Help! I'm always late

·10-min read
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

'OMG sooooo sorry, on my way now, I promise.’

If you have ever received this message from me, I’m sorry. I was lying. Yep, I’m that person, messaging you while you’re already where we’d planned to meet. As for me? I’m most likely WhatsApping, knickers round my ankles as I sit on the loo putting my lippie on. I have every intention of leaving. Although, I just need to find my keys. And pack my bag. And get changed, as – FFS – I suddenly hate what I’m wearing...

I’ve missed the beginning of a friend’s wedding, trailing in at the back as she walked down the aisle. Sweat pooling in my armpits, mouthing ‘sorry’ at anyone daring to look at me and not the bride. Every time I’m at the airport they will call my name over the tannoy while I’m idly sniffing random perfumes at Duty Free. I’ve watched infinite numbers of trains pull away from me as I scream into the empty void of a platform: Why am I like this?

I don’t mean to be late. I always allow myself lots of time. It’s just that somehow, I manage to fill it – and then some. I fill my hours like I fill my flat, with all the stuff. I love the stuff. And look, it’s not that I don’t believe in time – I know that it rules our worlds – but I can’t fully grasp it. Why is it that hours sometimes slip by in seconds, and why does a week sometimes feel like a year? But I can no longer fight it. My lateness may have been charming at university (perhaps I was kidding myself), but now it’s costing me money (so much rebooked transport!) and relationships (my punctual friends have stopped inviting me places and my husband is threatening divorce – okay, that maybe a slight dramatisation), so I decided to set myself a challenge: could I change? And become... gasp...an early person? I set myself (with an expert’s help) some tasks to find out.

Task one: Find out your late style

It turns out the chronically late (aka me) are late for a reason (no – we’re not blaming our late buses). It’s because we all have a late trait – for example, those who think they’re superior, those who’re struggling, some who get caught in the drama – which all link back to something deeper; it's an unconscious way of trying to speak. There are those who are late because they simply don’t want to be there (more on this later) and then those, like me, who have an ‘anxious late style’. Or so says Jodie Cariss, therapist and founder of Self Space, who explains that my constant lateness and the distress it causes me (I’m always in a flap and feeling guilty) is a form of self-sabotage.

Cariss says that to truly succeed in my experiment I should trial various tactics for two weeks – but for myself, rather than for others. ‘Experience being in charge,’ she advises. ‘It’s mastery over your own life.’ I do want to be in control, and not feel like I’m spiralling every single time I leave the house. It sounds appealing. But figuring that out is the easy part...

Photo credit: Marina Petti
Photo credit: Marina Petti

Task two: Put your essentials in one place

I can never find my keys. Cariss tells me I might be deflecting my anxiety on to those elusive little f***ers. ‘If you’re worrying about where your keys are,’ says Cariss, ‘you’re not tuning into the anxiety you’re feeling about leaving the house.’ What it always seems to come back to is that I’m a total homebody who hates leaving the safe, snuggly cocoon of my bedroom and my dog. Cariss tells me I’m colluding with the drama, and actually creating it to distract myself from my worry about leaving my bubble. She tells me that I need to employ the simplest of tactics to minimise this drama... essentially, I need to find places to put all my stuff.

Listen, when you put stuff in one place, that’s always where you’ll find it. I know, I know. Mind-blowing, isn’t it? People (my husband) have told me this before. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ I’ll say, as he picks up my keys from inside the fridge. But it works. For the past two weeks, I have been putting my keys in a pot in the kitchen when I get home. I have to concentrate really hard when I come in and not just put them down on the bed, in the bathroom, by the kitchen sink or wherever else they land. And it’s starting to become a habit. The old me would get home and shove her bag in a corner, contents and all. Now I carefully empty it out, putting all my stuff in one place. Without the drama of finding all my belongings, my anxiety about leaving the house has actually minimised.

Task three: Choose outfits the night before

Surely, every single one of us has found ourselves standing over a pile of discarded outfits, frantically searching for that pair of earrings that will complete the look. Right? I do this all the time and end up settling on something I still don’t like. ‘It’s so stressful, because we know we haven’t got enough time to fully decide what we want, so that pressures us into wearing something we don’t feel comfy in,’ explains Cariss. ‘Simplify your wardrobe. Get rid of everything you don’t like. Every little decision you make will save you decision-time later.’ So I spend an evening trying on combinations of outfits. Figuring out what I want to keep and which items work with each other. Then I won’t have to do that in the space of 15 minutes before I need to leave the house.

I also carve out some dedicated time the night before I have to be somewhere to pick out an entire outfit. I try it on, imagine how I will do my hair and consider what earrings work with it. I think about all the things I have to do that day. And imagine myself doing all those things wearing the outfit that I’ve just picked out. It’s actually made me start to enjoy my clothes again– and it means I no longer lose an hour of time to my indecisiveness.

Photo credit: Marina Petti
Photo credit: Marina Petti

Task four: No more doomscrolling

Most mornings pre-experiment, I’d log on to Insta, with the intention of having a quick scroll. In what feels like 10 minutes, I’ve lost an hour to someone’s timeline. I lose grip on my own reality, transported from my sofa, I’m in Mexico on holiday with some influencer I don’t even really like. ‘Take the apps off your phone,’ advises Cariss, explaining that this way you avoid temptation. ‘And you can only look at them when sat down at your computer.’

Okay, so I do cheat a bit on this one. I don’t remove all my apps, but I do move them to a different part of my phone. I have also banned myself from going anywhere near Insta when I have somewhere to be. Look, you probably don’t need me to tell you this, but this one totally works. And if I do manage to arrive somewhere early, I can have some uninterrupted scroll time. Something, I learn, that’s a technique many early people actually adopt...

Task five: Make a pre-date with yourself

I always thought getting to places early would be pretty lonesome. But Cariss tells me I need to flip my thinking. ‘Pick a treat you can have for arriving early,’ says Cariss. ‘But make sure you plan your route.’ What she means by this is add at least 20 minutes to that, because no route is ever going togo exactly to plan. Now, before I meet a friend for dinner or at a gallery or whatever we have planned, I plan in some time for myself. It’s like free time. Time I can sit and have a coffee and read my book. A simple pleasure just for being early. It’s glorious.

Photo credit: Marina Petti
Photo credit: Marina Petti

Task six: Never ever do that ‘one more thing’

I tell Cariss that often, as I’m about to leave the house, I might just decide to make the bed or tidy something away before I go out. But I need to ask myself, do I really need to do it Cariss tells me that this is again linked to my anxiety about leaving the house. ‘A friend of mine’s mum used to wash the curtains before going on holiday,’ Cariss chuckles. I can relate. ‘But if you can’t leave something, you may be controlling your distressed feelings with order. It might feel distressing to leave it, but can you do it when you get home? And make the choice not to be late.’ I’d never really looked at it like that before. I can leave that one last thing and not worry about it all day. What’s the worst that’s going to happen if I don’t make the bed properly? Or tidy away my coffee cup? These days, I’d rather choose to be early. As I’ve realised, the anxiety of leaving a dirty plate in the kitchen isn’t as anxiety-inducing as actually being late.

What I learned

I don’t know if I’ll ever call myself an early person. I might always exist on a tightrope of vast extremes – but I know I will sometimes be early now. Because I have learned I enjoy it. Although I never want to be the first in a Zoom call, as that might be the most terrifying place to be alone of all time.

What works...

  • The 20-minute rule: I used to allow an hour to walk my dog, but it always took longer. When planning your time, add 20 mins to every single activity. It also allows a buffer for any rain or bus mishaps.

  • Lie down. If you’re like me and find that you’re spiralling, and it’s eating into your time, Cariss advises lying on the floor to ground yourself. And it works: it forces you to reassess and bring your mind back to your body. Although, I would not advise this move if you’re out in public or already really late. Take a pause, close your eyes and try some deep breathing instead.

  • Make the most important choices the day before. Plan your route and what you’re going to wear to take all the drama out of the day. Even if you think you thrive on it, I promise you, you don’t.

  • Most importantly, ask yourself this question. Before anything, you need to ask yourself, do you actually want to go? ‘One reason for being late is that you don’t want to go. That’s a classic one,’ explains Cariss. ‘We say yes, but we don’t want to go. Then we procrastinate. We sort of want to say I really don’t want to come, but we show up – albeit in a way that shows we actually don’t want to be there.’ Try to be as honest as possible with yourself about your future plans and cancel anything you don’t fancy (of course not work things, important meetings and medical appointments, but social stuff). As it turns out: you can’t be late for something you’re no longer going to.

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