The Real Reason You’re Always Late

How To Defeat Our Chronic Lateness At Its Root

As I pulled up to the stop light, I shot him a quick text.  ‘Sorry, running late.  Be there in 5 minutes’.

I wish I could say it was the first time I was late for a meeting, but it wasn’t.  Truth is, I often struggle with making it on time.  Maybe you do, too.

Most of the time, whoever we’re meeting up with doesn’t mind.  And we don’t think much about it, either.

But deep inside we’re a little bit unsettled about it.  Why does this keep happening?  Can’t I get my act together?  And what does being late say about me?

In this post, let’s talk about the real reasons we’re five (or however many) minutes late and why being five minutes early can make all the difference in the world.

Hourglass Nick Olejniczak via Compfight

You’re Not Alone

Just to be clear, if you’re one of those chronically late people, I’m not beating you up.  It’s a common problem:

  • about 1 in 5 Americans is late for work at least once a week
  • American CEOs are late to 8 out of 10 meetings
  • fun(?) fact: showing up to work 10 minutes late each day is the equivalent of taking an extra week’s vacation each year
  • I couldn’t find statistics about being late to church, but suffice it to say it’s common

So we’re all in this together.

Find some practical tips for being on time at the end of this post.

More Complex Than We Think

So before I started this post, I figured lateness was fairly straightforward.  But that’s because I was looking at it through my own grid.

It turns out that there are 3 primary types of people who are late:

  • the deadliner – loves the rush of the last minute and claims to do best under pressure.  A crisis (even if self-induced) motivates this type of person to get things done, and, sometimes relieves their boredom.
  • the producer – wants to get as much done in as little time as possible, so they (over)schedule themselves, not wanting to waste a single minute.
  • the absent-minded professor – are naturally distractible and forgetful.  This type loses track of time, misplaces car keys, and forgets commitments.

There are four other types, two of which I think are worth mentioning quickly here:

  • the rationalizer – never fully admits that s/he has a problem with being late;
  • the indulger – struggles with basic issues of self-control

What About You?

Well, what about you?  Which of these characterize you?  If we want to move forward, we need to start by identifying where we’re struggling.

I’ll call myself out first.  I’m totally ‘the producer’.  I always tend to cram my agenda with more than I can possibly take on.  I feel good about myself when I’m accomplishing and getting things done.  Which sometimes makes me late.

Getting To The Heart Of The Matter

Most of the stuff you read online will address the issue with a bunch of tips.  I’ll offer a few at the end, but as a Christian, I think our problem goes deeper.  (Darn it, Lord).

Yeah, there are challenges outside of us.  Kids who throw up as soon as you buckle them into the car seat.  Your GPS promises to get you around the traffic jam and takes you to Hawaii.

But we know we’re part of the problem, too.  So let’s take a quick look at the above late types and brainstorm about some of the possible issues behind them.  As we see what’s happening, we can start to make progress.

  • The deadliner – it’s not wrong to find the pressure of a deadline thrilling, but deadliners can overestimate their ability to get it all done on time.  Which is pride.  Also, in the time leading up to the deadline, other important people and tasks often get neglected or treated poorly.  That doesn’t seem to measure up to God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • The producer – God has called us work and be faithful in carrying out his agenda, but producers can find their value in…production.  Good day = I got a lot done.  But God says that our value comes in being known and loved by him, even if we totally failed.
  • The absent-minded professor – genetics may be a contributing factor here (like ADHD), but there are ways to improve, especially with modern technology.  Are the professors among us willing to do the hard work of love and take the practical steps to improve?
  • The rationalizer – Jesus’s work on the cross for us means there’s no condemnation, but we are called to faithfully confess our sins.  This can be hard to do when we keep failing in a certain area, but God’s mercies really can give us a fresh start each day (Lamentations 3:22-23).
  • The indulger – when we take too much of God’s good gifts, the Spirit in us can produce self-control as we ask and take small, practical steps of restraint (Galatians 5:23).

Of course, it’s possible to struggle with our own unique cocktail of the above.  What does it look like for you?  The good news is that God loves to give the help we need.

Making It Super Simple

Hopefully by now you’ve seen yourself here, both in the description of the problem, and, potential issues of the heart.

At the end of the day, the solution to this chronic problem may be pretty simple.  Sure, we should work on the issues going on inside of us, but God’s primary call to us is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Would I want someone I’m meeting up with to be there on time?  Of course I would.  It means that I was important to the other person, that – at least on some level – they care about me.

So, that means I should be on time for them, which assumes I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen.  To be five minutes early instead of five minutes late as an expression of love.

Let’s live it out: If you struggle with being late, which profile(s) do you fit?  What heart issue(s) do you suspect may be behind that?


[optinlock id=”5″]Once we’ve discovered what’s underneath our particular version of being late, practical tips like these will help us gain the traction we need.  (Of course, you can work on both at the same time.  It’s just that the tips are much more effective as we’re also addressing our hearts).

  1. Get everything ready ahead of time.   Your clothes, laptop, anything you need.  Know where you keys, wallet (or handbag) and phone are.  That way you’re not rushing around at the end.
  2. Don’t forget the kid factor.  If your commitment involves kids, allow lots of extra time!  They need extra stuff, you have to ‘think for’ them, and they’re totally unpredictable (though delightful).  Make sure you pad your time big-time.
  3. Stop what you’re doing with plenty of time.  Even if you’re in the middle of something, be willing to stop and return to it later.  In nearly every case, the world won’t end if you can’t send that email for another hour or two.
  4. Use technology to your advantage.  Set reminders on Google calendar or whatever electronic calendar you use.  (G Cal even has the ability to set a standard, default reminder before every appointment).  Set an alarm on your watch.  For local travel, I’ve found Waze to be an excellent app for great local routes that often shave a few minutes off my commute. Travel at off-peak times if possible.  In busy, urban and suburban areas, this can save you lots of time and headaches.
  5. Plan ahead.  Unless you’re just crossing the street, anticipate possible problems.  Check your GPS to see if your route has a delay.  If you’re not sure where to park, look into it or allow extra time.  Make sure you know exactly where you’ll be meeting up, too.
  6. Plan on being early.  One of my old bosses used to say, ‘If you don’t plan on being early, you’ll be late’.  At first I scoffed, but after being late for several fund-raising appointments, I decided he was right.  Leaving a 15 minute buffer is a great idea. Bring something to do in case you are early.  If you’re worried about being bored or unproductive, bring along some reading material.  Answer some quick emails on your phone. Call a friend.  Or, perhaps best of all in our frenetic world, talk to God about the meeting you’re about to enter.

Now it’s your turn.  Which of these can you implement to make it on time to your next commitment?[/optinlock]


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Dave Walters

    This is spot on, Bryan. I’m definitely a producer, with a twist of deadliner and rationalizer for some added flavor! I appreciate the perspective of arriving five minutes early can be seen as an act of love towards another. I never really considered that before. It also made me wonder if the opposite is true, do others see my chronic tardiness as a sign of disrespect? Most folks probably wouldn’t tell me that personally, but perhaps they feel it, which might weaken a relationship.

    Thanks for another practical, digestible and meaningful post! Keep up the good work!

  • Thanks, Dave. It sounds like we share similar DNA. 🙂 I’m glad that some of what was shared spurred some new thoughts. I don’t think people mind too much as long as it’s not a pattern, but, when we’re on time consistently it creates an impression and is really appreciated. Thanks for your encouragement and going back and forth with me!

  • ElrondPA

    There’s another type that I think you haven’t hit: the person who prioritizes whoever or whatever is present over what is elsewhere. This is particularly evident in Global South cultures, where meeting times seem to be never more than general suggestions. (Missionary friends of mine say that in Latin America, if you arrive on time or especially if you’re early, it means you want to run the meeting.) If you run into a friend along the way to the meeting, the expectation is to take time with that friend, and you get to the meeting whenever you get there. People in those cultures will typically call that prioritizing people over programs, but it really is prioritizing present people over absent people. But it’s present in this culture, too: People have varying degrees of difficulty in saying, “I really have to go now.”

    As for me, I fall primarily into the producer category, but with substantial deadliner characteristics. I’m particularly in trouble if I’m lined up to be 15 minutes early–that’s a siren call to get something else done, which all too often ends up taking 20 minutes… – Kelvin

    • Amy

      Good point about the varying viewpoints of tardiness depending on the culture.

    • Great thoughts, Kelvin, and sorry for my slower reply – somehow I missed this first time around. Really important points about the role of culture and the fact that there are parallels in our culture, too. I think one of the key takeaways is that, where there’s biblical freedom (as in this case), we have to think about what our actions mean in the context of that culture.