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How to Stop Being Late to Everything All the Time

It’s 8 a.m. and you’re still trying out hairstyles before racing to work. Or it’s 8 p.m. and you burst into the restaurant where your friends are waiting, wailing, “I knooow. I’m the worst.” Sound familiar? You might be that girl — the late one — among your friends, your coworkers, your family. In a 2014 YouGov poll, 22 percent of millennials admitted to being late to work at least once a week. One of their top reasons was “I don’t get penalized.” That’s not exactly true. Lateness can breed resentment in all your relationships and ever-simmering anxiety in you.

“One of the most predominant issues people have with time is that they constantly lie about it,” says Lauren Handel Zander, author of Maybe It’s You and chairwoman of the Handel Group, an executive- and life-coaching company. We spend too much energy coming up with fibs to justify our lateness instead of pinpointing why we’re prone to running behind schedule. Find yourself in one of the following personality types, then get real about how your traits, moods, and attitudes might be setting you back in life.

1. The Wild Procrastinator
“I’m better under pressure!”

We’re all guilty of procrastinating, but not all of us are die-hard procrastinators. So says Joseph Ferrari, PhD, a professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of Still Procrastinating? He notes that when you’re simply postponing, waiting, or delaying, you’re often gathering information in order to better achieve your goal (read: still being somewhat productive).

Procrastination, on the other hand, involves actively avoiding making any decision, putting you at an absolute standstill until the very last minute, often causing you to be late. Yes, you get everything done eventually, but in the meantime, your stress levels, not to mention chance for error, skyrocket.

The Fix: Take small steps to move you forward. That adrenaline rush you get from being in a time crunch? It’s not actually giving you super-productive powers. In one of Ferrari’s studies, procrastinators actually performed worse under pressure than non-procrastinators. In the case of life skills, such as cooking, break your goal down into smaller steps. Buy your food one day, prep on another, and then go Ina Garten on day three. You can also build in rewards for yourself and set certain restrictions. Maxime Taquet, PhD, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, says, “If you’re working on something that doesn’t really make you happy, doing something else that you enjoy may actually be the right way to get your mood back up so you can continue with that project.” Stuck halfway through a work assignment? Indulge in a walk or take a five-minute Facebook break.

2. The Commitment-Phobe
“I just can’t be tied down by set plans.”

Zander says these free spirits — or flakes — fear being locked into a reasonable schedule just in case something better comes along. “They feel stifled by concrete plans and wait until they’re ‘in the mood’ to do something — which leaves a great many things undone,” she explains. In other words, they’re rarely anywhere on time. “If you’re waiting for the day you enjoy commitment in order to start, it’s not coming.”

The Fix: Communicate and stick to a plan. Being the flake may feel empowering, like the world revolves around you, but it can wreak havoc when you’re the one who’s flaked on, says productivity expert Julie Morgenstern, author of TIme Management From the Inside Out. So imagine what it’s like to be the other people in the scenario (friends and family members), who are simply trying to nail down a plan. Rather than stringing others along, be up-front and vocal about your intentions. If you’re even the least bit lukewarm about making a commitment, simply say something like, ‘Hey, I like the sound of dinner, but I may need to bail, so please make the reservation without me.”


3. The Underestimator
“This should only take a minute…”

Underestimators are well-intentioned but occupy an alternate reality where time has no meaning. “I ask clients like this how long they think a task will take, and then I give them a certain amount of time to complete it,” Zander says. “When the time to stop comes, they are so, so wrong.”

Underestimators are afraid to find out that they can’t do everything, or they obsess over and take too long to do other things, Morgenstern adds: “But when a person looks at what is in front of her in advance, she puts herself in a position to make better choices.”

The Fix: Get grounded in realityMorgenstern breaks her clients of this habit by making them time themselves. Choose a situation or task that you’re regularly late on and carefully study yourself doing it on three separate occasions. Then calculate your average time. If you’re suitably horrified by the black hole of your schedule, go through your upcoming tasks in advance and apply one of Morgenstern’s Four Ds to each one. Delete: If it’s unimportant or unfeasible, you might choose not to do it at all. Delay: Reschedule your task for a more appropriate time. Diminish: Create a shortcut, like breaking a big project into parts and dedicating just one hour a day to it. Or Delegate: Give all or part of your task to somebody else.

4. The Time Martyr
“I’m so busy — there just aren’t enough hours in the day!”

Time Martyrs jump at the chance to do everything for everyone, often neglecting their own needs in the process. They volunteer to host their cousin’s bridal shower, pick up Grandma’s meds, and create the spreadsheet of emergency contacts at work, but at the expense of making it to the Zumba class they’ve wanted to try or digging into their passion project. While they feel validated and useful to others (it’s nice to be needed), they are also often overwhelmed, feel unfulfilled, and are usually tardy to the party — a hefty trade-off that can lead to burnout.

The Fix: Start saying no. It’s true that saying yes to almost everything can help accelerate your career — and socially, you’ll never miss a chance to help a friend. But double- and triple-booking yourself means the time you spend in any single place suffers, and you have little time left to take care of yourself. At work, when you’re given another task that goes above and beyond your existing commitments, Morgenstern advises buying yourself a little time before immediately answering, “Sure thing!” Say: “That sounds really important. I’d love to do it, but here is everything I’m working on now. Can you help me choose between these?” Morgenstern says most employers will respect a thoughtful, grown-up response, especially when it means the work gets done well. The same goes for friends and family who’d rather spend time with the most present version of you.