The subway doors closed just before I could slip in. A friend called from Sierra Leone and we might not speak again for months. I was hungry.

These are among the excuses I have used over the past year to explain why I am, once again, late. I’ve barged into the middle of meetings, showed up sopping wet and breathless to coffee dates, and left out-of-town visitors drinking alone at bars. Reasons why people are perpetually late range from not sleeping enough to (paging Dr. Freud) showing our need to feel loved. But solutions are simple: Plan for delays! Learn to say no! So whether it’s you who’s always missing the opening scene in movies or a punctually-challenged pal who’s driving you crazy, don’t wait any longer: Get the facts now.

Illustration by Tanya Burr

(Check It: 27 Ways to Get More Sh!t Done)

Late For a Very Important Date — The Need-to-Know

Most of us learn to tell time in first grade, but for those who struggle with lateness, there might be underlying psychological issues at work. One potential factor is anxiety about getting to places we don’t really want to be. So we might show up 20 minutes late to a dreaded dental appointment or to dinner with irritating family members. And keeping someone waiting outside a restaurant might also be a way to assert power in a relationship.

Tardy folks often have the best of intentions — they’re just optimistic enough to believe they’ll fly down the highway and make the hour-long drive to work in half the time. Some time management experts divide late arrivers into different personality types, like the “producer,” who thinks he can go to the post office, shower, and assemble an IKEA dining table in 15 minutes, and the “deadliner,” who secretly loves the adrenaline rush from racing to make an appointment halfway across town. On the other hand, punctual people (and early arrivers) tend to share some common personality traits, like being conscientious, agreeable, and even a little neuroticDeterminants of employee punctuality. Dishon-Berkovits, M., Koslowsky, M. Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. Journal of Social Psychology 2002;142(6):723-39..

It’s possible, too, that some like it late — and some place a much higher price on punctuality. At least in the U.S., ringing the doorbell at 8 pm sharp (or, heaven forbid, 7:45) for an 8 pm event can be an automatic party foul. The meaning of timeliness also varies in different parts of the world — for example, Indonesians generally don’t make appointments for exact times the way Americans do.

But lateness sometimes comes with a lot of negative consequences. Forget about the Christmas bonus if you don’t show up ’til New Year’s — employers may be less likely to promote people who don’t get to work on time. Friends and family may also freak out when we show up an hour later than planned, assuming we’ve been victims in some kind of shark attack. Luckily, it’s easy to skip these snafus and learn how to beat the clock.

Be the Early Bird — Your Action Plan

Getting places on time may seem like a snap — but there’s more to it than just a functional watch. If you suspect chronic lateness is a sign of an emotional issue like anxiety or feeling powerless, it might be a good idea to consult a therapist. But if lateness is just a bad habit, check out these 14 tips for timeliness.

Know Yourself

Figure out why you’re always late. If you don’t give yourself enough commute time, leave the house earlier. If meetings always run late, try following an agenda. Whatever the cause of the tardiness, identify the problem and then address it.

Get familiar with your personal clock. Certain people bounce out of bed at sunrise ready to power through the day, but some of us aren’t alert for another few hoursChronotype influences diurnal variations in the excitability of the human motor cortex and the ability to generate torque during a maximum voluntary contraction. Tamm, A.S., Lagerquist, O., Ley, A.L., et al. Human Neurophysiology Laboratory, Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, Centre for Neuroscience, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada. Journal of Biological Rhythms 2009;24(3):211-24.. If you know it’ll be difficult to get yourself showered and dressed by 8 am, schedule meetings for later in the day.

Learn how long things really take. Some psychologists think people underestimate how long they spend on tasks that take more than about 10 minutesEffect of task length on remembered and predicted duration. Roy, M.M., Christenfeld, N.J. Department of Psychology, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2008;15(1):202-7.. Take a day to write down everything you do – from sending emails to folding your underwear – and exactly how minutes it requires. That way you’ll see when you’re not leaving yourself enough time. This app’s a handy tool for tracking daily tasks.

Make a New Schedule

Set your clock a few minutes early. This sneaky strategy can help even the savviest latecomers make their appointments. Reset the clock every day so you’ll never know whether it’s 11, 13, or 20 minutes ahead of time.

Plan to arrive early. It’s okay to be a little pessimisticThe positive psychology of negative thinking. Norem, J.K., Chang, E.C. Department of Psychology, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. Journal of Clinical Psychology 2002;58(9):993-1001.. On the way to work, assume you’ll hit traffic or decide to stop for coffee. So if the meeting starts at 10 am, aim to get there by 9:45. Or download this app to find out exactly when to leave.

Leave space between meetings. If a business lunch ends at noon, there’s no way you’ll make it to a meeting a block away by 12:05. Instead, leave at least 15 minutes between events, and use that time as an opportunity to plan for the next appointment. It saves you from wasting time gathering your thoughts during meetings, too.

Manage Relationships

Learn to say no. When a friend asks for help picking the perfect iPhone case, we don’t want to let her down. But remember she’ll feel worse when we show up an hour late to the Apple store. Sometimes it’s okay to refuse commitments for the sake of creating a realistic schedule.

Imagine how people feel waiting for you. It’s not always exciting to sit alone through the first act of a play. Just pick an outfit and go — your companion would rather have your company than the opportunity for a photo shoot.

Save Time in the Morning

Wake up earlier. The morning routine probably shouldn’t resemble a sprint running race. Try setting the alarm earlier or getting up as soon as the alarm goes off. If you’re too tired to wake any sooner, it might be wise to hit the hay earlier.

Prep the night before and morning of. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with a peanut-butter-and-mayo sandwich if you’re rushing in the morning. Save some sanity by packing a lunch and laying out an outfit before going to bed. In the morning, check traffic and weather reports to plan appropriately for the commute to work.

Get Out the Door

Banish distractions. Save Modern Family for this evening. The TV can capture our attention, making 20 minutes fly by like five. The same goes for radio programs, Twitter feeds, and any other gadgets that keep us from heading out the door.

Don’t check email or voicemail. One message leads to another, and another, and next thing you know you’re knee-deep in your inbox. Stop checking email and voicemail at least 10 minutes before leaving — they can wait until you reach your destination.

Be organized. You might be leaving on time until you realize you have no idea where you left your keys, phone, or jacket. Organize the space near the doorway to avoid last-minute commotion.

Take last-minute tasks with you. Instead of making that final call to the office or taking the dog for a quick walk, throw the phone and the dog in the bag. (Fine, maybe not the dog.) If you have time once you reach your destination, you can finish some tasks there.

Don’t delay. Start using these tips today!

Do you show up late to everything? If not, what are your favorite tips for getting places on time? Tell us in the comments below!

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