Time Is of the Essence: 9 Ways to Overcome Chronic Lateness at Work

woman pointing angrily at clock she's holding in her hand

Do you struggle to make to work or meetings on time? If so, you’re not alone. Some studies have shown that 1 in 5 people are chronically late to work at least once a week, while others claim nearly 30% of all Americans are late to work every single day. Still, if you make a habit of showing up late to work, you may have gotten a reputation from your coworkers as being irresponsible, disorganized, or even selfish. But, for many, always running a little late is often tied to things like anxiety, poor self-control, or sometimes even the way we perceive the passage of time (yes, some people just naturally perceive a slower passage of time than others).

Regardless of the root cause for this bad habit, chronic lateness in the workplace can have dire consequences for your professional life, causing you to miss opportunities, lose the trust and esteem of your colleagues or boss, fall behind in your workload, feel disconnected from your team, or, in some cases, even lose your job. For many people, being late is often a deep-rooted personal problem that has persisted for years (a flaw they’ve tried and failed to overcome time and time again), making it all the more difficult to fix.

If you’re determined to become a more punctual person this year, here are 10 of the most important ways to understand the root cause of your lateness and take effective steps to turn it around:

  1. Take an honest look at how long you need to get ready in the morning or before important events or appointments. Don’t just guess -- use an actual timer on your phone or clock every day for at least 1 week to get a realistic picture of how long it takes you, on average, to get ready to walk out the door. Then, the next time you’re preparing to leave for work, budget time for this plus add an extra 15 or 20 minutes just to be safe.
  2. Eliminate distractions when you’re getting ready. If you find yourself tempted by your full inbox or your unanswered Facebook messages, put your phone out of view during your morning routine so you don’t get sidetracked. The same goes for any other potential distraction like the television or things around the house. Examine the kinds of things that usually catch your attention, and find a way to avoid them while you’re preparing to leave.
  3. Say “bye bye” to snooze. For people who struggle with chronic lateness, the snooze button is a notorious trickster that deceives you into thinking an extra 5 or 6 minutes of sleep will make a difference. Hint: it won’t. Instead, what often ends up happening is the snooze button becomes a kind of crutch or “enabler” that more often than not results in a last-minute mad dash to the door and, eventually, lateness. If you can’t keep your half-asleep self from hitting the snooze button, put your phone or alarm clock well out of reach -- like, across the room -- so you have to physically stand up to reach it.
  4. Are you taking the best route to work? Rethink your commute and see if there are any new routes or ways you can tweak your morning ride so you get there a little faster. If you can, join a carpool. Not only will you save on gas and cut down on pollution, but also knowing that you have people waiting on you right outside your front door every morning can be a great motivator to get in gear.
  5. Don’t try to get to places on time, try to get there early. Change your mindset around when you should arrive places. For every appointment, every workday, every event, always strive to arrive at least 15 minutes early, and make this your “new normal.” Start thinking of arriving right on time as synonymous with arriving late.
  6. Make promises to the people who matter to you. Perhaps you can arrange to meet a coworker for breakfast or coffee a few times a week before work, or schedule important meetings with your boss (the ones you know you don’t want to miss) as early in the workday as you can so you create a sense of urgency around arriving early or on time. By incentivizing yourself to meet your obligations, you’ll find over time that you’re more motivated to show up when you’re supposed to.
  7. Wear a watch. Because we all carry our smartphones around with us 24/7, many people have gotten out of the habit of wearing a watch. However, when you have a watch so easily accessible and visible on your body, you’ll likely be more aware of the time and will check it more frequently.
  8. Regularly remind yourself of the importance of being on time and everything that’s at stake (your reputation, your relationship with coworkers, your job itself) if you’re known as “the late one” at work.
  9. Schedule some downtime each day to combat feet-dragging on intimidating tasks. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with a long or unrealistic to-do list, you may be more inclined to procrastinate and avoid getting started. Rethink how you’re managing your workload, and be sure to budget for some small breaks throughout your day so you don’t dread getting started.

One of the most important steps you can take to overcome your chronic lateness is to understand why you’re always late. Once you know what’s causing this bad behavior, you can more clearly identify strategies and steps for combating it.

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