Time & Productivity

The 6 Reasons You’re Always Late for Everything

You give in to guilt. You try to achieve unhuman productivity. You hate being early. And more (very fixable) reasons for your chronic lateness and crushing stress.

Businessman with ADHD holding briefcase and running because he is late
Businessman with ADHD holding briefcase and running because he is late

Toni can feel the knot in her neck as she sits in traffic. She is running late for work (again), and she’s heading to a project meeting, for which she is unprepared. Lately, she’s been losing patience with the kids more easily, and she seems to have no time to just enjoy being with them. Feeling rushed, like Toni? Here are time-management strategies that adults with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) can use to slow down, get better organized, and end chronic lateness.

Cure Yourself of “One-More-Thing-Itis.”

One reason people with ADHD feel rushed is that they habitually try to cram in “one more thing,” the additional task that so often derails plans.

One-more-thing-itis is a form of distractibility — the phone rings, you answer it, you notice that the table needs to be cleared, or a plant needs to be watered, and, once again, you run late.

Strategy: Think through the steps you’ll take before you leave the house. Gather belongings and double-check directions, if needed, the night before. Avoid getting sidetracked as you head to the door by reminding yourself, out loud and repeatedly, “I’m leaving now, I’m going to the car.”

Plan Ahead to Arrive Early.

Aim to arrive 15 minutes before your appointment time. If the prospect of facing empty time if you do arrive early horrifies you, keep a magazine, book, or stack of bills that need to be paid in a bag near the door, and grab it on the way out.

[Free Download: Get There On Time, Every Time]

Calculate your departure time by adding 10 minutes to each half hour of travel time. With the extra time, you’ll feel much less rushed should you run into traffic or another unforeseen delay.

Strategy: Set two alarms (a clock, a cell phone, or a computer), one that will go off five minutes before departure time and a second that will sound when it’s time to leave. When the first alarm goes off, stop what you are doing. Try to be out the door before the second alarm goes off.

Build Routine Tasks into Your Weekly Schedule.

When do you feel most stressed — in the morning, before work and school, or before dinner, when the kids need picking up and dinner needs preparing?

Instead of filling the gas tank or stopping to grab the ingredients for dinner on the fly, map out-and stick to-a weekly schedule that accounts for each of these tasks. Lock in times for doing necessary weekly chores, such as grocery shopping and laundry, to prevent running out of milk or clean clothes.

[7 Secrets of the Most Obnoxiously Punctual People]

Strategy: Shift to-do items into less stressful times. For example, if mornings are more rushed, fill the gas tank on the way home.

Don’t Say “Yes” Out of Habit — or Guilt.

Many of us over-commit out of a desire to please our family, friends, or co-workers.

Strategy: Get in the habit of saying, “I’d like to, but let me check my schedule,” instead of giving an automatic “yes.” In the end, you’ll please others more by being able to get things done on time, rather than always being late and rushed.

Set Realistic Goals.

Can you really make a stew and pick up the kids in half an hour? Deliver yourself from trying to be supermom.

Strategy: It’s OK to plan a quick-fix meal (or to have take-out!) on busier nights. Don’t feel you have to cram in three errands when you have time for only two.

Enlist the Help of a Time Tutor.

Ask a friend or family member, someone who has witnessed how you spend your time, to help you identify the patterns that create time crunches in your life.

Strategy: Do only what you can, and delegate or delete what you can’t. You’ll be happier (and more productive) when you are not living in a constant rush.

[It Always Takes More Than “Just Two Minutes”]

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Specialist Panel.

Updated on March 15, 2019

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  1. What about me?
    “Toni can feel the knot in her neck as she sits in traffic. She is running late for work (again)”
    These days, I just don’t seem to get stressed anymore.
    Many work places use ‘flexitime’ and it works for me.
    Often, I am the last person in, and the last person out. Usually, I get more work done. This is shown by the need to replace me with two or more people. Yet people seem to think I don’t work as hard as they do!

    At one workplace, I was the only person who had NOT smashed up a company vehicle,
    but I was the only one who had missed an interstate flight. Twice.

    I don’t get stressed if I don’t meet silly social norms and expectations. I haven’t since I was ten years old.
    I don’t fit in to most social groups, and I prefer it that way.
    … why would I get drunk, pass out, and wake with no memory and think I must have had a good time? Why does anyone?

    I have never felt ashamed to have ADD. It is just annoying sometimes.
    One the other hand, I am creative and practical and much more so than most people.
    I have two uni degrees, and …

    What you have suggested is good. I just edited out the guilt nonsense.

    Thx for the ideas.

  2. I have been fired from several jobs for chronic lateness, and taking too long on projects. At my current job, we have talked about it, and even though they don’t particularly like it, they understand that it is who I am and that I work harder (and longer hours) than most anyone else in the company (even though I am salary). On critical projects, I set a ton of reminders on my phone, computer, and encourage people to check in with me regularly (because, even though I fully intend to give regular updates, it’s 90% not gonna happen).

    Unfortunately, I have not translated this from my work life to my personal life, which still usually alternates between flurries of extreme productivity and long periods of procrastination (usually, via video games).

  3. Hi,

    lol…okay, everything bugs me right now including this ridiculously small font to type my comment(s) in (I am aware I need to go up to 60 mg for my Adderall from 40 mg, kind of an apology in advance). 🙂

    Current counseling strategies suggest not ‘sandwiching’ feedback between two compliments but I am so old school that I cannot seem to help it at the moment so please know that without your resource I would surely have gone completely insane by now! I refer Soooo many people to you it is crazy, lol. Since I work in the Mental Health and addictions field it is a little crazy that I did not get diagnosed as ADHD until I was 56 (or it could have been 55?). At any rate, people wonder how I could not have known I am ADHD but the fact is I smoked like a fiend since I was eight years old and from the recent medical research nicotine can act like Ritalin on the brain.

    I digress (as usual, lol). My feedback is not related specifically to this one article but to the resource in its entirety in the hope that I can understand it a little better.

    I am somewhat curious why when you are writing a resource for people with ADHD you choose to put cute little attention-grabbing headings one can click on in the middle of an article about something else like I just saw in this article? I don’t even really remember what article first caught my eye and distracted me from what I was originally doing anymore because I seem to just go deeper and deeper into ‘ADDitude land’ because even though I am looking forward to finding out the solution to the issue I was first looking at I get distracted by the new heading and think “I will just go there for a minute and then come back”, never to actually return because I get frustrated with too much information?

    Another thing I was curious about is I know very few people, friends or ‘clients’ who have ADHD that actually have the attention span to watch an hour-long webinar? Why would you do that? I am really interested in so many webinar topics but I never get to watch them because I don’t have that much ‘time’ or attention. As an adult I choose to take online courses instead of classroom learning because since I am a quick study I find the classroom content to be the equivalent of about one page reading and if the class is very well thought out it is a chapter at most of actual information that is usable and the rest is ‘fluff’ to me, fillers. While working with people and trying to assist them to embrace their uniqueness and not beat themselves up for not being ‘neurotypical’ (I call them sheep) I cannot possibly get anyone to watch an hour-long webinar, jus sayin.

    It is my hope you take my feedback into consideration or perhaps respond if possible so I might understand your perspective or rationale behind it? I so enjoy (there is the sandwich, lol) everything you write about because of course, I relate to all of it very well. Finding out I am ADHD has been probably THE most enlightening experiences of my life! Or maybe the second most enlighting thing since I discovered that I actually ‘could’ quit abusing substances if my brain had the proper chemicals in it to function in this neurotypical world without making me feel crazy. I don’t beat myself up and try not to use words like guilt or shame or should… I can ‘choose’ to learn from things I have done and try different things to produce different outcomes that will be more favorable but this journey called life is what we make of it.

    Thank you so much to all of your contributors!

    Sincerely,

    Paige Latin
    PS – I cannot remember if I have read anything about ADHD and business startup (of course the business is incredibly complicated because it is not selling widgets but literally concept based on the people involved.)
    Also, are there any recommendations for easy budget programs that could link to calander programs and to do lists???

  4. This website has been a Godsend to me. I have displayed do many of these characteristics all my life and never really thought that it could be something that wasn’t totally my fault or the willful behaviour of a defiant child and later in the workplace, a troublemaker. I have always felt compelled to tell the truth and too call out others who I know are lying (which happens in a corporate environment all the time). I couldn’t focus in elementary school, couldn’t take naps in kindergarten, could NEVER figure out how to get started on any assignment that involved research, footnotes, references, etc. I suffered extreme anxiety every time I entered a new classroom and got new classmates and a new teacher…from elementary and all the way through college. I just assumed everybody suffered this way. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t just the way everyone lived. Since out was all I knew, I just assumed it was everyone’s reality. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed in my 30’s that I had an inkling that I was a little off. My OCD diagnosis came at the same time and I was promptly medicated. My diagnosed for bipolar wasn’t made until I was 56. Now THAT was an eye opener! As I researched that, I found I also had complex PTSD. Now I understand my extreme behaviors over the years. I am having quite Ann adventure now trying to find the right pdoc who can get my “cocktail of meds right so I can function without being horribly depressed and unable to leave my bed for days pm end or so manic that I find myself cleaning the oven or scrubbing the bathroom at 3am. It’s been 3 years now (our is it 4?) Since my bipolar diagnosis and each day is an adventure!

  5. A couple of other hints that might help those of us who are always at war with clocks.

    I try to keep the gas tank at least half full all the time so that I am always ready to go wherever it is I am going in the morning, which is when I am at my most distractable AND sluggish… bad combo. I have horrible sleep patterns, so I am often overtired in the morning. I try to make my gas station stops at night, on my way home, if possible because whenever I think I will have time in the morning — I don’t!

    I often “don’t feel like” doing things that will make life less stressful for me (like, stopping to buy gas on the way home) but always regret it later. I am constantly deluded that I will have time for a shower when I wake up on mornings when I actually have to be somewhere by a certain time. I end up either going out the door with dirty hair or being late because I took a shower. It is always better to shower at night, for that reason (bed head be damned).

    Also, I try to focus on the time at which I must leave, not the time I am supposed to be someplace. So, if I have a 10 a.m. doctor’s appointment, I will focus on the fact that I need to be walking out the door at 9:15 a.m.

    I try to factor in at least 10 “extra” minutes when Mapquest or the GPS tells me it takes x-minutes to get someplace, reminding myself that I need time to do stuff like park the car, walk from the parking space, find the right office door, etc. I am pushing to make that 20 minutes “extra” when it’s crucial to be someplace on time, in case there’s traffic or a weird detour or other unpredictable problems.

    I also try to work with my real versus ideal schedule. I am NOT a morning person. I try to avoid making any morning appointments.

    I am very guilty of “just one more thing,” but am getting better about being honest with myself. I probably am NOT going to be able to go to the laundromat before that 6 p.m. meeting. I am probably NOT going to have time to go to the bank AND pick up my prescriptions, so I go to the bank because I need to make that deposit in order to pay the rent on time.

    I am probably NOT going to want to cook a casserole when I get home from the meeting, so I try to have something else I can cook quick and easy as a Plan B. I am probably NOT going to eat all those vegetables before they go bad, even though I am trying to “eat healthy,” so I don’t shop for more than a few days worth.

    It’s funny how we folks with ADHD believe in magic-time, versus actual clock-time. I wonder if it’s linked to our ability to hyper focus, during which time disappears?

    The other ADD-related propensity I struggle with is not wanting to be early. Even if I bring something to do (which actually does help a little psychologically), I really have to fight with myself. I try to remind myself how miffed I get when someone else is 15 or 20 minutes late for an appointment with ME, or how many times I’ve had to reschedule a doctor’s appointment because they wouldn’t take me even after only being 10 minutes late.

    Even when I try my hardest, I can still end up late. It’s hard for me not to get really depressed when that happens. But I tell myself to just learn from the experience and try things differently next time — or remember what happened and how crappy it felt, and so, don’t make the same mistake (whatever it might have been).

    I also agree that if you have ADD, be careful how many things you commit to. The key word being “commit,” which is the same as “promise.” Remember how bad it feels to not live up to a promise, and don’t make so many of them.

    Another good tip: some tasks are OK to do just “good enough.” Try to choose which tasks at work or home are truly going to make a difference and which ones are routine or not going to be noticed by anyone no matter how much you put into it, and shift your energy into the “high value” tasks. I disagree with that saying, “A task worth doing is worth doing well.” Life is too short to put your all into every damned thing. It’s actually more fun to put your energy into one or two things and really go bananas, than to try to cram a lot of tasks into a day or week. Catch yourself when you’re thinking in magic-time.

    Whew… this is long! I hope my comments are helpful!

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