Running Late and Wasting Billions

March 3, 2007 — -- While Americans are planning and scheduling their lives more than ever before, it seems they can never quite catch up.

A recent survey found 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population is "consistently late," especially when it comes to work.

Chronic lateness isn't just annoying -- it's expensive. American CEOs are late to eight out of every 10 meetings, according to a 2006 survey by Proudfoot Consulting. And when CEOs are late by 10 minutes every day, it costs the U.S. economy $90 billion in lost productivity.

"It's a huge drain on productivity when meetings consistently start 10 or 15 minutes behind, and tardiness has a snowball effect as one person's lateness affects the productivity of his or her colleagues," said Diana DeLonzer, author of the recently published "Never Be Late Again, 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged."

For some, being chronically late can be damaging and embarrassing. For others, it's a way of showing power or prestige.

In a 1997 San Francisco State Univeristy study, DeLonzor found that the punctually challenged often shared common personality characteristics such as anxiety, low levels of self-control, or a penchant for thrill-seeking.

"People who tend to who have low self-control, for instance, will tend to procrastinate more in general because they have difficulty motivating themselves," she said.

A Lifetime of Lateness

Althea Kippes is a San Francisco lawyer who's been late for most of her life. She was even late to her college graduation at the University of California--Berkeley.

"Other people have addictive behaviors that keep them from being all they could," she said. "This is sort of like that."

Kippes' schedule is jam-packed. A typical day starts with a personal trainer appointment at 8 a.m., a meeting with her boss at 10 a.m. and a client lunch at 11:30 a.m.. But Kippes is guilty of ignoring her alarm clock and sleeping in, which means she struggles to catch up for the rest of the day.

After she showed up to lunch with her client an hour late, Kippes admitted she needed help.

"I'm actually kind of shooting myself in the foot because I'm just really, I'm not able to meet all these expectations I've created for myself," she said.

Experts say there are many different types of chronically late people. First, there's the rationalizer -- the type that blames outside factors, like their children or spouse.

Then there are the absent-minded professor types -- those who are forgetful.

The most common type of tardy person is someone like Kippes, a deadline-driven adrenaline junkie.

"Adrenaline, it can be addictive in a sense," DeLonzer explained. "Your heart pounds faster. Your temperature rises. And the tension can be a very pleasurable experience."

Finally, there's the rebel type -- someone who defies authority, who can actually get a physiological high by keeping others waiting for them.

"They might even get a bit of ego boost when they keep other people waiting," DeLonzer said. "They feel as though they are important, and people are willing to wait for them."

Tips for Tackling Tardiness

Regardless of the reason, most people who are chronically late want to get their lives back on track. DeLonzer suggested the following tips for tackling tardiness.

Plan to be early. Tack on a 15 minute buffer before getting anywhere.

Learn to tell time. For a week, track how much time it takes to get certain tasks done. Set a kitchen timer to ring when it's time to leave the house.

Learn how to say "no." Pare down activities and don't over-commit.

Don't be a perfectionist. Agonizing and obsessing over details only contributes to lateness -- so loosen up.

Limit distractions. Turn off the radio and TV.

Get out the door. Resist the impulse to rush back into the house for "just one more thing."

Make up a threat. Tell friends that if you're late to dinner, you'll buy wine for everyone. If the threat of being inconsiderate isn't enough, a hit to the wallet might do the trick.