Recently, I posted a blog on what to do when people are late to meetings. Because these blogs take a minute to write, I cross-post them on my LinkedIn profile. Over 8,000 folks read the LinkedIn version and over 80 people commented.
Most of the LinkedIn commenters expressed great frustration with tardy people. I certainly understand that. A chronically tardy teenager is currently sleeping in the bedroom next to my home office.
My husband and I have had serious tardiness struggles with my daughter since…forever. It has been a source of many arguments. And, once she got her driver’s license, her school tardiness became ridiculous. She made straight A’s last year, mind you, but she can’t seem to get herself out of bed on time.
In our continuing efforts to “help” her understand the need for punctuality, I assigned her the book Never Be Late Again and an assignment to write a guest post for my blog.
So here it is. I hope it is as informative for you as it was for me.
Dear people of the world who can’t stand the chronically tardy,
I am here to enlighten you on the other side of this problem. Being chronically tardy myself, I would like to explain why it is such a constant struggle.
I am not justifying lateness nor saying you should always forgive and forget. I’m just attempting to explain the real reasons for my tardiness and perhaps provide better understanding of this problem.
I am speaking from my own insight and am not generalizing all chronically tardy people, or CT as I call it from now on.
I’ve struggled with tardiness since birth. Literally. My mother was in labor with me for 27 hours. I’ve been this way my entire life.
It didn’t become a serious problem until I got my driver’s license. Until that point, all my lateness caused was an annoyance to my parents or the occasional missed bus, which clearly didn’t bother me that much.
Once I was responsible for leaving on time, though, the problem became more serious. I was 10 minutes late to school multiple times a week. I started work late. I picked up my brother from swim late. I made my life a living hell.
So, my parents tightened the reins and began to give me more alarms and send me articles filled with time management tips. Much of these efforts focused on getting me to wake up on time as that was, and still is, my kryptonite.
Trying to fix this issue became a cycle of frustration and self-loathing. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get over it and “just get up.” I couldn’t figure out why waking up felt like getting hit in the head with a sledgehammer.
I mentioned that struggle to my parents during one of many “How to get my stuff together” pow-wows, and it piqued their interest. As I really hadn’t known anything different, I was very confused by their interest in it. We dug further into it, and discovered that my tardiness was very connected to my mental health.
Much thought and effort has gone into how to stop being CT. I hate that people think I don’t care or that I’m incompetent or that I do it as deliberate disrespect of their time. That is never ever my intention.
Those consequences just add to the spiral that keeps me awake at night.
My tardiness isn’t something I take pride in or even see as okay. That being said, getting constantly ragged on for it really doesn’t help or fix the problem.
My mom made me read, Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged by Diana DeLonzor as another attempt to fix this issue and the three concepts that stuck out to me were:
- “Telling a chronically tardy person to ‘just stop being late’ is like telling a chronically depressed person to ‘just cheer up’.”
- “The Evader.” A person whose tardiness is actually a coping mechanism for anxiety/ depression and escaping from life problems.
- Tardiness is sometimes a means of control in someone’s life. When a person feels they don’t have any say in how their life is progressing, they decide how their morning goes by sleeping in five minutes or doing that one extra thing.
These points DeLonzor made hit home with me. I was fairly recently diagnosed with clinical anxiety and was surprised by this correlation.
Typically, mental illness has very few obvious symptoms. We go through our day fooling everyone that we’re normal and okay, when in reality that couldn’t be farther from the truth. CT is one way that those mental struggles take a peek at the outside world.
Now I’m not saying every single tardy person is like that, in fact, DeLonzor covers six other types and causes of CT. I highly recommend reading the book if you want to see all the reasons for CT. She even has a chapter at the end for the punctual people on how to deal with tardy people.
I hadn’t considered the fact that my anxiety may cause my CT. I thought it was caused by something more shallow, like mood swings. That adrenaline rush you get from trying to beat the clock was not only a way to scare myself awake, but also a way to keep myself out of my own head.
Yay. Another spill to add to this big mental mess I’m endlessly trying my best to clean up.
To all the people who have themselves together, I ask one thing: to understand. Not forgive, not forget, not even necessarily to show mercy, but to understand. We do feel bad, and wish for this struggle not to be a defining factor of our character.
For all the frustration other people’s tardiness causes you, I’m sorry. For the feelings of disrespect it triggers, I’m sorry. It is definitely me not you.
I hope this letter has shown that lateness isn’t a stand-alone problem or something deliberate or enjoyable. And if this didn’t change your views at all, that’s totally fine too. At the very least maybe it was a gentle reminder that we’re all human.
A human being
Ok, so, there it is.
This is a productivity blog, not a parenting blog, so I’m going to keep my more parental thoughts to myself.
I collaborated with my daughter on some tips to help the CT people you know.
Here they are:
- Talk with them about it. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Habit 5 from Covey).
- Treat this problem like you would other performance issues. Teach skills. Don’t freak CT people out by saying they need to figure it out for themselves.
- Agree on some parameters and be prepared to follow through on the consequences so they take it seriously. Have the consequences increase appropriately.
- Have patience.
- Provide encouragement for even the smallest victories.
- Read Never Be Late Again by Diana DeLonzor if you need a more detailed plan.
Okay, I lied about keeping the parenting thoughts to myself.
I am so proud of my daughter. I am proud that she does so well in school. I am proud that she had the courage to write the letter above. I’m proud that she courageously faces the world every day.
She is smart. She is witty. She is insightful. She is a caring, compassionate person.
She is also chronically tardy.
She is human.
Aren’t we all?
Are you ready to feel balanced and effective at work and in life?
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Dr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced "Gracious") is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated businesspeople be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website, melissagratias.com.