Always running late? Be realistic, and stop gambling with time.

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Clients often bring up their struggles with running late, and this can be evident in chronic lateness to appointments. Admittedly, I’m often pushing it as well. This is common in adults with ADHD, and those who are otherwise disorganized. These people often don’t prepare, they misplace important items, or they misjudge how much time they need.

When I was growing up my mom was late for everything, which made me late for everything. Baseball practices, games, school functions, birthday parties… you name it. I hated it, and vowed as an adult not to be this way. But alas, I struggle with lateness myself. I can blame my kids (who are often resistant to getting out of bed or out of the door- even for their own hockey games, social events, or school); I can blame work; or I can blame the general busyness of my family’s schedule. I do have a lot on my plate, but to be honest, this is an issue I know I can solve through better time management.

Of course, you need to plan ahead and be prepared (the motto I learned in Boy Scouts…it’s a good one), which are critical to being more timely. Knowing where things are (your keys, wallet, purse, or items for work, school, or sports); knowing where you’re going and how long it will take to get there; and then leaving in enough time are all very important.

Even if most people don’t plan ahead or prepare sufficiently, this is something we all know. But beyond that, we need to be realistic. This means, if you have a 15-minute drive, plan on 25 or 30 minutes; if it’s an hour, give yourself an hour and a half; or if it’s a multi-hour trip, build in time for stops and potential issues. Always include time for things like traffic, needing to stop for gas or food, or situations like accidents or detours. And don’t kid yourself about how long things will take you! A coffee or gas stop will probably take 5 minutes; grabbing lunch at least 10; and a haircut (for a guy), probably 20-30 on a good day. And your “ten minute commute” is probably closer to 20, so be real with yourself and stop making things harder than they need to be. If you tend to lose track of time, set an alarm for when you need to leave- or when you should start getting ready to leave.

One of my favorite sayings of my father-in-law is, “I’d rather be half an hour early than one minute late!” And he’s right (about a lot of things, actually). I do hate being late, or showing up just in the nick of time. It creates too much stress! And if it involves my kids, it’s stressful for them (even if they are partially to blame…I often try to remember what it felt like as a kid).

And what’s so bad if you’re a bit early? You might then get a coffee or something to eat, go into a store, or just sit and wait. No big deal. And so, related to this, you should not gamble with time.

I did this last week and lost badly. I had signed up for a training from 10am-12pm, but since I really needed an oil change, I thought scheduling it for 8:30am (planning to be out by 9:30) would be just fine. 99% of the time it would be. Well, I was there until 10:30, so I didn’t bother going to the training- just went to my office. Luckily it wasn’t mandatory (though I could have used the credits) and I didn’t pay for it (but free continuing ed credits are great!). I e-mailed the presenter with my excuse, but I still felt bad and somewhat embarrassed. Why an oil change took two hours is beyond me… It had snowed the night before, so I suppose things were just running less efficiently. Bottom line is I should have gone when I had more time available.

The very next day, my first client was at 10am, so after dealing with some things at home, leaving the house at about 9:15, I was still thinking I could squeeze in a haircut (which I also needed badly!). If there was no one waiting, surely I could be out in 15-20 minutes… But remembering the day before, I decided not to risk it. I hate being late for a client, and even showing up right at the appointment time. Most don’t mind, but it’s stressful for me and it’s unprofessional. I am also often the first one to the office in the morning, meaning that the door would not be unlocked when the client arrived. This can make a client feel like they showed up on the wrong day or at the wrong time. So no haircut, but I did hit the Chick-Fil-A drive through for breakfast (there was time for that), then I went to work and found myself with about 20 minutes before my client was to arrive. And I love that feeling! Big difference between those two days, which I will have to remember.

But too often, I find myself rushing out the door without enough time, wanting to stop to get coffee or breakfast quickly before I go to work, or having to get gas (because I failed to plan ahead and get it on my way home the night before!). On a sidenote… have you ever heard someone complain about someone (or you) showing up late to work or a meeting, with their Starbucks or whatever coffee in-hand? People hate that! The message: “I didn’t care enough about being late that I still stopped for coffee”.

*Life hack* keep a travel mug in your car, so if you do stop for coffee, put it in that, or at least transfer it to your mug before going in to work. That way, they’ll just think you are late, and not that you brazenly stopped at a coffee shop too! But I digress…

So don’t gamble with time. Give yourself a cushion, plus enough time to do whatever you need to do, in order to get where you’re going no less than 10-15 minutes early. You may want food or a drink; to pick up your prescriptions; to drop off your Goodwill donations; and so on, but you’re better off saving that for when you actually have time. Leave early and you might. You will be saving yourself (and possibly others) a lot of unnecessary stress.

So plan ahead and be prepared, but also, be realistic and remember not to gamble with time- and you will rarely be late. And if you have a family, you will also be modeling good habits and teaching them to your children, so this may not be something they have to wrestle with one day.

As always, if you find this hard to tackle on your own, consider meeting with a professional like a psychologist. He or she can help you to evaluate your behaviors, set goals, and institute some strategies to help you to overcome the problem. To find someone who might help, you might start here.

Take care,

Dr. Matthews


Published by Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist and director of Matthews Counseling & Coaching in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 18 and up. My specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's. Our group works with individuals of all ages, families, and couples, and we help people with a wide variety of life issues. Check out the practice website for information on other clinicians and their services: .

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Dr. Jesse Matthews, PA Licensed Psychologist

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