Why you’re late and how to fix it

We’ve all been late to something at one point or another. Whether you’re late to a friend’s wedding or to a night out with the besties, it happens. Most of the time it’s because of unforeseeable events. But for some people, being late is a chronic problem with no solution in sight. So why is it that some people are just always late?

As Sumathi Reddy of the Wall Street Journal reports, experts believe that a major reason behind chronic tardiness involves a phenomenon known as the “planning fallacy”. This happens when a person underestimates the expected amount of time a given task will take because of over-optimism. Interestingly, planning fallacy has been shown to occur even if the person knows that a very similar task they performed in the past took longer than they expected.

Unfortunately for some individuals, overcoming planning fallacy proves to be difficult. For example, not everyone experiences a minute as a solid 60 seconds. In fact, researchers have shown that people with Type B personalities tend to overestimate how long a a minute is (77 seconds), when compared to their Type A counterparts (58 seconds).  In addition, other uncontrollable factors might also come into play, such as job (dis)satisfaction or having a young child at home. And in extreme cases, the culprit may be a psychological disorder such as ADHD, depression, or OCD.

So to fix this problem, why not just punish yourself every time you’re late? Well in many cases, punishing oneself actually does nothing to curb this bad habit, nor does it combat planning fallacy. Fortunately, as Reddy also points out in her article, researchers have come up with some useful alternatives that you can try. For example, try “chunking”, or breaking down tasks into individual detailed steps. In one peer-reviewed 2004 study, this was shown to increase accuracy when predicting how long a task will take. In a separate study (from 2012), researchers found that mentally picturing the task from the point of view of an outsider can help improve accuracy as well.

In the end though, everyone is different and so you’ve got to find the right combination of tricks that works best for you. My personal trick is to take the estimated time you think it will take, and tack on 5-15 minutes before and after. I also like to break down the task into separate steps and try to predict the amount of time it will take to finish each one. But enough about me, what’s your personal trick? I encourage you to share below!

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