“Sorry I’m late.”
Three words I’ve said countless times in my life, usually after texting, “In Uber. There in 5 to 10 😬.”
I’ve always been the one running for the subway…
Muttering “C’mon, c’mon” at the elevator…
Busting into the meeting 5 minutes after it starts, then excusing myself a minute later so I can grab a stack of paper towels from the restroom to blot the sweat cascading down my face.
I’m a late person, and I hate it.
At the start of the pandemic, when we were all encouraged to find silver linings. Mine was obvious: There’s nothing that I can be late for!
“Finally,” I thought, “a break from being me.“
I already ran a work-from-home copywriting business that I’d designed, as much as possible, to allow a “no-homework” life.
But this was different.
With no dinners, no parties, no in-person appointments or coffee dates, and no outfit dilemmas below the waistline (which I’ve nicknamed the “Zoom Meridian”), it seemed this period would be a welcome equalizer for those of us with a chronic lateness problem.
Turns out, that issue finds cracks to sneak through in any lifestyle.
Even in the height of a pandemic that severely affects where we can go and when we can go there, there are still boundless opportunities to be terrible with time.
Things we can still be late for:
Email deadlines. Those beloved company/team surveys that will only take “X minutes,” anyone? How about signing important paperwork by a certain date (even with DocuSign!)? Not a good look.
Zoom meetings. Do you set up your laptop a leisurely 2 minutes before the Zoom meeting starts, scramble to find the meeting link, have to restart Zoom, think the “Please wait for the host to start the meeting” message means that you’re the first only to discover that you’ve had the wrong link the whole time? Voila! You’re late.
Doctor/Therapist appointments. You dial your therapist — whom you’ve enlisted to help with your lateness issues — a consistent 3 minutes after the start time. Then you wonder whether they’re going to point out that you’re always a few minutes late, or wait for you to point it out.
Date/takeout night. You’re late getting to the car when you and your partner made plans to get takeout enchiladas. To make it up to them, you promise you’ll be the one to heat them up when you get back.
As the pandemic has largely removed the hindrance of long commutes from the equation, the persistence of lateness proves that it’s not all about having less time with more places to be.
Some theories suggest it has to do with arrogance — a passive-aggressive act that suggests, “My time is more valuable than yours.”
Julie Jarett Marcuse, PhD, says in a post on Psychology Today, “Being late expresses disrespect. It implies other priorities.”
That’s probably true of at least one person I know. She shows up very calm, put together, and smelling great. It’s clear that she took her time, punctuality be damned.
Some experts say lateness is cultural. You can see this even in Los Angeles, where people don’t say, “Sorry I’m 2 hours late, traffic was insane.” They just say, “Hey.” The traffic part is implied.
But speaking for myself and most late people in my life, who admit they “lost track of time” or say, “I don’t know why I thought I could get here in 20 minutes,” it’s something else:
Delusion. Clock dysmorphia. Magical thinking that stretches time in our heads. Scientifically put, an optimistic tendency to misjudge how long a task will take — something known as “the planning fallacy.”
Most people overestimate what they can do in 1 year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.
With a 15-minute window, I think I can shower, watch a little Netflix, dry my hair, pick an outfit, reject it, pick another, and get somewhere 15 minutes away.
In an hour, I think I can take a 90-minute walk.
In a day, I think I can do all the work I had planned to do in a month.
And then, there’s good ol’ self-sabotage
Psychotherapist Phillipa Perry says, “Being late is a way of shooting oneself in the foot.”
Rings a bell. On the rare occasion when I’m ready 10 minutes early for an outing and have the opportunity to actually be 10 minutes early, I will inevitably start a task that requires 30 minutes to complete.
To prevent this, my husband now says, “I’ll wait in the car.” He revs the engine to remind me that we’re going somewhere. What he should do is trick me and tell me we need to arrive at our destination at 6:30 when it’s actually 7:00. I’d trick me.
Though, as anyone who’s ever purposely set their clocks 10 minutes ahead knows, tricking oneself is easier said than done. It’s almost counterintuitive, as you’re consciously aware of the “extra” time you actually have before you’re officially late.
If the common recommendation of setting your clocks and watch ahead (if you even still wear a watch) doesn’t work for you, here are a few tips:
1. Plan to do the last-minute task on the other end
If you’re one of those people who start doing “one last thing” before you have to be somewhere, The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin suggests promising yourself you can do that task when you get to your destination, and forcing yourself to get there early so you have the time.
2. Set two alarms
This works especially well for virtual meetings. Try setting one alarm to go off 15 minutes before the meeting, so you can check all of your links. Also use the time to close other windows, turn on “do not disturb,” clear that pile of laundry out of the background. Then, set the second alarm to go off 2 minutes before the meeting. This is your cue to dial into the meeting and wait for it to begin. No starting another task while you wait. No quick reply to an email. Look at that, you’re actually early for once!
3. Treat being early as a gift to yourself
This works best for me. (Believe it or not, I’m better than I used to be.) Where rushing stresses me out, and functions as self-punishment, getting ready early might be my most luxurious (and free!) form of self-care.
4. Be a proactive (and gracious) help to your late partner
If it’s your partner who’s always late (and making you late by association), pro tip #1: Try not to bash them for it. They already know they have a problem. Constantly bringing it up will only frustrate you and not help them.
Pro tip #2: Don’t just make suggestions, proactively (and politely) implement them. Try telling your partner what time you’d like to be ready to leave, rather than what time you’d like to arrive somewhere. Don’t leave it to a chronically late person to do the point-A to point-B math.
One thing’s for sure: the constant “be there in 5” habit has been built-in for a long time, and it’s on us late types to change it — unless, in the race to cure COVID-19, scientists accidentally stumble upon a (just as timely) cure for lateness.
Laura Belgray, founder of Talking Shrimp, is an author, award-winning copywriting expert, and unapologetic lazy person. She’s written TV spots for clients like NBC, Fandango, and Bravo, and now helps entrepreneurs and creatives get paid to be 100% themselves. Get her 5 Secrets to Non-Sucky Copy here.