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Scientists have found out why you're chronically late

Forget traffic, blame your personality.

FIONA MACDONALD
6 FEB 2015
 

Anyone can be late a handful of times, sure, but to be the person who's always five minutes late (at the earliest) - that's an art. A frustrating and inconvenient art. Or, a side effect of your personality traits, scientists have found.

So what is it that causes some people to constantly miss trains, make it to the wedding just after the bride’s shown up and regularly piss off their friends? And why is it so hard for us to fix?

 

Researchers have been trying to tease this apart for decades, and have come across a few tell-tale traits, as Sumathi Reddy reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“There are all sorts of disincentives and punishments for being late, and the paradox is we’re late even when those punishments and consequences exist," Justin Kruger, a social psychologist at New York University's School of Business told Reddy.

One of the most obvious and common reasons that people are frequently late is that they simply fail to accurately judge how long a task will take - something known as the planning fallacy. Research has shown that people on average underestimate how long a task will take to complete by a significant 40 percent.

Another trait, which could very well be linked to the first, is that forever-late-comers are more likely to be multitaskers. In a 2003 study run by Jeff Conte from San Diego State University in the US, found that out of 181 subway operators in New York City, those who preferred multitasking - or polychronicity - were more often late to their job.

This is because multitasking makes it harder to have metacognition, or awareness of what you're doing, as Drake Baer reports for Business Insider.

In 2001, Conte also discovered that there's also a personality type that's more likely to be late. While highly strung, achievement oriented Type A individuals are more likely to be punctual, Type B individuals, who are more laid-back, are later.

In fact, Type A and Type B people actually feel time pass differently, as Reddy reports. Over three previous studies Conte found that, for Type A individuals, a minute passed in 58 seconds, where as Type B people felt a minute pass in a leisurely 77 seconds. 

“So if you have an 18-second gap… that difference can add up over time,” Conte told Reddy.

Of course, knowing all of this doesn't necessarily help fix the problem - it's estimated that the US loses US$90 billion each year as a result of people running late.

But scientists are also starting to hone in on strategies that can slowly improve our punctuality.

For people who constantly underestimate tasks, breaking down an activity into very detailed steps can help people more accurately estimate how long something will take. A 2012 study also found that asking people to mentally picture a task before they do it can help them be more realistic about its duration, Reddy reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Late-comers also need to realise that they can't be in two places at once, and try to plan fewer things, further apart.

When it comes to your personality type, unfortunately, there's not too much you can do to change that. But accepting that you need to overcompensate for it may just help.

Acceptance, after all, is the first step to change.

Sources: The Wall Street JournalBusiness Insider

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