Why Are You Always Late?

Are you one of those people who's always late? Do others criticize you for your apparent lack of respect and responsibility? If so, and you don't know why you suffer from this peculiarity, you'll find the following article interesting.
Why Are You Always Late?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

Are you one of those people who are always late? Perhaps you’re like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, always running, watch in hand, toward a very important date. It’s often claimed that behind this behavior lies poor organization and little regard for the time of others. However, these aren’t the only reasons for always being late.

In fact, there could be several reasons behind you always being late. They range from a poor perception of time to an attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity (ADHD). Each reason has certain particularities that explain this problematic behavior.

People who are aways late don’t necessarily intend to be so, nor are they ignoring the feelings of others. It’s often simply a fact that affects their lives and that they don’t always know how to control.

Systematic delays: why you’re always late

You might be late because you’re over-optimistic when estimating the time an activity will take you, even if it’s a daily occurrence, such as taking a shower. You tell yourself that there’s plenty of time. But, even before you leave home, you find that certain unforeseen things have happened. Yet, these are the kinds of things that other people would’ve foreseen.

Therefore, if you’re always late, you’re probably terrible at time management. You’re not late for effect. Nor do you see yourself as superior to others.

In fact, various mental and behavioral triggers lie behind the process of always being late. Science has studied them in detail. They’re as follows:

1. Problems with your working memory

Working or operational memory defines the competence that allows you to keep and manipulate information in your consciousness. For example, you use it during a mental calculation. However, working memory can become saturated, rather like the RAM in a computer. This would explain why you’re always late.

The phenomenon occurs because there are unnecessary thoughts in your working memory that distract you when you’re carrying out tasks. They slow you down and take up your time.

One of the best strategies for downloading your working memory is to establish routines. For more complex processes, you can write lists. As such, paper becomes your support and helps free up your cognitive resources so you can act quicker.

2. Chronic problems in time management

A study conducted by the University of Washington (USA) claims that the reason some people consistently fall behind is poor time management and prospective memory. In other words, the cognitive ability to remember and plan future actions. This last feature is related to the organization of upcoming tasks.

If this is your case, you’ll demonstrate clear biases when it comes to structuring, calculating time, and remembering the kinds of activities that you must complete in a few minutes or hours.

Girl with clock wondering why you are always late
The phenomenon of time blindness is often one of the causes of lateness.

3. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

If you find yourself repeatedly asking why you’re always late, the answer could be an attention deficit. Maybe you’re suffering from ADHD. It could explain the reason for all kinds of problems. And not being able to arrive on time for appointments and commitments is one of them.

A study conducted by the University of Florida(USA) claims that students with ADHD often exhibit difficulties in self-managing their tasks and their time. Unsurprisingly, it significantly damages their academic and social lives.

Often, behind lateness, lies ADHD, social anxiety, and the fear of facing certain situations.

4. Lateness and the syndrome of chronic retardation

Dr. Diana DeLonzor, a specialist in time management and lateness behavior, wrote an extremely interesting book entitled Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged (2003). In this work, she explains that tardiness derives from a fairly widespread syndrome.

It consists of chronic delay. This is the case if you experience pleasure or an adrenaline rush by being late. In fact, you don’t see it as irresponsible, but as a way of life. You probably also find you always try to do more than time allows and leave everything to the last minute.

For example, if you have an exam you won’t study until the day before. That’s because you’re driven by spikes of adrenaline and motivation. Needless to say, this kind of behavior isn’t always successful.

5. Time passes differently for you (time benders)

It’s also possible that time passes differently for you. In fact, Dr. Grace Pace coined the term time benders to refer to individuals who exhibit these behaviors and beliefs. If you’re a time bender:

  • You’re optimistic and think that you always have plenty of time.
  • You exhibit compulsive behaviors. For instance, you’ll make sure everything is locked several times before you leave the house.
  • You believe that being late is a part of your personality and not something you could change. Consequently, you resist improving your habits.

6. Procrastination

Another reason for always being late is procrastination. Do you leave everything to the last minute and find that time is constantly catching up with you? Behind chronic procrastination often lies fear or anxiety.

So, it could be the case that your lateness is due to the latent anxiety that comes from going to certain places and facing social scenarios. Indeed, lateness is common among those who suffer from social phobia.

One way to deal with tardiness is to learn time management techniques.

7. Habits inherited from your environment

Your education has shaped who you are and your caregivers were the figures whose behaviors and habits you imitated. Maybe, in your childhood home, punctuality wasn’t important and your parents frequently took you to school late. This environment was your first social scenario. It was from there that you developed multiple habits and beliefs that you now repeat in adulthood.

Colleagues talking about why you're always late
Lateness often causes work and interpersonal problems.

How to break the habit of always being late

Falling behind with your tasks and being late for appointments has consequences. For example, it can result in arguments or even being fired. Being chronically late doesn’t benefit you. But, even though you might think it’s just a part of your personality, you can change. In fact, there are some really basic strategies that can help improve your habits, productivity, and coexistence.

One recommended method is to consult a specialized professional. As we mentioned earlier, being persistently late can be triggered by an anxiety disorder or ADHD. Therefore, being diagnosed is a good starting point. Other helpful strategies are as follows:

  • Don’t put off tasks.
  • Avoid multitasking.
  • Train your memory and attention.
  • Become accustomed to having routines and sticking to them.
  • Practice time management techniques.
  • Learn to plan things in advance.
  • Execute techniques for managing stress and anxiety.
  • Plan to arrive ten minutes before your appointments.
  • Keep your environment tidy. It’ll help you not to waste time.
  • Always bear in mind that unexpected things can happen.

Finally, although it’s true that we can all be late at times, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the norm or should become a habit. If it has, you must initiate changes. These will help improve the vision that others and even you have of yourself.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kreider, C. M., Medina, S., & Slamka, M. R. (2019). Strategies for Coping with Time-Related and Productivity Challenges of Young People with Learning Disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Children (Basel, Switzerland)6(2), 28. https://doi.org/10.3390/children6020028
  • Waldum, E. R., & McDaniel, M. A. (2016). Why are you late? Investigating the role of time management in time-based prospective memory. Journal of experimental psychology. General145(8), 1049–1061. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000183
  • Weissenberger, S., Schonova, K., Büttiker, P., Fazio, R., Vnukova, M., Stefano, G. B., & Ptacek, R. (2021). Time Perception is a Focal Symptom of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults. Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research27, e933766. https://doi.org/10.12659/MSM.933766

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.