According to one recent survey, 15 to 20 percent of Americans are consistently late. That's a lot of people rushing around in a lather, repeatedly annoying their friends and colleagues. Why do so many of us struggle to be on time?

That's the fascinating question tackled by a recent Pacific Standard article. Like many people writer Rick Paulas knows a few people who he loves dearly but who somehow never manage to show up anywhere on time -- ever. Spurred by his confusion and frustration, Paulas goes looking for an explanation for their frustrating behavior.

What he finds soothes his irritation, but perhaps the long list of causes of chronic lateness uncovered by Paulas has another use too. What if you're the person who's always running behind schedule? Then the rundown of possible reasons for your affliction offers a sort of diagnostic checklist. Identify why exactly you struggle so much to be on time and you just might be in a better position to fix the problem. In that spirit, here are the several possible reasons, along with advice on how to cure each root cause of chronic lateness.

1. It's just your brain.

Time does just apparently run slower for some people. "In 2001, Jeff Conte, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, ran a study in which he separated participants into the typical Type A (ambitious, competitive, status-climbers) and Type B (creative, reflective, explorative) categories. He then asked participants in each category to judge, without clocks, how long it took for one minute to elapse," reports Paulas. "Conte found that Type A subjects felt a minute had gone by when roughly 58 seconds had passed. Type B participants felt that a minute had gone by after 77 seconds."

Of course there isn't much you can do about a slow-running internal clock, but just knowing about the phenomenon might encourage you to keep a closer eye on the one on your wall that keeps reliable time.

2. You like to multitask.

Multitasking is terrible for your productivity and your brain. It also makes you late, according to another study by Conte. "If you're someone that likes multitasking--or, 'polychronicity' in the scientific literature--you're more likely to be late to work," it found. The solution here is simple -- quit it!

3. You're a little ADD.

Not the most highly focused person you know? Being easily distractible might be the culprit when it comes to your chronic lateness then (but good news, science says distractibility also tends to make you more creative). Getting ready in the morning is boring, points out therapist Ron Helpman in the article, so the easily distractible "get sidetracked by things that, in the moment, are more appealing and engaging." Removing distractions or getting yourself into a firm morning routine might help.

4. You're too polite.

"If someone's a people pleaser, they may answer--and then stay--on a phone call long past their ideal departure time," offers the article as an example. Don't feel bad - saying no is hard for lots of people. The upside of this reality is there is also lots of advice out there on how to toughen up and set better boundaries.

5. You're sleep deprived.

This one doesn't take much explanation -- if you're always running late in the morning it could be that staying up too late makes the snooze button too hard to resist. Again, this being a common complaint, there's plenty of available information on turning yourself into more of a morning person. (The science of what sleep deprivation does to you might help motivate you.)

Which of these causes is at the root of your perpetual lateness?

Published on: Feb 9, 2016
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