Vartan began experiencing life changes that made her think seriously about tackling the issue. She decided to open her own business, which held her increasingly accountable for meetings and tasks. Her partner, who was reliably on-time, would often express his frustration.
According to Rashelle Isip, an organization coach, reasons like these push people to begin addressing their lateness. For some, it’s a gradual build-up of repeated instances when they’ve been called out for this behavior, or missed moments and travel arrangements. For others, there’s a point when major changes are taking place in their life and being late is no longer sustainable. These shifts can include milestones like having a child, getting a promotion, or moving somewhere new and striving to cultivate a fresh reputation.
“For the most part, people take action to deal with chronic lateness only once it’s about to cost them a heavy price or already has,” says Winch, “They might have missed a crucial flight, received a final warning from their superior at work or been confronted by a spouse who just can’t take it anymore … something big enough has to happen to break their denial about their lateness being manageable and tolerable (by others).”
Without the added accountability from her business and partner, Vartan wonders if she would have been as determined to adjust. Friends and family may grumble, but they always seem to forgive their late compatriots. Even then, there are consequences. “With certain people, I was always wondering if they had a bad impression of me,” says Richards.
Winch agrees that much of the consequence of lateness goes unsaid. “You’re not only wasting a person’s time, you’re aggravating them in the process,” he says, “Will all of them say that to you? No, and certainly not every time. But they will feel it.”
While it can be tougher to remain motivated without punishments, real or imagined, Sapadin notes that focusing on the positive gains of being on time can serve as a powerful incentive. “Very often people who are late come into a room and mumble an apology. One of the advantages would be that you don’t have to mumble an apology,” she says, “You don’t have to go to a meeting sweating or feeling rushed.”
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Identifying the reasons that people are late is one of the first steps to concretely changing the behavior, says Sapadin. Based on her research, she has pinpointed four kinds of personalities, which can be susceptible to lateness. Many have grappled with this quandary since childhood, but some have developed it later on in life when they had less external support and structure in their daily activities. An individual whose parents may have once reminded them to get to school on time might struggle when they enter the working world, for example.
The first of Sapadin’s types is the perfectionist—who is late because he or she won’t leave the house until everything from their appearance to the project they’re presenting is as close as it can be to flawless. The second is the crisis maker, who thrives off the pressure and adrenaline rush of a time constraint in order to be productive. The third, the defier, is late as a means of rebelling against existing societal constructs or a broader authority telling him or her what to do. And the last is the dreamer, someone who lives in a fantasy world of their own creation and thinks that time might just work differently for them than it does for anyone else. A dreamer often underestimates travel time or attempts to fit many tasks into an unrealistic window. (Many people possess a combination of these personalities.)