Always Late? A 5-Step Guide To Fix It Forever

fix your always late habit


This precise 5-step process is designed to take your habit of being always late and turn it into a force of high punctuality.

Problem of Being Forever Late

You’re always late. For anything and everything. From showing up on time at a movie show to a felicitation ceremony at your kid’s school to being late for a meeting at your workplace.

How many times have you offered an apology for your lateness, “Sorry, I got late,” and expected people to carry on without taking any offence?

Frankly, it’s never a problem if it’s once in a while; people don’t hang you for that. It’s also not an issue if it’s a critical event that held you, like an accident or an emergency. It only starts getting bad when you become a repeat offender. And that habitual pattern of yours seems to yell at the people you fail to meet on time, this:

My time is more important than yours.

Now, that above may not be what you think about yourself, but that’s how they think about you. You may not be rude, chaotic, inconsiderate – but they see you as such.

Reasons For Being Always Late

You’re someone who gets criticized for your perennial tardiness. But if someone were to listen to you with compassion, you might say you’re the one who suffers the most from being held in custody of this habit. You might even know a few others who are worse off than you on this. Still, you’re yet to find a person who is forever late at everything and doesn’t hate themselves for it – including you.

One real scientific reason you’re always late is you have a problem called planning fallacy. That means you are really bad at predicting how long will you take to get something done. It means you grossly underestimate the amount of time it will take you to finish a task at hand, or reach a place.

In other words, you’re so high on optimism you think you’ve way too much time to finish a future task. The latecomers are optimistic, even when they are aware similar tasks have taken longer time in the past, according to a paper by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Amor Tversky.

Other psychological reasons for your being unpunctual could be a low degree of self-control, a high level of anxiety, or a streak of perfectionism. It could be also because you’ve low levels of self-esteem, or you’re a habitual multi-tasker.

It may not be obvious, but your lateness could stem from the fact you’re trying to avoid doing the task. And finally, you may have been brought up in a culture of never showing up on time.

Even then, deep inside you’re probably disgusted at this habit of yours. You hate to be late.

So let’s fix it today, once and for all.

5-Step Guide To Change Your Being Late To Being Punctual

You might have got suggestions, and you might have even tried, to set your clock earlier by 10 or 15 minutes. That didn’t help. Even when you set up 3 extra alarms on your clock or smartphone to time you, you can’t seem to overcome the habit of being late to every meet.

Here’s how you can break your habit of being chronically late. Follow this 5-step guide to do away with your habitual lateness.

  1. Track Your Routine
  2. Sort Your Sins
  3. Pick The Smallest Devil
  4. Begin A New Ritual
  5. Make It Bloody Easy

Step 1. Track Your Routine

This is the first move – start a diary or a journal to track your routine.

Tonight, before you go to bed, take a notepad and jot down how many times you’ve been late for your appointments today. And by how many minutes.

For example,

  • Leaving home for work – late by 30 minutes
  • Returning from lunch – late by 15 minutes
  • Meeting a client – late by 10 minutes
  • Showing up at your kid’s party – late by 60 minutes
  • Going to bed – late by 120 minutes

Now, these times don’t have to be exact. We know how bad you want them to be exact, because you probably have a streak of perfectionism. Just take it easy and write down some approximate times.

What’s more important is trying to get as many of your sins of being late to your notepad. Still, don’t obsess over it, and get up from your bed, dart to your smartphone to write something you missed. Just stop if you could get only 2 on your first day.

Then do this for the next 7 days. It wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes each night, and you’ll get better at this with a daily practice.

The most crucial part of this first step is to not try doing anything about it. You’re going to stop yourself from consciously doing anything to fix it. That’s the deal. Do not, repeat absolutely do not, try to fix your problem till your 7 days of diary entries are there in place.

Step 2. Sort Your Sins

This is the second move – sort your timeliness failures in an order.

At the end of 7 days, keep some time aside to do this. Sort your activities from the worst to the least offence in terms of time. Remember, it’s a sorting you’re going to do absolutely on a measure of time. So, a 120 minutes lateness comes first on that list, and a 15 minutes comes last.

How to do it? Make 6 slabs. Mark sections or pages for each slab. Here’s the framework:

  1. 120 or more minutes –  submitting a project to your team
  2. 90 to 120 minutes – getting to a meeting with a client
  3. 60 to 90 minutes – returning a call to your colleague or friend
  4. 30 to 60 minutes – going to bed (frankly, most of us suffer from this)
  5. 15 to 30 minutes – reaching your kid’s party or sports event
  6. 15 or less minutes – showing up at a networking event

Sorting your activities according to how late you were is a vital part for this whole plan to work. It starts rotating the wheels in your brain as you see the chunks of lateness with your eyes.

Once again, do not try to micro-manage this part of the step-wise guide. Do not try to shuffle an activity from one slab to another because you realize while having your lunch there was a lag of three minutes in your original entry. Let go of trying to be accurate to the minute.

The most crucial part of this step is, again, not to do anything about it.

How long do you spend on this step?

Give it 2 or 3 days. Take a day’s break after this step. And yes, once you reach this step, stop your diary keeping from first step.

Also, if you don’t happen to find a couple of days to dedicate time to this step, then keep doing your diary entries till you find time.

Step 3. Pick The Smallest Devil

This is the third move – pick out the least troubling wiggly and throw it away.

It’s action time now. Let’s lay down two ground rules here:

  • Don’t tell anyone else about it
  • Be ready to set up reminders

What do we mean by those two rules above?

First, do not go to town declaring you’re starting out a reboot of yourself. Not to your colleagues, not to your friends, not to your family. It’s just you and your mind. If they ask, tell them as gently and kindly as possible that it’s none of their business. Because declaring it before doing it takes away your motivation.

Second, place multiple reminders throughout each day to your goal. We haven’t gone into what your action goals are in this step yet, so relax on that. You’ve to fix a lot of post-it notes at various places, and on your phone and laptop.

Action time: Pick up the activity that you were the least late to, and tell yourself you’ll fix it. Once you’re done with fixing that, and no more late to that activity, pick up the next bigger offence on your list. And then go about repairing it.

Suppose you have to get over your being late to bed. What you do is write some post-it notes and place them all around the place you spend the last few hours of your day before retiring to bed. It could your television, or even its remote, the wall around your sofa, your tabletop, your bathroom mirror. And several reminders on your phone, each 3 to 5 minutes apart.

How to go about fixing it? We are dealing with that in the next step, where we’ll lay out the plan to fix it.

Step 4. Begin A New Ritual

This is the fourth move – replace your habits with rituals.

Habits don’t work; rituals do.

There’s a difference between the two. Habits are automatic behaviors. Rituals, however, are just the opposite – they require your intention, attention, and engagement.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says,

Rituals, by contrast, are almost always patterns developed by an external source, and adopted for reasons that might have nothing to do with decision making.

Rituals are step-by-step instructions you can easily repeat to get to your desired outcome.

If you’ve taken up your habit of going to bed on time, here’s an example of how to go about it:

If you’re late at it for around an hour each night, then set up a ritual one and a half hours earlier before your designated bed time. Start with shutting down and switching off your electronic gadgets. Ten minutes later, start dimming the total light in the house, by turning off a few of the lights. If you’re not already in bed by then, five minutes later, make the whole house dark and force yourself to find your way to bed in the dark.

If you’ve trouble going for a morning bout of exercise on time, so much so that you give it up for days together, here’s another example of tackling it:

You wake up in the morning with your phone reminding you repeatedly to put on your running shoes instead of slippers. Once you do put on your joggers, tell yourself you can’t take those shoes off until you’ve gone out and walked or jogged around for 20 minutes.

When you do a ritual for enough number of days, it turns into a new habit.

Step 5. Make It Bloody Easy

This is the fifth move – make your behavior change easy.

The best way to make a behavior change is to make it easy. And the best way to make it easy is to start with the smallest intent. Always start with a shrunken goal, and that makes it bloody easy.

The best way to make it easy to create a new habit is to start with the smallest intent. Always start with a shrunken goal. Click To Tweet

It works like this. If you have the ultimate goal of reducing a half-hour delay in doing something, start by setting yourself up to shrink your error by all of 5 minutes for the first few days.

Now, if five minutes seems large, make it 2 minutes. Just arriving two minutes earlier from your previous day will get you to arrive 10 minutes earlier in just five days.

And that’s all there’s to it – two minutes earlier to a task or meet every day in an incremental process.

An inspiring thought about this is by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits:

If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line. Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long-run.

And in Habit Stacking, author S. J. Scott writes:

The core idea behind the mini-habits concept is that you can build a major habit by thinking small enough to get started. Most people don’t need motivation to do one pushup, so it’s easy to get started. And once you get going, you’ll find it’s easy to keep at it.

Remember, changing a habit is never an all-or-nothing process. Don’t straitjacket yourself by a “this time or no other time” dictum. You are not changing a habit; you’re actually replacing it with a bunch of serially arranged small rituals.

How To Make It Stick

The last question: How do you make your new habit of punctuality stick?

And the answer: Start a habit chain.

The basic idea of habit tracking is to put a mark (say X) on each day you do something you have wanted to do, and carry forward without breaking the habit chain.

habit change calendar

To do this, install a habit tracker on your smartphone. There are many; check your app store. You could also easily do this with a simple paper calendar.

Final Words

Once you change yourself for the better, you don’t have to forage for an excuse while trying to draw sympathy from the hapless ones you made to wait. You don’t any more have to start a conversation with a lurking sense of shame or fear due to the annoyance you caused those waiting for you.

The whole idea of this guide is to make a brand new you who is not lambasted for being always late, but applauded for being on time every time. This is less about a despicable habit that haunts you, and more about a person you want to become as a result of changing that habit.

[Hey, do you find it hard to form a daily habit of exercise? Then steal our clear-cut guide on this: The Last Guide You’ll Need To Make A Daily Habit of Exercise]

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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.


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