BEING LATE,  by Kathryn Harris

From ON YOUR MIND, articles in the Wilmington News Journal


Q.  All my life I have been known as 'the one who arrives late'.  This  become a problem at work recently,  I am also aware that my lateness  frustrates  my family, and friends as well as myself. Do you have any suggestions about how to change such a life long habit?


A.  Chronic lateness can be a distressing  problem which can cause loss of friends and opportunities, and contribute to poor self esteem.  We all have instances of arriving in the nick of time, or a bit late.  A person would be considered chronically late if lateness occurs more frequently than not.  This can be either  a life-long behavior a tendency which is worsened by increased responsibilities, depression, or resentments.


Chronic lateness over a lifetime can be a result of many factors  including:  distractibility;  difficulty staying  clear about priorities; too many demands for a normal person's day;  not allowing enough time for the things that need to be done;  bad habits; or all of the above.  It can also be a means of expressing resentment, and of not taking responsibility for oneself.


Most of us find our schedules too full and feel pressured to get done the things we must do.  Too many demands make it difficult to keep clear about our priorities for our time and our energy.  When rushed, we are more likely to be distracted by all the stimuli around us.  Often distractions happen because it is difficult to say "no" to ourselves or others when we are rushing.


Another outcome of schedules that have more to be done than time to do it in, is that we often do not allow enough time to do the things that must be done.  Do you allow for the probable delays and red lights when planning a trip across town?  or that doing laundry,  or writing a report always take longer than  anticipated?


People who are constantly late are often very rushed, and tend to pressure themselves to get more and more accomplished.  There may never be enough time to savor an accomplishment or take delight in a special moment.  This rushing mode creates its own anxiety which tends to make the cycle worse.  The next time you get into the car,  notice if you automatically tense parts of your body when getting ready to drive.   Consciously taking a few deep breaths, and reminding yourself that you can make a choice about how this ride happens may help break the conditioned anxiety response to getting into the driver's seat.


Here are some concrete suggestions to try:

  • make a commitment to others that you will be on time for specific activities and get there!  Plan to arrive early and learn to enjoy being relaxed.  When changing a habit, remember that paying attention to the particular behavior and actually changing  the behavior is what must happen.  Know that arriving on time or early will feel awkward at first, but that will change with time.

  • set a daily schedule with separate lists of what must be done, and what is optional.  The must do list takes priority.  Many people find that a Day-timer type of scheduler can be helpful to keep them on track with their priorities.

  • set regular time for  relaxation,  pleasure, and/or exercise.


    If there is still more to do than time available, continue to cut down the must do list by delegating tasks to someone else or asking for help in setting priorities.  A psychotherapist could be helpful to evaluate for depression and identify additional strategies if you continue to have difficulty changing patterns of habitual lateness.


Although these changes may take effort, by reducing pressure and tension on yourself  you will  find that you will feel better about yourself, be able to work more effectively, and take more pleasure in your activities.


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