Here’s Why Some People are ALWAYS Late

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

There was one thing that I couldn’t quite understand when I started “adulting”: why some people were always late to events.
You know what I’m talking about…
If the event starts at 8 pm, you need to tell them to show up at 7 pm in order for them to arrive on time.
And sometimes the lateness hurts them. They show up late for work too many times and get a reputation for being irresponsible.
Or they even get fired.
On top of this, there are some things you CAN’T be late for, like flights. It’s like you KNOW there might be traffic and that the TSA lines are long, why not leave super early?
You guys know that time is my highest value.
I’m not trying to call anyone out, but dealing with late people has been a big source of frustration lately in my life.
So, I decided to write this article for my own sake so I can understand what’s going on with people who are perpetually late. This is my scratching my own itch trying to understand people a little more.
I did some research, talked to some friends who are always late, and did some thinking on the subject.
I arrived at some interesting realizations.
This article is about tardiness, but I’m sure you can apply a lot of these principles to business in the form of project management.

The Math of Lateness

Let’s use the fictitious example of John, who’s always late.
In our heads, we have the “average” time it takes to do an activity. For example, in our heads, we think it takes 25 minutes to drive to the office.
The problem is that some people don’t have an accurate average in their heads.
On average, it takes John 25 minutes to drive from his home to his office, but in his head, he thinks it takes him only 15 minutes.
So why do we get these incorrect numbers in our heads?
1. Confusing Your Average With Your Fastest Record Ever
Maybe ONE time you got to the office in 15 minutes when you had to go to work on a Saturday at 9 am. There wasn’t any traffic so you got there much faster than normal.
That was under the best case scenario.
Now every time you think it takes 15 minutes. In reality, you only get there in 15 minutes like 5% of the time.
2. Not Sitting Down and Calculating Your Average
The only way to capture the average time is to actually measure it. Use stopwatch function on your phone from the time you walk outside your door to the time you step into your office.
The more times you do that, the more accurate your number will be.
We also need to account for the standard deviation.
Standard deviation means how “spread out” the numbers are.
On average it takes you 25 minutes to get to the office.
But on the low end, you could get there in 15 minutes. On the high end, it might take you 35 minutes. Maybe there was traffic that morning.
Whenever I’m departing from the airport in Bangkok, I arrive thirty minutes earlier than I normally would.
Why? Because their visa line is always understaffed.
Are you taking the subway somewhere? Sorry, but it might not arrive every five minutes like it’s supposed to.
These are variables that you can’t control, but you still have to take them into context. 
Some questions to help you (especially useful for project planning):

  • What am I not accounting for? What are my blind spots?
  • What can go wrong?
  • What’s the domino effect? Or the 1st order, 2nd order consequences?

The Little Things Add Up

There are little things you need to do to prepare before you actually go somewhere. Most people don’t include these things in their calculations of how long something will take.
They think that these steps use zero resources.

Some examples:

  • Putting on your shoes – 1 minute
  • Putting clothes on – Varies
  • Going down the elevator – 1 minute
  • Grabbing your laptop bag – 1 minute
  • Starting up your car and warming it up – 5 minutes

That’s almost 9 minutes that most people don’t account for.
And here’s what sucks: These are variables that can easily go wrong. 
Going down the elevator normally takes one minute, but what if the elevator’s not working?
What if your car is low on fuel and you need to fill it up? That’s 10 minutes.
We’ve all had the situation where we can’t find our keys. An extra 5 minutes.
I want to wear this shirt, but it’s wrinkly. I need to spend 10 minutes ironing it.
You get the point.
Stuff. Goes. Wrong.
You need to account for that.

Some People Hate the Feeling of Arriving Early

My friend mentioned a big reason why he’s always late: he feels weird being the first one to arrive.

Dude, I’m always late because I hate the feeling of being the first one there. If I’m there first and no one else is, I feel like I could’ve done something else with my time. Plus it’s just a weird feeling being in a restaurant by myself. I think it’s my way of not dealing with the social anxiety of being alone. One more thing. I feel like if I’m there by myself early, and then the entire group of 10 people come, it feels like they’re judging me like I have too much time on my hands.

I can relate to this. I use to have a fear of going to the movies by myself or eating alone at a restaurant. This guy must be a loser because he can’t find anyone to do activities with!
Have you ever felt this way before?
There’s only one thing you can do, and that’s not to give a shit about what someone else thinks.
Here’s the truth: no one cares. Everyone’s busy with their lives and their own thoughts. No one’s paying attention. It’s all in your head.


Two years ago, my girlfriend was supposed to go to the beach with her family.
It was 3 pm, and I Facetimed her to see a view of the beach. Instead, I saw a chaotic living room.
Her family was still getting ready for the beach. They were supposed to leave at 9am…how were they not ready six hours later?
I couldn’t understand.
They ended up spending an entire day getting ready, just to spend one hour at the beach! That was the most inefficient thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Why not pack the night before so they could spend more time at the beach?
This boils down to values and perspective.
My girlfriend explained to me that it’s about the feeling of control.
When you’re at work, you have to follow someone else’s schedule. You have to show up to work at a certain time. You only get to eat lunch at a certain time.
But if it’s the weekend, you might want to feel like you have more control over your own time.
For some people, sticking too close to a calendar or a schedule feels like you’re giving up control in your life.
For me, it’s the complete opposite.
Sticking to a schedule and planning ahead means I’m using my time in the most efficient way possible. The time I save from being disciplined gives me the freedom to play video games or go to the gym guilt free. That’s control to me.
After getting to know her and her family more, I realized that some cultures just have a different viewpoint on time.
In some cultures, it’s disrespectful to show up late. In other cultures, it’s completely acceptable to show up a few hours late.
Saying let’s meet at 3pm is more of a suggestion than the actual time you’re supposed to meet.
I can already sense my agitation if we ever go on a family trip together.

Dealing with Lateness

So how do you deal with people who tend to be late?
You can set standards in communication:
Hey X, just confirming that we’re still on for coffee at 3 pm today. Just FYI I’m going to be there around 3 pm exactly. I wanted to let you know because I have another meeting at 4 pm. Let me know if anything changes or if you’re running late, thanks. Looking forward to seeing you!
Next, I like to travel with a set of headphones. If I’m sitting there for 15 minutes, I can at least listen to an audiobook and be productive.
And finally, I’m learning just to go with the flow more. Appreciate a little more spontaneity.

Lateness Isn’t Intentionally Disrespectful

A few years ago if someone was late, I would assume that it was intentional and that they were being disrespectful.
Over time, I’ve put in a lot of work into understanding people more. Most people don’t have the intention of upsetting you–there are just a lot of factors underneath that contribute to the behavior.
Should you try to be on time? Yes, when possible. I think it’s the best way to use your time. But I also understand that there are other contributing factors.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my calendar says it’s time for my next task. 😉
Featured Image by rangizzz

You may also like

                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

I Send
My Best Stuff
Through Email

                 I’m obsessed with everything marketing, business, and productivity.

Whenever I come across a knowledge bomb, I’ll share it with you in email? Interested? Sign up below.

You're 1-step away from exclusive content and cheat sheets

By clicking 'Free Instant Access', you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin