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Being late isn’t just rude, it could also be bad for your health

Whether it’s intentional or not, being tardy all the time can increase stress and strain your relationships with others. But there are things you can do to get better at time management. 

When I was in Grade One at primary school I was awarded the ‘Early Bird’ certificate for being the first one at school each morning. Although this was not at all my own doing, or by choice for that matter, instead a product of necessity for my single mum who had to be at work by 8.30am and me being dropped off on her way, I was nonetheless awarded this as if it were in fact entirely my achievement.

Thanks to my mother’s influence, not only am I an A+ punctual adult, but I expect everyone else to be. If they’re instead like that White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland (who, despite having a pocket watch, was always running late) well, I get a tad annoyed. It’s rude and inconsiderate of the other person/people you are impacting by being tardy (Note: I can let the first one slide, I am not completely unreasonable).

But it turns out that this behaviour is not just subject to my OTT judgement, it can actually be negative to your health and wellbeing.

Clinical Psychologist Meredith Fuller says that there are two types of people – those who are organised, “with their life running like clockwork” and the disorganised – “those who live a more chaotic existence.”

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While each type of person can theoretically live their life in a healthy way, being disorganised and frequently late can cause more undue stress, pressure, as well as relationship and work issues than those who are more organised with their time.

“It is about how we see time. Often the more ‘disorganised person’, who is often late, has little conception of how long tasks will take and will overfill their day,” she tells Body+Soul.

Many of these ‘over fillers’ are not intentionally late, but because they simply plan too much to get done in their day.

“This can negatively impact a person’s stress levels because it means they are running catch up constantly, this often means you don’t perform at your best and can become overloaded, a terrible cause of stress,” she explains.

Although there are some people who are late intentionally, something Fuller describes as a “narcissistic tendency”, many people who are late, like the ‘over fillers’, are late unintentionally as a side product of their personality.

“Some people have more ‘go with the flow’ personalities, they appreciate life in the moment more which does have positive outcomes,” she says.

“But despite these, if it means they are regularly late, this still impacts others that are on time and have in turn forgone that pleasure of enjoying the moment themselves to be punctual.”

Regardless of whether it’s intentional, it can still adversely impact on your health and wellbeing, particularly on your relationships with others.

“If you are regularly late you can let people down, some will feel that you cannot be trusted or that they can’t rely on you, it can also make them feel as if you don’t value them and their time causing harm to the relationship,” Fuller explains.

It is particularly harmful to couples.

“Being late is one of the biggest causes of stress between couples,” she says.

“If two late people get together often nothing happens, if two organised people get together, they often miss out on living in the moment, but one of each can help provide a balance.”

As well as the personal front, being late can also prove harmful in a professional setting.

“Most work settings are organised, being disorganised, which includes tardiness, isn’t compatible. Being late won’t help forward your career,” Fuller says.

How to tackle your lateness

The good news is, for those who want to reform, Fuller suggests some really simple ways for you to do this.

  • Understand your body clock. Ask yourself if you are a night owl or a lark and organise your time based on this. For example, if you are a night owl who loves a god sleep in to compensate, don’t organise to meet a friend for breakfast first thing in the morning.
  • Set your watch ahead of time to accommodate your lateness.
  • Make lists or use a diary to stay organised and tick things off as you go.
  • Scale back your to-do list of it is too long, you may be trying to do too much meaning you can’t fit it in.
  • Remember everyone’s time is important, not just yours.
  • And finally, be kind to yourself and stay in tune with your body because being late can also be a sign of depression, being sick or of being tired which you may need to seek professional help for.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. Shona is an animal welfare advocate with a strong interest in mental health and education. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.