I am embarrassed to admit this, but for ten years, I never knew our church service opened with a scripture reading and prayer, not singing.
I was one of them.
I was the college student who sprinted across campus, breathlessly slipping into to every lecture late.
I was the co-worker who rushed in shouting, “clock me in!” racing to the break room to whip my coat and purse into my locker.
I was the 20-something-year-old professional who held up or interrupted the beginning of every business meeting I ever attended.
I was a Habitually Late Person.
My problem affected nearly every area of my life. I entered every room frazzled, harried and apologizing. No matter what time I promised someone I’d arrive, I’d be later than that. If someone gave me a start time, I’d show up 10 minutes later.
I often blamed traffic, weather, empty gas tank, last-minute phone call, planet alignment, El Nino …anything but myself…for my lateness. It was nothing but a cover-up for my underlying condition: Habitually Late-Person Syndrome (HLPS)
(I made that up.)
(The name, not the condition.)
(The condition is very real.)
I’m going to make a bold statement right now, so if you’re taking notes, jot this down:
Habitual Lateness is one of the biggest barriers to a well-balanced life. If there is one area within your complete control that will most profoundly affect your balance, it’s training yourself to be on-time (or early) for everything.
After the arrival of my first child, my HLPS got worse. Adding a tiny, messy bundle of joy to my already- frenzied exits and entrances quickly pushed me toward the edge of sanity. I couldn’t grab my baby as I was running out the door, the same way I grabbed my purse and an apple.
Terror struck as I realized I may never make another scheduled event as long as I live.
Or as long as I have small children.
Why bother to leave the house at all?
What would become of me?
That, my friend, is what we refer to in the HLPS community as “Hitting. Rock. Bottom.”
Would you believe that I implemented some radical changes that allowed me to completely kick the lateness habit in a few short months? For realz. I’ve been clean, sober and on-time for fifteen years, and counting.
If you, too, suffer from HLPS, I’ve developed a simple 8-Step Program to lead you to timeliness, peace and better balance:
1. Admit you have a problem. It always starts with this, does it not? Don’t blame rush hour traffic or the guy in front of you at the ATM. Don’t blame your child’s potty break or the lady who stopped to ask you a question as you were walking out of your office. It’s you. Really, it is. Now, take a deep breath and say this out loud: I am a Habitually Late Person. It’s my fault that I’m late.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah…once-in-a-blue-moon it IS the traffic, but you’ll never get better if you don’t take ownership for this.)
2. Take inventory of the things you do every day before you need to leave the house: Exercise, shower, choose an outfit, fix your hair, eat, feed and dress kids, housework, etc. Honestly, how long does it take you to do each of those individual things? Habitually Late People are notorious for underestimating the time it takes to complete a task. (My husband likes to call this “optimism.”) Make sure you count everything.
3. Now add 15 minutes to that. Buffer time.
4. Next, consider travel time. Not when you are weaving in and out of traffic at 80 mph, but when you are going the speed limit in normal traffic for that time of day. Sure, it may only take 15 minutes to get to work at 10:30 am on Saturday morning. But what about 7:30 am on Tuesday morning, when you actually drive it?
5. Now add 15 minutes to that. More buffer time. Seriously. You can’t be trusted to make this calculation accurately. Not yet, anyway. You have a serious condition. You’re in recovery, remember?
(True story: Last week I needed to make an appointment with a person in my life who suffers from HLPS. When we were discussing the time to meet for said appointment, I said, “I will need 2 hours for this.” And my HLPS friend responded, “Two hours?!!? I’m thinking 15 minutes!” I paid no attention to my HLPS friend, and factored in the full 2 hours. Guess how long it took? Two hours. Exactly two hours. Guess who was late for his next meeting? Not me.)
6. Perform tasks in order of priority. I always ask myself, “If I get only one thing done before I leave today, what should that be? If I only get two things done, what should that be?” And so on. It changes from day to day, but I usually make sure I and my children are clean and dressed first. Feeding is further down the list, because we can always grab something to eat in the car if we run out of time. If I need to exercise that day, I make super-duper sure I allow enough time for the workout AND a shower WITH hair-washing AND drying, etc. Rarely, would I do something like “unload the dishwasher” or “check e-mails” before I made sure we were dressed and ready to go first. (HLPS sufferers often start a giant project or decide to make homemade waffles for breakfast, and then rush out the door with no make-up on and the kids in pj’s. Not that I’m against homemade waffles. I’m pro-waffle. But waffles are the kinds of things that come between you and your prompt arrival.)
7. Determine a time you need to leave your house. (Hint: That is five minutes earlier than you think it is!) And LEAVE. Because this is you with HLPS:
a. I have time to do “just one more thing.”
b. I can’t leave something half-finished.
c. I will borrow from my “buffer time.” Every time.
You can’t keep doing this. You’re out of control! You have to learn to stop what you are doing and walk out the door.
8. Learn to say “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.” Without apology. Wait, I guess that is WITH apology. Whatever. Just learn to cut off a conversation and mosey.
Implementing that simple 8-Step HLPS Recovery Program will have you well on your way to balance and peace. But you will need some support and life-style changes to keep you that way. So, here are some additional Quick Tips for Avoiding HLPS Relapse
1. Get as much ready in advance as possible, preferably the night before: pack lunches, set out breakfast dishes, fill coffee maker, lay out clothes, put purses and backpacks near the door, etc.
2. Keep a checklist near the door of things to remember. (HLPS sufferers often have to run back home for something they forgot. This makes them extra-late!)
3. If you have babies or small children, get yourself ready first and the children last. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I found it extremely helpful to change baby’s diaper and clothes just before putting her in the car seat. That minimized the chances she would spill, spit up or strip down before I left the house.
4. Give older children, teens and spouses 10 minute, 5 minute and 1 minute warnings. Yes, I know this is does not always work. That’s why I mention #5.
5. Be prepared to leave without late people or take separate cars. (Can you say, hard-ball?)
6. Set all the clocks in the house and cars 5-10 minutes fast. Every last one of them. (I seriously do this.)
7. Map alternate routes to places you travel on a regular basis. Because, in the event that traffic really is the issue….
8. Ask a friend, spouse or co-worker to hold you accountable for your tardiness. I don’t know what an appropriate consequence would be should you screw up, but just letting someone else know you are working on it and want accountability will make you more conscious of your time.
Looking back, I wish I could go to my former college professors, employers, pastors—well, everyone, really—and apologize for my inconsiderate conduct. I was completely oblivious as to how my lateness affected them…and me.
I never realized that being habitually late gave me the reputation of being irresponsible, disorganized and selfish. (Here, I thought I just looked “busy” and “important.”) I also never realized how truly lame all my excuses sounded, considering all the other people had to buck the same traffic, take showers, eat, and cart children around yet, still managed to arrive on time.
It may seem laborious and intrusive at first—having to figure out all these times and abruptly leave conversations and tasks unfinished—but you will be surprised how quickly your new actions will become habits.
Before long, you’re rehabilitation will be complete, and you will be reaping the rewards of a life on time. Not only will you be relaxed in traffic (you’ll have built in a buffer for that!), and enter meetings calm and prepared (you’ll actually have time to look over your notes!), but you will also project an image of professionalism, integrity and dependability.
And when traffic becomes a legitimate reason for your lateness, people will believe you, forgive you and think nothing of it.
Q4U: Do you suffer from HLPS? If timeliness is second-nature to you, what tips can you add to The 8-Step Program?