How to Overcome Lateness and Be On Time: Part 4

Late...Late all the time? Here are some techniques to make it impossible for you to be late.

The essence of the approach is this: if you don’t have to promise to be at a certain place by a certain time, then don’t. That way, nobody can accuse you of being late!

There are several ways to apply this principle:

Don’t Accept the Invitation

One way to avoid being late for an appointment is simply to refuse the appointment in the first place. This might seem obvious, but there are all sorts of reasons why saying “no” can be difficult. One of the things that can make it easy is to remember that you can’t be late for something you aren’t going to, nor be told that you haven’t done something on time when you have politely declined to do it at all.

Interestingly, one of the reasons that I was often late for things in the past was that, to be honest, I really didn’t want to do them in the first place. Nowadays, I do what I can to eliminate those occasions altogether.

Of course, there are cases when you can’t legitimately say “no” to such a request, but there are many times when you can, and should, just say no.

Don’t Specify a Time

If you do decide to do something, but you don’t specify a time, then you still won’t be late.
There are two things to be aware of here, however:

  • Lack of commitment can sometimes be difficult for other people, either because it causes them practical problems or because it somehow damages your reputation. If this is the case, this isn’t the best approach to use.
  • There are times when you imply a commitment to a specific time, even if you don’t actually make one. For example, when you say that you’ll pop round to visit someone “shortly”, then leaving the visit several days isn’t appropriate. You need to use this technique with consideration, not just as a get-out clause when it is convenient to you.

Despite these caveats, there are many situations where this is quite appropriate.

For example (and I appreciate that I am fortunate in this regard) I am in a job where I work flexi-time. As long as I work core hours and do the right number of hours by the end of the week, I don’t have to be in the office at a very specific time. This working arrangement has saved my bacon more often than I care to admit. This arrangement is so important to me that I have turned down exciting opportunities on the basis that there is little flexibility over hours, and have done so without regret.

Specify a Later Time

Finally, if you do decide to make an appointment and you are obliged to specify a time, suggest a time that you know you’ll be able to make. That way, you are far less likely to break your commitments.

For example, if my wife asks me to be home by 5:30 but I know I am likely to run late, I might politely suggest that 6:30 would be more realistic. Of course, this doesn’t always go down very well, but more often than not she prefers me to be honest about my time-keeping rather than cause her inconvenience by being later than I’ve promised.


Some people might think that this approach is cheating – and it, in a way. Others may complain that it doesn’t always work. And they’d be right. But there are lots of situations where this really is the best way of dealing with things. Remembering that I it is better not to make a promise than to break a promise can save you from yourself. It can be a big help in preventing you from being late.


  • Illustration adapted from an original by Sir John Tenniel, circa 1865.

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