5 Ways to stop being late


The reason I know so much about being late is because recently, I have been late a lot. So I have been telling myself that each time I am late I have to honestly think about what sort of behavior is causing me to be late, and write it down.

The write it down part is important. For me, writing something makes it more serious. Like I am taking more responsibility for changing something if I write it down. I know I am not alone in this.

I see blogs about losing weight and sticking to a budget, and those people say that blogging about it helps them stick to a plan. I think being on time is a similar type of goal in that you have to think about it every day in order to make a real change in your life.

Hopefully I will not end up writing a whole blog about being on time, especially since there’s such a good one already. Hopefully a post will be enough to get things back in order….

Here are things I’ve come up with for myself:

1. Schedule the event into your calendar.
If you block out time to be somewhere then you won’t be doing something else when it’s time to go. I amazed myself when I tried to do this. I discovered I had enough on my schedule to last 48 hours a day. It would have been impossible for me to be on time for anything.

(Note: If you are a person who is about to recommend to me that I read Getting Things Done in order to be better at time management, here is a link you might like.)

2. Practice saying what you need to say.
Here’s a great thing to say: “Excuse me, I hate to cut you off, but I have an appointment.” It is hard to cut someone off, but they will respect you for sticking to a schedule. The higher up you go in corporate life, the stricter the people stick to a schedule. The good news is that this means it’s perfectly acceptable in work life to say this short speech. Get comfortable doing it at work and then you can do it at home, too. Often saying no takes forethought and practice.

3. Be a time pessimist.
Assume everything will take a little longer than your first estimate. This will either make you right on time for everything, or it’ll make you a little early. People who run early are calm, organized, and always ready. Not a bad place to be.

4. Prioritize.
Some people are late because they simply don’t have enough time to do everything. The only way to change this is to stop doing so much. Face the reality that you cannot get your whole list done. Figure out what’s most important and just get that done. Tell the people who depend on you – like your boss — that you can only do what you have time for, and things at the bottom of the their list of priorities will not get done: a reality check for everyone in your life.

(Another Getting Things Done note: The only people I know who are really good at prioritizing have read the book. Here’s an overview of the book for the uninitiated.)

5. Be honest with yourself.
Why do you let yourself be late? It is disrespectful and makes you look unorganized and out of control. Why are you not getting control over your time. So much about being on time is actually about self-knowledge. Often, we are scared to make the decisions that we must make in order to get control over our time and become someone who runs on schedule. But there is no other way to run a life. To run on schedule is to plan the life you want to live and execute that plan.

63 replies
    • hmmm
      hmmm says:

      I like it. I think my problem is just selfishness. I want things the way I want them and I don’t want to be inconvenienced… by work or anything else. Bad habit. Arriving without my makeup on is way worse to me than being on time and unattractive.

      • John
        John says:

        I am late a lot lately. Most of the time because of my clients. I really need to practice saying what needs to be said. That and prioritizing my meetings and leaving enough time to conduct one. I think it might be a scheduling issue as well. 

  1. Beth Dargis
    Beth Dargis says:

    Thanks for the tips Penelope. Another idea is to plan to leave 10 minutes before you feel you need to. Depending on where most of the appointments are you can add more “just in case” minutes. Whenever I use my 10 minute rule, I am on time.

  2. Ryan Collins
    Ryan Collins says:

    The easiest way to get visitors out of your office is to not have any chairs in it. That way they have to stand if they are talking to you, and most people are too lazy to stand for too long, so they’ll leave.

    * * * * *

    Well, yes, but it’s a fine line to walk. I mean, we all want friends at work. Work is better with friends. So maybe you could have a folding chair, that you open up when you are feeling chatty :)


  3. zombie gursha
    zombie gursha says:

    You may have the ability to make your phone ring already. If you have an office IP phone you might have a dialer on your computer. Cisco IP phones have that ability. Your phone will ring after typing the extension on your computer. Just make sure the office visitor can’t see your phone or computer display. The call will show as coming from your own extension. It also works great as a practical joke. We often makes calls from our extension to others in our office, while we are out of the office. You can even make calls from other peoples extensions if you know their login. Most of the phone systems default to a particular password and no one changes it.

  4. William A. Kolbe
    William A. Kolbe says:

    The easiest way to get someone out of your office is to get up while they are talking and walk them out the door. If they won’t take a hint, mention you have a project to work on. If they still don’t take the hint walk to the bathroom. If they follow you in, go into the stall and just say I’m sorry I can’t talk right now. Works everytime.. And do it everytime and the same timepest will get the hint. Also if you get into work early or stay late, close your door. Let everyone including your boss know you are working early or staying late to get projects done. This is your time.. Close your door and put the phone on do not disturb.. and stick to it!!

  5. Jim Phelps
    Jim Phelps says:

    Getting people out of your office – I’m just straightforward and honest. I say, “I hate to throw you out but I must. I’ve really got to get this done. Can I follow up with you (in an hour / tomorrow / later this week)?”

    You are then on the hook to follow up.

  6. Karen Porter
    Karen Porter says:

    I don’t totally agree with #3 that people who run early are calm, organized, and always ready. I would agree that some people are indeed so but some people unfortunately still arrive at meetings early while being unprepared and anxious. You are right on though with #5 that being late is disrespectful and makes you look unorganized and out of control.

    As someone who once was chronically late getting up and out in the mornings, I also sometimes chose to set my clocks and alarms at home to about 15 minutes earlier. It worked sometimes.

    * * * * * * *

    Karen, you know, I think you’re right — you can run early and be a nutcase. Nothing can really make one immune from the nutcase category. Not even being early :)

  7. Alan
    Alan says:

    I totally agree to #3. I think that being optimistic about time is the problem of most people who are late. They tend to say to themselves that they can make it, when in fact the time is not enough.

  8. SavvySatyr
    SavvySatyr says:

    People who show up early are often thought of as being ‘not busy’ and in American culture, ‘busy’ seems to get more respect than ‘efficient and productive’.

    Nothing irritates me more than being conscientious about my schedule, limiting the things I prefer to do in order to take care of things that need to be done only to have my time eaten up by someone who feels a need to schedule back to back meetings without being realistic enough to build in buffer time.

    This is a brilliant post and I think it is worthy of many discussions, and not just time management discussion but ‘basic respect’ discussions.

  9. monogodo
    monogodo says:

    “As someone who once was chronically late getting up and out in the mornings, I also sometimes chose to set my clocks and alarms at home to about 15 minutes earlier. It worked sometimes.”

    I used to do that, too. But then I’d realize that the clocks were fast, and would mentally subtract the added time and still end up late. Then I decided to set each clock fast, but a different amount, so that one would be 5 minutes, another 7, another 12, etc., etc. That didn’t work, either. Now all my clocks are set correctly. I’m still chronically late, but only to non-important things.


  10. Eric Blue
    Eric Blue says:


    Great tips! One thing that has really helped me over the years is getting an earlier start. I usually wake up and start my day at 6AM.

    I take the first few hours of the day to workout, do busy work/errands, and think about what I’ll get done for the rest of the day. I usually have a clear head by the time I get in the office.

    I also learned to go to bed earlier, and slowly started sleeping less hours (from 8 to about 6 1/2). I found that taking a quick 20 minute cat nap in the early evening helps out tremendously!

  11. Eric
    Eric says:

    Does anyone notice that the nearer a person is to the location that he/she needs to be, they tend to be later than someone who has come from a farther location?

    Just a thought…

    • June
      June says:

      I feel like an idiot. It’s like, “Why is it so hard to be on time”. This is really affecting my life. I’ve lost jobs in the past and I’m in danger of losing my current position. I am 35 years old and both of my parents are NEVER late going anywhere. So what is wrong with me?

      You would think that since I have had problems in the past with tardiness and I’m 35 with kids and bills that I would have my act together but NO, I still underestimate my time.

      I am a GREAT worker. My employers tell me this all the time but I am late whether I go to bed early or even if I get up early, I’m still late. So Scared and I feel so stupid. Why do I keep doing this???????

  12. Susan Martin
    Susan Martin says:

    Definitely, my husband grew up across the street from his school, and was never there on time.

    Great tips, here’s the list from my article “The 7 Deadliest Time Management Mistakes”:

    1. Lacking commitment
    2. Holding on to old habits and beliefs
    3. Letting time wasters distract you
    4. Trying to do everything yourself
    5. Underestimating how long things really take
    6. Procrastinating
    7. Giving up too soon

  13. Melvin
    Melvin says:

    Thanks for the nice and succinct reminders!

    Here’s a personal practice that I find helpful:

    Schedule travel time:
    Telecommuting may not be an event or appointment in itself, but I make travel time a non-negotiable "appointment with myself". And to make this "appointment" important to me, I plan things to do – €“ planning, reading, phone calls etc.

    This way, it's clear on my calendar exactly what time I must get up from my desk and start traveling.

  14. Annie M.
    Annie M. says:

    #5 is really the key…Be Honest with Yourself:

    Well, what I’ve realized is:
    1. I’m an adrenalin junkie! I can have enough time to get somewhere and then do something that will sabotage it because I get a tremendous high out of racing to get somewhere. Dodging traffic, worrying about all the awful things that will befall me if I’m not there on time. And yet the high I get must be exciting enough to keep me hooked.

    2. I’m narcissistic enough to want to make some sort of entrance. I like to be welcomed when I arrive…and if I’m there later than the other person…well…it’s bound to happen. Crazy I know. But it’s just what I’ve realized about myself.

    On the upside, I will always be there is I say I will (just probably 15 minutes late).

    And yes, I am working on it! Thanks for the tips!

  15. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    Wow, I see me in so many comments.
    1. I am a time pessimist
    2. I am an adrenalin junkie too.

    Man do I sabotage myself so often when I could be early.

    I have done the setting the clock ahead too. Then of course I count those extra minutes. Get up early, don’t work. Go to bed early still don’t work.

    I hate the feeling and being counted on as being there late. Even though when I get there I go beyond call of duty, it doesn’t count. I truly know I am chronically late and want to stop. SOMEBODY, ANYBODY HELP IF YOU BEAT THIS THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. K
    K says:

    Help! I am so frustrated. I teach Title Reading 1st and 2nd grades and have been at the same school for my entire teaching career-8+ years. I feel trapped and do not feel like my school system will let me grow professionally. I am doing a terrific job however they have cut my help and I have 80 students/10 classes with 5 pages of paperwork per head. I am tired and the environment at my school is such that the moral is very low as well as the system in which I teach. My family lives in this area. I love it here except for my job. The perks are hard to leave-kids, vacation. Please help me. I am not sure what to ask so ANY help is appreciated!! I am also 35, not married, no children and I just sold my condo to downsize and pay off debt. My car just went kapooie unexpectedly. Help:)

  17. Cat
    Cat says:

    K October 8 – Grad school is right for you! Stop teaching! Get another graduate degree – is it Masters or PhD whatever it is, get it, it’s the easiest way to transition into what you want. Teaching is a thankless profession for people who can’t think of anything else to do. Whatever subject you enjoy, go to grad school and study it – hopefully something to do with making money! Good luck. I am 35, single, no kids too and I am also trying to make a career change from a dead-end situation.

  18. Travl
    Travl says:

    These are great tips. Nothing angers and annoys employers more than being late. This is especially important if your employers are upset about being 1 minute late (very strict for sure).

  19. Tobias
    Tobias says:

    Agreed! Scheduling things in the calendar helps, but it helps even more to schedule meetings 15min in advance in order to think about it much more sooner!

  20. Giselle
    Giselle says:

    Its really a big problem when being late is part of the culture of the country you are from and therefore was taught to you by your parents. I know that some of the reasons above apply to me, as well as 99% of the people in my country, but when it is something that is nurtured into you from birth it is really hard to change.

    My parents moved to America when I was 8 and they have been late all their lives. They are always late to their classes (they are professors), appointments, church, EVERYWHERE. Growing up they would always make me late.

    Most of the world focuses more on quality of time not quantity of time; they don’t make such a big deal about being on time. In my culture/country being on time isn’t such a big deal as the experience that occurs when you are there and what you do, how you do it, etc. There is a lot of truth to this but in the U.S. people are more obsessed with technical attributes than emotional ones. So a big part of me feels like people here should just chill.

    But I can’t blame my lateness on my parents/upbringing/culture or anything/one else but me anymore. I’ve had enough years to correct it but it is really hard. It also makes me feel like sh*t because I’m such a perfectionist and I don’t like people being upset with me.

  21. hmmm
    hmmm says:

    I think I was born in the wrong culture… where is the easy goin, you get here when you get here and leave when you’re done culture? Why are we all in such a hurry? Slow down, enjoy the journey… hmmm

    • kp
      kp says:

      you have to go to Spain or other Mediterranean countries !  You’ll be surprised how incredibly different time is perceived in other cultures.  Don’t let one culture deceive you.

  22. being late because of the bathroom
    being late because of the bathroom says:

    i was late one day because of the bathroom i had stomach issue and when i was late for class i couldnt tell mt teacher

  23. Zombilly
    Zombilly says:

    Thanks for you article P-,

    After working ten years at my current employment without ever being written up, I was called into my bosses office and given a written complaint that is going in my file, ugh. I have never had to be on time since I’ve worked here. I just come in, with in 30 mins. or so and get my work done. I honestly don’t even like being on time anywhere, I just enjoy the casualtiness [sic] of coming and going as I please. Ok well thats what I did like, no stress, no rush, but now I want to keep my job, so now I want to, I must be on time. Ugh, the only thing worse than being on time is being early.

    Thanks for your help,

  24. Jason
    Jason says:

    I fall asleep. I get insomnia and cannot sleep all night, so when I finally get to sleep, I miss the alarm and I miss important appointments.

    When I’m awake, I’m right on time…but I set my alarm and ignore it (a few more minutes) cause I’m so fatigued.

    It is killing me.

  25. Coffee Hater
    Coffee Hater says:

    We can also take a look at being late from a physiological standpoint. It is a laziness, brought on by a body which is dull and listless. People’s habit of drinking coffee in the morning depletes them of rich minerals, and sets them up for a circular pattern of losing energy and reaching for even more coffee (caffeine). We have to make our bodies strong, then our minds and habits become strong and life supporting.

  26. Evan
    Evan says:

    These are some great tips. The best one however, is the one about being a time pessimist. Things always take longer than you expect…Hofstadter’s Law. I think that once someone realizes the significance of this, then everything else just naturally falls in perspective.

  27. Sara
    Sara says:

    whoever said the key to getting visitors out of your office is to not have chairs in it is wrong . There are people (like me) who can stand for hours and talk to you if they really wanted to . I have stood for an hour or two just talking to a friend in the hallway and I know others who do as well . If you do not want visitors in your office or you have visitors but do not want them to stay long be honest with them and tell them “I have to get back to my work , it has to get done .”

  28. chibaya canisios
    chibaya canisios says:

    Do not entertain people who have no business with you
    Do not promise to do what you cannot do
    Do not shy to say no
    Do not accept unknown people into your life
    Do not get dragged into some unplanned love affair

  29. fasstest but latest
    fasstest but latest says:

    Oh my God! I am late for everything and now my daughter is writing me a late contract. I am 50 and can’t break the habit and I also hate what people call me. I have pulled it off all these years. But one a boss called me in. I was never late again for that company. It is definitely psychological. But reading those comments freak me out. I really hate it but can’t help myself.

  30. Sexy Confident Woman
    Sexy Confident Woman says:

    I think the idea that people are thinking that you are out of control and not very organised is enough to get someone to change the error of their ways it’s self destructive to be organised and in control of your life only to have people perceive you wrongly just do yourself a favour by sparing yourself the dirty looks and critical comments behind your back and just be kind to yourself by showing up on time.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Lifehacker says:

    How to stop being late

    Work-life blog Brazen Careerist serves up five ways to stop being late–a chronic problem for many people. For example: Be a time pessimist. Assume everything will take a little longer than your first estimate. This will either make you…

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