I woke up at 6 am this morning, three hours before I’m supposed to be in the office, and was still 10 minutes late to work. This is pretty standard for me. I’m almost always a few minutes late. I don’t mean anything by it, and I certainly don’t think I deserve a different set of rules than everyone else — it’s just the way I am. I wake up early and try to fill the time before I leave for the office with as many activities as possible: a short workout, breakfast, catching up on the news, daydreaming while struggling to put my socks on, etc.
I’ll look at the clock and think, “Oh, I still have plenty of time.” One or two tasks later, I’ve only got 40 minutes to get to work and a 45 minute commute. This has been the case with every single job I’ve ever had and is typically true when it comes to social meetings as well. I’m habitually unpunctual, and apparently I’m not alone.
As management consultant Diana DeLonzor states:
Most late people have been late all their life, and they are late for every type of activity — good or bad. Surprisingly little scientific research has been done on tardiness, but some experts subscribe to the theory that certain people are hardwired to be late and that part of the problem may be embedded deep in the lobes of the brain.
So if you’re chronically late, I feel for you and sympathize with the onslaught of criticism you likely receive on a consistent basis. I know you’re not a lazy, unproductive, inconsiderate or entitled person. I know you’re not attempting to insult anyone by your tardiness. Your lateness is simply a consequence of your psychology and personality — nothing more, nothing less. With that said, while those of us who are continuously tardy should work to overcome this trait, there are also hidden benefits.
Chronically late people aren’t hopeless, they’re hopeful.
People who are continuously late are actually just more optimistic. They believe they can fit more tasks into a limited amount of time more than other people and thrive when they’re multitasking. Simply put, they’re fundamentally hopeful. While this makes them unrealistic and bad at estimating time, it also pays off in the long-run in other ways. Researchers have found optimism has a myriad of physical health benefits, from reducing stress and diminishing the risk of cardiovascular disease to strengthening your immune system.
Indeed, happiness and positivity have been linked to a longer life in general. Maintaining a positive outlook is also vital to achieving personal success. Research shows happiness increases overall productivity, creativity and teamwork in the workplace. All of this makes a great deal of sense, as a study conducted at San Diego State University has also connected lateness with Type B personalities, or people who tend to be more laid-back and easygoing. In other words, people who are habitually late don’t sweat over the small stuff, they concentrate on the big picture and see the future as full of infinite possibilities.
Time is relative, learn to live in the moment.
We should also note punctuality is a relative concept. Time and lateness mean different things in different cultures and contexts. In the United States, we often interpret lateness as an insult or a sign of a poor work ethic. When people are late, it’s assumed they feel their time is more important or valuable. Americans believe time is money and money is time. But if you head over to Europe, it’s almost as if the notion of time magically mutates each time you enter a new country. In Germany, the land of perpetual efficiency, punctuality is of the utmost importance. When Russian President Vladimir Putin was late to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, she left because that’s how Germans roll. If you venture over to Spain, however, you’ll find time has taken a completely different character. The Spanish run by their own clock and are famous for eating dinner at 10 pm. Sail on down to Latin America, and you’ll discover punctuality bears little to no importance.
The point here being, we all do things our own way. It’s fair to contend unpunctuality is bad for economic growth and that schedules are vital to maintaining efficiency. But when we look at the fact Americans work extensive hours yet exhibit low levels of productivity, this argument feels somewhat empty and void. As both societies and individuals, we all need to find the healthy balance between punctuality and lateness. Schedules are important, but breaking them isn’t the end of the world. People with a tendency for tardiness like to stop and smell the roses, and those with a propensity for punctuality could learn a thing or two from them (and vice versa). Life was never meant to be planned down to the last detail. Remaining excessively attached to timetables signifies an inability to enjoy the moment. Living in the present is vital to our sanity. Sometimes it’s much more beneficial to go with the flow.