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Why am I always late?

Chronic tardiness is all about your personality type, says psychology expert Alice Boyes 

Personality types can overlap and blend, but if lateness is a character trait you wish to change, then identifying root causes is a good place to start. 

The people pleaser

People pleasers are late because they agree to things they don’t have time for, and attempt to squeeze in just one more task to avoid ever saying no. Unfortunately, the saying “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” is true, and so these attempts to please backfire when their lateness annoys others. A related personality type is the perfectionist, who can’t walk away from a task until it’s complete. Perfectionists are mostly trying to please themselves.

Mr or Ms Important

Mr or Ms Important occupy a role of some status (think: surgeon). They excuse their lateness because they’re doing a critical task. While people are understanding, sometimes Mr or Ms Important give themselves a blanket free pass for being late, which can lead to friction, especially when it highlights status gaps between friends and lovers. 

For more from Alice Boyes, click here 

Mr or Ms Arrogant

This couple only think they’re doing a critical task. They’re oblivious to their impact on others, or recognise it but don’t seem to care. 

The oblivious creative type

The oblivious creative type is passionate, bordering on obsessive. They can become so absorbed with what they’re doing that they lose track of time. When people experience this state, which is known as “flow”, their perception of time changes. Hours can pass without the oblivious creative noticing. Flow can be a good thing; it’s often associated with peak creativity and productivity. However, it can be a problem if people only care about their own goals and not their impact on others, à la Mr or Ms Arrogant.

The optimist and the poor organiser

The optimist is chronically tardy because they underestimate how long tasks will take to complete. They set ambitious goals and think big, but then find themselves getting caught up in details they didn’t anticipate would take so long to figure out. They can sometimes find themselves feeling frustrated when they are executing their ideas rather than dreaming up new ones. 

Misjudging the amount of time a task might take is something we all do. However, the poor organiser perhaps has an underlying difficulty with planning and sequencing multi -step tasks. Someone with ADHD would fall into this category. Such a person might also have difficulties with losing or forgetting things, further contributing to their pattern of lateness. Adults with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD can benefit from seeing a clinical psychologist who specialises in this type of neuropsychology.

Cultural differences 

We’ve all heard the phrase “Island time”, which can sometimes be used in a racist way, but also reflects that there are cultural differences in how people think about time, and the value placed on punctuality. 

Even on an individual level, people differ in their perceptions of “late” and “problematically late”. For one person, arriving 15 minutes late to a coffee date might not be something they consider late. According to a 2006 study in the Journal of Research in Personality, people who are more neurotic (more prone to worry) tend to arrive places early, and highly conscientiousness people tend to be on time. 

Latecomer as identity

If you’re chronically late, after a while it may be become part of your identity. If the negative consequences you experience as a result of being late don’t bother you enough to change, in effect you learn that you can get away with it. If you’re widely known for something, contemplating change can feel like a threat to your identity (think: if Briscoes decided not to have a sale). If you’re known for being late, it may be hard for you to contemplate changing your underlying habits. 

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