Sometimes you can’t help being late. You set off in good time to get work, but the bus doesn’t turn up, the trains are delayed or the traffic is at a standstill because of an accident. You eventually run into the office 45 minutes after you were due to be at your desk, sweating over your coffee and hoping your boss hasn’t noticed.
These things can’t always be helped. But if you’re the kind of person who is consistently late for work or social events, it may matter more than you think.
“Being constantly late doesn't mean you are an awful person, but it could give you an awful reputation,” says personal coach and Life Coach Directory member Denise Bosque. “You could be setting yourself up for failure as it can damage your reputation, you show a lack of respect to your fellow workers or friends.”
Being constantly late may also affect your professional development or career progress. If you frequently miss deadlines or turn in projects late, your manager may not entrust you to take on certain tasks at work, meaning good opportunities are snapped up by other, more punctual, workers.
Another key problem is that being late reduces the probability of you being on top form. Think about the last time you rushed into a meeting you had forgotten about until five minutes beforehand. Did you feel prepared and mentally ready to put forward good ideas? Most likely, you spent most of the meeting playing catch-up and waiting for it to be over.
Not showing up on time for work or meetings is also unlikely to win you any favours with your manager. It automatically sends out the message that you aren’t interested - or even worse, that your time is more important than other people’s time.
It may seem trivial, but being the one person who is always late can also worsen your company’s culture. If meetings always start late and run late, your co-workers are more likely to feel irritated and frustrated – after all, there are few things more infuriating than having to wait around for someone who is late.
Employees lose approximately 19 hours every year due to late meetings, according to research conducted by Barco. Of the 1,000 office workers surveyed, 59% attend meetings a few times a week, with meetings beginning, on average, six minutes late.
“It may be costing your company money if well-paid executives are wasting their time waiting for you,” Bosque says. “Equally, friends who have dashed to see you and paid babysitters.”
Overall, being late can negatively affect your career, reputation and friendships. So why do so many of us fail at punctuality?
In some cases, being late isn’t always in our control. If a colleague is constantly behind schedule, it may well be that their workload is too heavy or they have too many responsibilities or commitments.
One of the most obvious and common reasons that people are frequently late is that they simply fail to accurately judge how long a task will take – something known as the planning fallacy.
“It's a 20-minute tube journey, a 5 minute walk to the office and you allow 5 mins for the train to be late, so you leave 30 minutes to do your journey. You've immediately made yourself late,” Bosque says.
“You need to allow for the train being a little later, buying the ticket, queuing, walking up the crowded escalator, getting to your destination, taking the lift, go via your desk to pick something up, visit the loo. Now work back from that, because that is the reality.”
Another trait among latecomers is that they are more likely to be multitaskers. In 2003, a study by San Diego State University found that out of 181 subway operators in New York City, those who preferred multitasking – otherwise known as polychronicity – were more often late to their job.
“If you often find yourself 'very last minute' and dashing manically for the train, the appointment or whatever and yet you really don't want to be late, you have a problem with motivation,” Bosque adds. “Whether the chronically late realise it, consciously or unconsciously, they don't want to 'waste their time' getting somewhere too early.”
Being late can also become an automatic habit, too. If you are used to being late all the time, it may seem unimportant – or not cross your mind – to set off a little earlier.
There are things you can do to be more punctual. Technology is a good way to keep better track of time and wearing a watch can help too. Preparing for any delays is a good way to avoid being late too - which may mean giving yourself longer to drive to work, in case of traffic.
In addition, learn to better estimate just how long things can take too. The next time you sit down to reply to emails or do the washing up, take note of how long it takes you.
“If you decide you want to be on time, it's about changing your outlook,” Bosque says. “Do the math and then put an alarm on the night before for five minutes before you walk out of the house and stick to it. You will feel comfortably in control and people will really appreciate your efforts.
“When you get to your destination think about how could you use those few early minutes before the meeting starts or at the restaurant,” she adds. “Perhaps, pick up the general atmosphere in the room, deep breathing, calming your system, find the position at the table you prefer in the restaurant, maybe make some notes on your phone or send a friend a quick message that you haven't spoken to in a long time.”