Always late

Dear Alice,

I read many advice columns and have never seen this issue addressed before. I am always late for work, church, etc... I have always considered myself just not a morning person, but I'm basically late for everything. It drives everyone crazy!! What can I do to get out of this "habit," if I can call it this!! I do like my job, but just don't want to get out of bed, mostly because I just don't feel rested. So I get speeding tickets getting to work and now I'm afraid I may soon be getting in trouble at work!! Any advice would be helpful. I'm sure there are many other people like myself!! The worse part of this is how my mornings at work are ruined because I feel so bad I'm late and try to compensate for this, which just causes more stress. I'm worried that I will not get a good reference if I do move to a new better paying job! Thanks in advance for answering my question!!

Dear Reader, 

Sometimes people are late for reasons that are simply out of their control, such as the car not starting, a family member being sick, traffic… you get the idea. However, if you find yourself being late often, or more than you’d like, it may be time to ask yourself questions to reflect on the root cause of your tardiness. Once you feel like you have a better understanding you may be able to find out why you’re arriving to places late. Then, you can then come up with some strategies to help correct this issue so that you can get to where you need to be on time.

Before making any changes, it is helpful to know what might be at the root of what keeps you from being on-time. You may consider some of these questions to get you started on your timely self-awareness journey: Are you getting up in enough time to accomplish what you need to get done? If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, what might be contributing to the lack of shut-eye? What strategies have you considered implementing to get better quality sleep? In the time just before you need to be somewhere else, do you find yourself doing activities such as checking e-mail or cutting your workout too close to the time you need to leave instead of preparing for your day ahead of time? How do you feel about your level of motivation for being on time for a given obligation or scheduled happening? What are your reasons for wanting to be on time in general (e.g., know that it is useful to your career’s well-being; alignment with your personal values; interest in what you will be participating in)? Connecting with the “why” here may help you determine meaningful next steps when it’s your time to show up.

Improving your sleep and time management may aid in fixing your tardiness blues. For example, you may consider adjusting your bedtime to see if going to bed earlier gives you more energy in the morning. You can do this by trying to go to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier than you would on usual days and continuing to push this time back by 15 minutes until you find a bedtime that works for you. In addition, research has shown that regular aerobic physical activity, as well as yoga or meditation, can help you get more restful sleep and put some spring in the those otherwise heavy early morning steps. Furthermore, getting up earlier to compensate for procrastination and inevitable interruptions in your commute may also help you get to where you want to be once you do get yourself out of bed.  

In some cases, people aren’t familiar with how long it takes them to do a given task. For example, if you shower each morning, do you know how long it takes? Examining how long each task takes and what time you need to be out the door each morning can help you figure out whether or not you’re on track as you get ready. If you’re unfamiliar with how long each task takes, it’s possible you aren’t leaving yourself enough time, making you rush more to avoid being late. One tool that may be useful is to set a series of alarms, not only the alarm that wakes you up. This can give you cues as you get ready. It may also help you figure out how much time you need every morning. If you’re consistently running behind one of the alarms that you set, you may need more time and you can adjust accordingly. More information on sleep improvement, energy-boosting, and time management strategies can also be found in the related Q&As! 

If these ideas don’t seem to work for you, it may be helpful to consult with a health promotion or mental health professional in order to figure out what else may be contributing to your chronic lateness. You may find that your tardiness is a way of acting out frustration or dissatisfaction with your job or in your personal relationships. No matter the root cause, working with a professional could help you identify a root cause and then determine time management strategies that address it and are feasible for you. Remember, there is no shame in talking with someone, as it may help you get your life back on a timely track. 

The tips mentioned here and in the other Go Ask Alice!  Q&As may help, but they may only act as a short-term fix for those who feel that they’re forever drowning in the sea of time. Time management is self-management; so, improving your on-time record could benefit from figuring out some short and long-term priorities and goals. It's never too late to remedy chronic lateness, and your question is an obvious indication that you’re motivated to do so. Good luck! 

Last updated Mar 19, 2021
Originally published Apr 25, 1997