I Broke My Lifelong Habit of Chronic-Lateness and You Can Too

Being chronically-late affects everyone around us — more than we think

Exactly 60 days ago I made a pledge to myself (and my son) to stop being chronically late. For most of my life I’ve been late to everything. It’s embarrassing, selfish, and depressing.

Being late didn’t make me more productive. I got worse.

I did everything at the last minute. I showed up to meetings as the guy who tip-toed in, opening and closing the door behind me, with the one-handed, queen wave and the mouthed ‘sorry.’

But none of the work stuff pushed me over the edge. I was just rude. My reputation at work wasn’t as big a deal to me as my integrity at home. My chronic lateness didn’t shift until my son broke-down crying after I made him miss the bus for the umpteenth time.

I felt so low. I mean, the lowest — rock-bottom. I was a piece of crap.

I was an addict to lateness. I tried to pack 100 pounds of activity in a three pound bag. And now my six-year-old son had to be the one to tell me to get over myself. I was humbled, embarrassed, and ashamed. I still am, but I’m getting better.

You can read more about the beginning of my journey here:

When we’re late we give a big message

Our actions say we don’t care about you. We’re more important. What I want to do means more than anything you want to do. And your time? Pshhh… your time is my time and I’ll use it how I want.

I didn’t do this consciously.

I don’t feel like some dick-head that likes to mess with peoples’ feelings. But that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t care about others. I was a jerk. And I was a jerk for 43 years.

Whether we’re late in business or in life, the damage is the same.

I was in upper-management for years, in charge of 80+ people. You think any of them would give me a hard time about my chronic lateness? Nope. Maybe there was a small joke here and there, but all the damage was done behind my back.

I became know as someone they couldn’t count on for timeliness.

I probably missed multiple promotions, better teams, and the ability to move higher in the company — which only fueled my fire to be late even more. Our chronic lateness effects EVERYONE we touch.

I looked at the problem through the lens of alcoholism

I’ve never been an addict or alcoholic, but I’ve been around plenty of people who have… and I watch a lot of reality television.

I came to look at chronic lateness like an addiction.

This was an addiction to stretching time, not substances, but the relationship damage was measurable — both professional and home. I’m willing to be my chronic lateness cost me $250,000 in cumulative salary loss. Yet, I’ve never been written-up for tardiness.

That’s what happens when you get higher in company.

No one bothers talking to you about the small behaviors. They work around you instead. And soon, they work without you. But back to the whole alcoholism thing.

I’ve tried multiple times to break myself of tardiness, but the pull to stay longer, to do one more thing, was just too great. So, I turned to self-shaming, but in a positive way, and I used the token method they give to people at AA meetings.

I downloaded an AA app on my phone. Each day early was a day sober for me. The first 24 hours was a huge milestone — just like the addicts. I even had a sponsor (my son), who gave me instant feedback if I lapsed.

I also shopped for a tangible reward, a challenge coin. A big bronze one, just like they give to people when they hit one year of sobriety (I didn’t buy an AA coin — something more personal to me). I didn’t have to wait a year. I knew if I could be early to my son’s daycare for 60 days straight, I will have cured myself.

I really like stupid trinkets like that. The coin was a motivator. If I didn’t hit 60 consecutive days I couldn’t buy it.

I didn’t miss a single day… until this morning. I fell off the wagon (a little). I wasn’t late, but I was right on time, by 30 seconds. The shame came back a little. But it was also a powerful lesson.

You’re an alcoholic for life. Even if you haven’t had a drink in 18 years.

I believe it’s the same with chronic lateness. I’ll always be a chronically-late person. I can’t let my guard down, as I did this morning — day-freaking-60! I almost blew it by 30 seconds. Two months worth of ‘sobriety.’ That alone was sobering.

We must always be vigilant. Chronic lateness is a disease. I’m just proud to have found its cure.

So here we are, 60 days later. Maybe I’ll write an update when I make it to 365. A note on the challenge coin — it’s got a purpose beyond a simple reward. I’m using it to help me keep the habit, with an old Boy Scout technique.

The Boy Scouts of yesteryear used to keep a ‘good turn’ coin in their pockets. Let’s say they start the day with the coin in their right pocket. Once they do a good deed for the day they switch the coin to their left pocket — easy-peasy reminder system.

I’m going to try the coin with different habits and I’ll write another piece on that process later.

Until then, I hope I’ve helped you with your chronic lateness. It affects more than you see. We need you to be early — the first one to the show.

We’re waiting for you.

August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.

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