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Late (again) this morning? How to kick the habit

Some of us seem to be perpetually 10 minutes behind on life, always rushing out the door, always apologizing to those that are waiting for us. But tardiness can be stamped out by discovering the cause.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

On any given morning before leaving for work, Laura Thomason might start a load of laundry, get dinner going in the Crock-Pot, make beds and maybe fold some laundry. “I just want to fit one more thing in before I leave.” says Thomason, a payroll administrator and self-described latenik.

“I will tell our friends we will meet them at a restaurant at 7:30ish,” says Thomason, who’s 46 and lives in Cincinnati. “I like to use ‘ish’ because I feel like it gives me a window.” She also fibs about her ETA. “I figure once I arrive at my destination it is much easier to beg for forgiveness for being late than to try and ask permission to be late.”

Some of us seem to be perpetually 10 minutes behind on life, always rushing out the door, always apologizing to those who are waiting for us. “But people (who) lose jobs, hurt relationships and blow meetings — their lives can blow up,” says psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, a regular TODAY contributor. “The person who is chronically late needs to see it as a symptom so they can try to address it and improve.”

Tardiness can be stamped out by discovering the cause. Here, some lateness culprits and how you can grasp punctuality.

Latenik habit: You can’t let go of a task.
You’re working and need to leave for a meeting at 10, but you get bogged down in details and don’t pay attention to what’s up next until you’re late. “These people are too concerned with the task of the moment and are missing the big picture of their life,” says Dr. Neil Fiore, a Berkeley psychologist and author of “The Now Habit at Work.”

Punctuality plan: Accept you’re human and have a limited amount of time and energy. Devise a system where you check in every 30 or 60 minutes on your day’s agenda so you can easily transition from task to task throughout the day. Set your cell alarm or a timer at your desk; whatever your system, it must remind you to ask yourself, “'What am I supposed to be doing right now so I won’t be late?'"

Latenik habit: You despise downtime.
Constantly tardy folks often hate downtime that results from waiting for others. Some feel time is frittering away; others are uneasy waiting alone, so they avoid it by showing up late.

Punctuality plan: Instead of dreading downtime, consider it a luxury. Use newfound early arrival time to read a book, check your smartphone or just gather your thoughts. If you dread waiting alone because you fear you look like a lonely loser, stop giving power to what strangers think of you. Show up five minutes early and scan over papers, send e-mails or make business calls — even if it’s just for show.

Latenik habit: You underestimate time.
“Chronic latecomers underestimate how long things take by 25 to 30 percent,” says Diana DeLonzor, author of “Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged.” If you made it to work once in 30 minutes, that’s the standard you set for how long it takes. But you hit every green light and didn’t bump into any delays. “Over the course of the day, if you underestimate everything by that much, you are chronically behind,” says DeLonzor.

Punctuality plan: Enough with the magical thinking. Keep a log for a week of how long it really takes to, for instance, get dressed, commute to work or run an errand. Write down how long you think it takes and then write how long it really takes. “If you’re like most people, you’ll be off by quite a bit,” says DeLonzor. Log your new times and reset your task clock adjusting how much time you leave for each activity.

Latenik habit: You don’t backtrack time.
If you know you need to catch a flight at 9 a.m., you can’t just think about the number nine, says Fiore. You need to go through security at 8, leave the house at 7, wake up at 6 and pack the night before. “Not only don’t you backtrack those times, but you give your brain an image of 9 o’clock,” says Fiore.

Punctuality plan: Write down in your calendar or program your electronic schedule with the time you need to actually leave for the airport, not the flight time, advises Fiore. Do the same with any task, like a deadline next Friday or an appointment. “You need to tell your brain when to start the project to meet that end deadline or when to leave for the appointment to make it on time.” You can’t be punctual concentrating only on the end time.