You know the annoying feeling of sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, for minutes on end, doing nothing while the doctor is running late? It can be aggravating. Oncologist Dr. James Salwitz recently published an article expressing a doctor’s perspective on this trial on our patience. He wrote about a normal busy day at his office — or what was a normal day, until this happened:
The 1:30, 1:45, 2:00 patients all arrived at 2:15 and suddenly I was looking at an afternoon that would run deeply into eve. I really hate it when patients are late. …
As an oncologist, I detest running late, because it means leaving people with cancer on their minds, stewing in my waiting room. Personally, I worry when I am waiting at the dentist for a cleaning. What goes on in the mind of someone waiting to see me?
This got me thinking about how much grief we can cause for ourselves and others when we find ourselves running late. Usually we just inconvenience people, but sometimes the implications are more serious. Laurie Perry shares a story about the woman who hit her Jeep:
After the crash she sat in her car, writing out her phone number for me, saying, “I was late for work.” I remember looking at her with absolute disbelief, thinking You almost killed me because you were late for work?
That line keeps coming back to me at the oddest times. I’ll see someone blow through a red light and hear that lady saying, I was late for work. And then I think, I hope they don’t kill someone just because they couldn’t bother to leave on time for work today.
What causes us to run late? Some people fall prey to underestimating the time it will take to get somewhere. That’s not my personal weakness. I’m what Penelope Trunk calls a “time pessimist”; I assume things are going to take longer than my first estimate. I’ve learned that Google Maps gives me an optimistic driving time. And I live in an area with minimal public transit and winding two-lane roads, where any traffic snarls lead to major delays — so I’ve learned to pad many minutes into my driving times.
Some people are hooked on the adrenaline rush of cutting things close. In her book It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, Marilyn Paul notes that “there is a thrill in running late, postponing something to the last minute, or meeting a deadline by minutes. If you’re in your car, rushing to an appointment, you experience the exhilaration of trying to get through each traffic light.” She goes on to explain that there are better ways to get your adrenaline rush. But I don’t get a thrill from cutting things close — quite the opposite. I’m one of those people who is nervous enough about missing a plane that I arrive at airports ridiculously early.
I’m also not someone who tends to get held up because I’ve misplaced something. My house keys go on a hook by the front door. My Prius car keys and my wallet stay in my purse. I’ve got a tote bag that has everything I need for a certain weekly meeting. Sure, I will sometimes misplace something and have to scramble, but it’s a rare event.
Rather, when I’ve found myself leaving home later than I intended, it’s usually due to what Kathleen Nadeau calls one-more-thing-itis. I send one more email. I do one more seemingly tiny task. Then I hope there’s no traffic jam, because I’ve eaten up all my carefully planned buffer time. And I promise myself I’m never doing this to myself again.
But for many people, it’s difficult to develop the habits needed to arrive on time. For anyone who is chronically late and concerned about that, but is finding it hard to change, I’d recommend Never Be Late Again, by Diana DeLonzer, which presents “seven cures for the punctually challenged.” It’s a book filled with both humor and wisdom, from an author who has overcome this challenge herself.
Additional help: Hang something as simple as a removable utility hook near your front door or inside your coat closet to hold your keys every time you come into your home. Set alarms on your smart phone, watch, or Time Timer to remind you to get out the door when you need to. Time yourself doing regular morning activities (brushing your teeth, taking a shower, walking your dog around the neighborhood, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.) to see how long it really takes you to do these activities. As humans, we often underestimate how long things take us to do, and having a real sense of the time it takes you to get ready can help you plan your day better so you can get places on time.