Science Discovers Why You’re Always Late (and How to Fix it)

Science Discovers Why You’re Always Late (and How to Fix it)
Jacob Wagner
February 17, 2015
Waiting on someone who’s late is arguably one of the crappiest experiences ever. What’s the reason behind why certain people are never on time? While it could simply be poor planning habits, it could also be a serious medical problem, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Poor Planning Habits

According to one theory by psychologists, people simply just underestimate how long it will take for them to finish a task. Justin Kruger, a social psychologist and professor in the marketing department at NYU’s Stern School of Business, told The Washington Post:

“This is a judgment that you’d think that people would be motivated to get right. There are all sorts of disincentives and punishments for being late, and the paradox is we’re late even when those punishments and consequences exist.”

In studies done by Roger Buehler, a psychology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, the average person underestimates how long it takes for them to finish a task by as much as 40%.

The Solution

In a 2004 study by Dr. Druger and a co-researcher, he found that “unpacking” a task, or breaking down a task into detailed steps, allows the individual to make more accurate predictions on how long it takes to complete it. In a 2012 study by Buehler, he found that those who mentally picture a task from the perspective of an outsider make better predictions on the time it takes to complete a task.

Other Contributing Factors

According to Jeff Conte, an associate psychology professor at San Diego State University, one personality type can have an impact on being chronically late. In a 2003 study he co-wrote where he observed 181 subway operators in New York City, Conte found that those who tend to multi-task were often more late to their job.
In another study done in 2001 by Conte, Type A individuals, who are known to be fast-paced, achievement-oriented and sometimes hostile, proved to be more punctual than Type B individuals, who are more laid back types. Type A personalities are also found to estimate time differently. In three previous studies, Type A people estimated that a minute passes in 58 seconds, compared with 77 seconds for Type B people.“So if you have an 18-second gap … that difference can add up over time,” Conte notes.

Tardiness in the Workplace

According to Lawrence T. White, a psychology professor at Beloit College, organizational psychologists have found that employee tardiness negatively correlated with the age of the employee’s child. The younger the child, the more likely they are to arrive to work late. Unsurprisingly, employees are also more likely to be late for work if they don’t like their job.

Health Issues

In some cases, the reasons behind why some people are chronically late are related to serious health issues. Experts say that in extreme cases, chronic lateness is a result of conditions such as ADHD, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or the beginnings of dementia.
Lisa Bernstein, a social worker based in Rockville, Maryland, says that breaking a weekly calendar down into 30-minute increments or setting up a rewards system can help motivate chronically late people to get work done on time. According to Mary Talley, one of Bernstein’s patients who has ADHD told the Washington Post:

“Creating an extremely detailed master calendar has been a huge help. She’s really helped me figure out how long something will really take.”

Bernstein offers the following tips to help you be more punctual:

Don’t double-book. Accept that you can’t be in two places at the same time.


If you have a morning meeting, have clothes ready the night before and use an alarm without a snooze function.


Use a calendar to block out meeting times. Include travel and transition time.


Set a warning alarm on phone for when you need to get ready to leave and another alarm for when you need to get out the door.


Try to get to a meeting early and reward yourself with coffee or time to relax.


Consider the cost of being late, remembering any past consequences.


Visualize yourself being on time, which will increase focus and attention.


Get enough sleep so that you are thinking clearly.

Share this Article
Web Link
© 2024 NextShark, Inc. All rights reserved.