Why I’m Always Late

Woman standing in front of clock wallpaper

My sister Molly often uses a phrase about being on time, “If you’re ten minutes early, you’re early. If you’re five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” This frequently comes to mind when I’m rushing to get somewhere, but it hasn’t improved my timeliness just yet. In fact, if there was a similar saying designed just for me, it would probably go more like this, “If Colleen is ten minutes early, we’re living in a dream world. If Colleen is on time, everyone (including herself) is highly impressed. And if Colleen is ten minutes late…well, that’s the unfortunately reality.”

I have trouble with time—and now that I’m back in the classroom (teaching), I’m wondering if something didn’t click with me when we covered clocks and time-telling. (Did I get an ‘F’ in that, Mom?) I can be found running late to things ranging from dinners to exercise classes and everything in between. Being late doesn’t even really fit in with my personality, so it’s kind of weird to me when I think about it. You see, I am a very organized person. I write everything down in order to remember the things I am responsible for, and what I need to get done. I’m neat and tidy, and have a place for everything. Don’t these qualities mean I should be someone who is early, or at least on time? I must be missing something…

At this point you might be saying, “Why the heck are you always late? Get your act together!” Well, I guess it’s hard for me to explain, but I’m going to try. I don’t want to be late; oftentimes it causes me unnecessary stress and anxiety. People are rarely happy with you when you’re late. They judge you. They (ahem, family members) try to trick you into being on time. They have better things to do then to wait for you. I even get annoyed when I have to wait for people (once in a blue moon), even though I hardly have the right to.

So—again—why? Am I a diva? Self-entitled? Lazy? A jerk? What’s the reasoning behind this lateness? Let me give you an example of an embarrassingly frequent scenario that I experience. I’ve signed up for a 6:00 p.m. barre class (my latest fitness kick—loving it so far!), and its 5:00 p.m. I have an hour before class begins, but my brain registers this as “you have one hour to dedicate your time to something else before barre class.” In reality—I should be thinking, “Ok, I have about twenty minutes to finish up what I’m doing before I need to get changed, fill up my water bottle, drive over to barre, park my car, and be a few minutes early to class.” Because I’m thinking I have a full hour, time gets away from me and I tend to spend too much time finishing the task I am doing. This means I usually give myself about fifteen minutes to rush to get ready and zoom over to class in a very un-calm manner, instead of the forty minutes it deserves. Warped sense of time, huh?

I think this all stems from the fact that I’m always trying to do.one.more.thing before I leave to go somewhere. There are only twenty-four hours in the day, yet always so much to get done. A lot of the time I find myself rushing from one task to the next, sometimes not even finishing task A before moving on to task B. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, so when I know that I’m doing this I have to stop myself and drop task B to go back and finish task A. I do this because I like to be able to finish something and then move the task out of my brain in order to make room for the next thing. So if I am interrupted while completing a task because I have to give myself enough time to get ready to go to class, I am annoyed. I then tell myself that of course I have enough time to finish up what I’m doing, and still get to class on time. I might get to finish the task at hand, but do I get to class on time? No. Do I cause myself unnecessary stress and anxiety in a should-be calm situation? Yes. I feel as though I’m stuck in a vicious cycle. I want to get out, but I’m stuck!

I’ve tried giving myself a schedule where I would write down everything I want to accomplish in a day and how much time I could dedicate to each individual item—this usually helps for the first few hours in the day, but then craziness usually ensues and I veer off path. Sometimes I think I just put too much pressure on myself to get a TON of stuff done and it’s not realistic. Maybe I have to let go of the fact that I am going to accomplish everything in one day, or prioritize better. Maybe I simply have to pay closer attention to what time it is, and be truthful with myself in how much time it will take me to complete a task, or get to a certain destination.

I’m not 100% sure of the answer to my problem, but I know it’s out there. I know I can do it. I don’t want people to be continuously disappointed in me being late. In equal importance, I would also like to eliminate any unnecessary stress and anxiety from my life. When you think about it, life already has enough stress…why add more? I want to be happy and as stress-free as possible!

All of this being said…what tips or tricks do you have for me? How do you keep yourself focused and on time? I’m all ears!