're home.
You're Wildly Optimistic
This may sound like a good thing, but Vanderkam says late people are too optimistic. "People think, 'I can be productive and fit it all in,' and of course it doesn't all fit in," she says.
I relate to this whole-heartedly. It stresses me out leaving the house without straightening up, so I'll do that last-minute thinking I can finish up in time. This is rarely the case.
The Fix: A little dose of pessimism can safeguard you from being late. Account for the things that could go wrong — like needing to clean your living room before leaving, or a stalled subway line — and add 15 minutes to your travel time.
"Often people are so far off in estimates that a 15-minute buffer will make them barely on time," Vanderkam says.
You Don't End Things On Time
I've been late to my next engagement because I'm unable to wrap up the one I'm already in, usually because I feel awkward leaving when the other person isn't ready. This is pretty common among people-pleasers, Vanderkam notes.
The Fix: Vanderkam recommends setting alarm on your watch or phone for when you have to move on. "That way, it’s the alarm telling you it's time to go, not just you saying so," she says.
You're Not Thinking About the Consequences
Your tardiness can have bigger consequences than being a few minutes late.
When you make a person wait, you're saying your time is more important than theirs. "They may not care, but it's still a message you're sending, and you have to know it could upset your friends long-term," Vanderkam says.
Then there's the case of being late when the other party isn't flexible — a doctor's appointment, a job interview, or in my case, a flight out of town.
The Fix: A little empathy can go a long way. "Knowing that guilt factor is there can actually help you," Vanderkam says. "It's not important enough to have an empty dishwasher than it is to have my friend be mad at me."
Oh, and that knotted feeling in my gut when I know I'm running behind? I could tap into that when I'm tempted to fit in one more to-do before leaving home. A small reminder of the worst that can happen — an upset friend, a missed flight — can be the kick in the pants you need to stick to a realistic schedule.
It's only been a few days since I've taken Vanderkam's advice, but so far, all signs are looking up. When I met up with the same friend from before to catch a movie, I saw the shortest time it would take me to get there was 25 minutes. I tacked on 15 for my ETA and ended up arriving first. While I had to wait a few minutes for her to get there, I realized how calm I felt. And honestly, waiting just a little bit for my punctual friend wasn't the end of the world.