Everyone knows that one person who's never on time. Hanging out with her means never seeing the opening band, crawling over people in the dark theater for seats and missing dinner reservations.
Why are some people always late? Can anything be done about it?
It’s complicated — and yes.
There’s some research looking at why people are chronically late and it seems to be linked to certain characteristics. People who multitask, also called polychronics, arrive late more often than those who stick to one task, said Jeff Conte, associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University.
“Those who prefer multitasking … are likely late because they are doing and thinking about too many things to keep track of time,” he told TODAY via email.
People who possess more type B personality traits — those who are more relaxed — show up later than type A people. Time just doesn't motivate them. What’s more, Conte’s research indicates that types sense time differently: type A people believe a minute is faster than 60 seconds, estimating it to be 58 seconds; while type B people believe it takes longer, 77 seconds.
“Type A individuals are more focused on time … they are more likely to be on time, or even early, than type Bs,” he said.
Ann Kearney-Cooke treats many patients who suffer from chronic lateness. She agrees consistently tardy people seem “unrealistic about time."
“They always think, ‘I can get this done and I will be there in an hour.’ They don’t get there in an hour,” she said.
Others like the rush of adrenaline. They want to see if they can make it to an appointment in a crunch. Still others like being rebellious. If someone tells them to be on time, they purposefully show up late as a sign they don’t like following rules.
Some people even show up late as revenge, said Joseph Ferrari, author of "Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done."
“It’s a way of getting back at you; it’s passive aggressive,” said the Saint Vincent de Paul professor at DePaul University.
But chronically late people cause themselves and others unnecessary stress.
“You are always apologizing and you get a bad reputation. And also, people close to you don’t feel like they can count on you,” Kearney-Cooke said. “You just feel bad about yourself.”
While it might seem impossible for the chronically late to be on time, people can amend their tardy ways.
Set a stopwatch
Kearney Cooke recommends that for an entire week, people time everything they do — from drying their hair to picking up the kids to grocery shopping.
Keep a log of exactly how long everything takes and use it to create a realistic schedule. If it takes 30 minutes to grocery shop, then devote at least 30 minutes to it before moving on to another task.
Be early, not just on time
Planning on being somewhere 10 or 15 minutes before an event starts prevents tardiness. When people complain that waiting for 10 or 15 minutes is a waste, Kearney Cooke urges them to refocus.
“If … you are 15 minutes early and it is a beautiful day and you are watching the birds. That is refreshing,” she said. “Wasting time is when you are driving and late and you are multitasking and you are creating a lot of stress and pressure.”
She brings a book or activity with her that she uses as a reward for being early and encourages others to do the same. Suddenly, being early feels like a treat.
Get it together
People often arrive late because they’re always in a frantic search for keys, phones, wallets, the kids’ backpacks, or purses. Kearney-Cooke recommends people keep their belongings in the same place. To encourage this, she tells people to put a sticker by the spot every day their stuff is where is should be. After accumulating a certain amount of stickers in a row, they should reward themselves with a treat, such as a massage.
There are also ways for the loved ones of late people to cope with their tardiness:
“My first step would be telling the person, 'When you are late all the time, it makes me feel unimportant and I would like you to be on time,'” said Kearney-Cooke.
Some people don’t realize their lateness feels hurtful and disrespectful. When someone shares that directly, it often encourages people to be on time to be considerate of others.
Change your timing
If dinner is at 7, tell the chronically late person it's at 6:30 to adjust for his tardiness. Both Ferrari and Kearney-Cooke agree that giving an earlier meeting time gets the late people where they need to be on time. But Ferrari notes that if the late people catch on to the trick, they might start arriving late again.
Let them fail
Ferrari suggests the tough love approach of letting the chronically late miss events. They might be more motivated to arrive early the next time after they realize they've missed out.