7 Reasons for Perpetual Lateness Syndrome…and What to Do About It


In the groundbreaking book The Silent Language, Edward T. Hall documents how our concept of time is an unspoken way that we communicate with each other. Although Hall was addressing cultural differences, we also have a personal time culture.

How we approach time may change throughout our lives, including after retirement for many reasons.

One, of course, is that we are older and have a greater sense of its limitation. Another is that we can give ourselves a pass if we are late. After all, no one is paying for our time. A third is that we might love to live without the clock now that we are retired.

All of these have an important place in a happy retirement—but be warned, reasons for forgetting about time can also lead to…the Perpetual Lateness Syndrome (PLS)

While we are working, PLS is curtailed because we have commitments to our job. But after retirement, we set our own pace and think we can get away with being late.

Think again.

If you find yourself perpetually running late, check out these seven reasons and remedies. As we age, we want the world to continue to count on us. No matter how old we are, 90% of success is showing up—on time.

1. The Reluctant PLS. Retirees often fall into the cult of busy. They say yes to too many requests as a substitute for the work that they used to do.

Ask yourself, how often do I dread what I am scheduled to do? Review your calendar for the past few months to see how many appointments you arrived at on time. If you were late, how late? Did you want to go? Were you thinking, Oh no, not them again or I dislike that couple. Maybe you came late because you did not want to attend in the first place.

If that’s the case, the solution is simple. Do what you love, and opt out of what you don’t. If your calling is unclear, spend time discovering it. Check out the very first blog I posted, “How to Find Your Bliss After Retiring,” for hints and tips on how to take the bliss journey.

2. The Overachieving PLS. What with e-mails, social media, language lessons, committee meetings, live meetings, grandkids, your mom, your hair, the book club, and the gym, sometimes you are just running late. Stop! This type of overachieving is self-defeating. People may understand if you are late, but when it happens too often, you are underachieving in an essential part of your life. That part is your integrity.

By being chronically late, you are breaching the trust of others, and being late throws off their timetables, too. Time-management experts suggest that you use colored markers to divide your day into activities that are important to meet top goals. The exercise helps you achieve the most in the least time. So, you can still feed your OAS (Overachievers Syndrome) and beat your PLS. Frankly, I find this tedious, but it helps many people.

My way is simpler. I write down only those events of the day that are time-dated, and I show up on time. Otherwise, I arrange my day by what will make me feel most accomplished by the end of the day. The most inspirational statement from a retired over-achiever that I ever heard came from my coauthor of How Good Guys Grow Rich, Milton Gralla. He was founder of a multimillion-dollar publishing empire and a philanthropist. “Adriane’” he said, “every night I make a list of opportunities I had to help someone that I missed. The next day I spend my time looking for helping opportunities with a sharper eye.”

3. It’s the Other Guy’s Fault PLS. The computer was offline…the bus was late…the car won’t start…your Mom called from Arizona…and your husband can’t find his socks. You know this can happen. So how come you don’t plan for it and start earlier?

You might want an opportunity to get mad, act out and make them feel bad. But being late because others are scattered is no excuse for you being late and does not affect their habits one bit. Take a deep breath, and accept the things you cannot change. Or work toward change rationally. Blaming your lateness on others is not an adult way to deal with their problems…it is just a way to create new ones for yourself. Perhaps it’s time let the phone ring (you can call back later) and for them to find their own socks.

4. The Disorganized PLS. A high level of disorganization can be a hidden statement of helplessness. If I am perfect, who will care for me? See how disorganized I am, come and rescue me. The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. Prince Charming is still not coming for the women, and the best little housewife in the world is not coming either. You’re just late —again.

Don’t surrender your power to PLS. Acknowledge and notice your disorganization. It probably cuts through a lot of what you do, including your paperwork, closets and the refrigerator. No need for years of therapy, although that can be nice, too. (Just don’t come to the therapy session late…they charge).

A quick fix—hire a professional organizer, if you can afford it, or read Jeff Davidson’s The 60-Second Organizer: Sixty Solid Techniques for Beating Chaos at Home and Work. If you love to fold socks, don’t forget the ubiquitous Maria Kondo and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Now that you’re not working, you have plenty of time to clean things up like you always said you would.

5. The Addicted PLS. Do you feel triumphant making the plane in just the nick of time? Do you like rushing into the meeting and putting your butt in the seat at the extact moment the meeting is scheduled to begin? What a great rush that kind of rush can be! So what if sometimes you don’t make it on time and are left at the pier waving good-bye to the ship? You may be an adrenaline addict.

Like any addict, you must weigh the downside of your addiction to what it provides for you in benefits. Remember that PLS hurts everyone, your family and the dog. Yes, Fido tries not to pee on the carpet but can’t wait for you forever. Take a prospective look at your calendar. What is coming up that might tempt you to be late? Find a buddy in whom you can confide. Ask him/her to call you and watch out for you. You will fail occasionally, but your blood pressure will be lower…and if you need some adrenalin, you can always try skydiving.

6. The Prima Donna PLS. All eyes are on you when you arrive late to a fancy ball. But grand-entrance lateness gets embarrassing when the meeting is in the small conference room, and you get the last seat. Nor is it so glamorous to creep over a row of legs, as you arrive late to the theatre.

If you are late in order to be noticed, you will indeed be seen but not in the way you want. You will be the last to be picked for the team. Not a good thing—get over yourself and come on time.

7. The Aim to Please PLS. Do you keep honoring last-minute requests? Well, aren’t you sweet? But what if saying “yes” in one place makes you late somewhere else? This is akin to the Reluctant PLS as the cure requires you to stand firm and bug out of what you may view as an obligation.

If that’s you, you are going to have to drop the “good guy/girl act,” and politely decline. Keep your promise to as many people as possible, and find a way to accommodate conflicts so that you keep your schedule.

Regardless of the reason for your PLS, others may see you as merely rude or selfish. If so, apologize, reform and establish a reputation for being on time.