Impulsivity, inattentiveness, and “time blindness” can all contribute to lateness. Understanding

If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might have to work a little bit harder at being on time.

This is because common ADHD traits, such as disorganization, inattentiveness, and difficulties with time perception (also called “time blindness”), can all conspire to make you late.

But ADHD isn’t the only reason people have punctuality problems. Social anxiety, depression, or having a laid-back personality can make a person have difficulty with timeliness.

In particular, many people with ADHD find they have a hard time with punctuality.

Whether you lose track of time, can’t find your keys, or find it difficult to get ready for the day, there are many ways that mental health symptoms can interfere with being on time.

ADHD is linked to the following traits, all of which can be tied to chronic lateness in some way:

Attention regulation difficulties/inattentiveness

You might get easily distracted by the TV while you’re trying to get ready. Conversely, you might become so engrossed in an activity that you forget about other important activities or events.

Disorganization

You might always be late because you can’t find your keys, your phone, or one of your shoes. Disorganization can be tied to impairment in executive functioning, which is a set of abilities that help drive goal-directed behaviors. According to 2015 research, executive dysfunction is common in those who live with neurologic disorders.

Time blindness/time perception difficulties

Time blindness occurs when someone has difficulty estimating how long a task will take or how long they’ve spent on a specific task. Some experts assert that time perception difficulties are so common among people with ADHD that it should be studied more, and possibly added to the diagnostic criteria.

Working memory deficits

ADHD often features working memory deficits. This can lead to difficulties with planning actions, organizing activities, scheduling time, and staying on track. These deficits can lead to problems with being on time.

Gets bored easily

Boredom may cause you to engage in activities as a diversion. Those distracting activities can contribute to the avoidance of other activities you find to be undesirable. A 2016 study suggests that going on the internet or using your cell phone as a way to cope with unwanted feelings can negatively impact a person’s mental health.

Impulsivity

Impulsivity may cause you to lose track of time. For example, you might be getting ready for a dinner date and suddenly get the urge to call your best friend, which makes you leave the house 20 minutes late.

Many other conditions besides ADHD can be linked to chronic lateness. Here are a few of the more common ones:

Of course, not everyone who’s chronically late has a mental health condition. Some people grew up in families or cultures where being late was common and not necessarily looked down upon. Others may simply have more laid-back personalities and not worry about it too much.

There are several ways to improve your timeliness:

  • Seek professional support: If you notice that chronic lateness is interfering with your day-to-day life, consider speaking with a licensed professional to determine if you’re experiencing an underlying mental health condition. A mental health professional can also help you discover treatment options and coping strategies that can help you improve your perception of time.
  • Set a timer: This is probably the most directly helpful thing to do. Consider setting a timer for when you need to start getting ready.
  • Develop a routine: A regular routine can help with time perception problems, as you will be able to keep track of how long your daily tasks take. According to research from 2019, having a daily routine also contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Get organized: Getting organized will help tremendously if you’re always late because you can’t find anything. Consider designating an area where you can place your keys, wallet, shoes, and phone.
  • Leave earlier than needed: Try to figure out how long it will take to get somewhere and consider adding 5-10 minutes in case you run into traffic.
  • Use a paper calendar/notebook: Phones and computers are great for keeping notes and calendars, but we’re not always looking at them. Consider keeping a paper calendar or notebook on your desk or nightstand or any place where you’ll always see it. Try to develop a habit of checking it often. You may even set a timer to remind you to check it.
  • Get ready the night before: If you have to leave early in the morning, do as much as you can to prepare the night before. Lay out your clothes, and have an easy-to-make breakfast ready to go.

If you’re always late because of ADHD, you’re not alone. Approximately 4.4% of adults in the U.S. have an ADHD diagnosis, and lateness is a common manifestation of the disorder.

But don’t despair. There are several things you can do to start being on time: Set a timer, check your to-do list often, and give yourself several extra minutes to get to where you’re going.