I haven’t had a single job where I haven’t at some point been disciplined for not arriving on time. Usually, the complaint takes the form of “You’re always late!” and that doesn’t mesh with my literal brain, so I’ll argue that I wasn’t late the past three days, or that I’ve only been 15 minutes late once in the last month and this was the reason, or something like that. Which then gives me a reputation for being intransigent and argumentative.
But aside from whether I’m actually “always” late or not, I do have a problem with timing things.
When I have a specific appointment, I suffer from overbuffering. I’ll go, “Right… I’ll need to catch the 10:55 train, better be at the station at 10:50 so I don’t have to run… Hm, need to buy a ticket, never know how long the line’s going to be, better be there at 10:40… It takes me 5 minutes to get to the station… or is it 10 minutes? I’ve never actually timed it, better be on the safe side, leave the house at 10:25… That means I’d better have my coat on and my bag packed at 10:15, otherwise I’ll be rushing all over the place and panicking… OK, I’ll have to get ready at 10:00.” And the end result is usually that I’m at the station by 10:20, 35 minutes early. (Or, in even sadder cases, that I’m so stuck on the idea of leaving the house at 10:25, that I’ll be sitting on the sofa with my coat on for 15 minutes until it’s time to leave). Which is not really a problem, but it is a tad inefficient, and shows that I don’t really have a good grasp of how long things actually take me.
As soon as it’s a recurring appointment, though, I start getting careless. I remember that last time I twiddled my thumbs for 35 minutes, so I’ll just get myself an extra cup of tea and play on the laptop for a bit before leaving. And that’s when the real shit starts happening. Before I know it, it’s actually 10:45, and I have absolutely no chance of still making it to the station on time.
It’s even more complicated when it gets to work. I think in absolutes. The train leaves at 10:55, which is an absolute. One minute late and the train will have left. Even when I’m messing up how long things take, I still have a very clear end goal. With jobs, it’s not that easy. To my immense surprise, I learned last year that a 9:00am start time doesn’t actually mean the goal is to be there at 9. Because we’re dealing with people here, and their perceptions of me. The goal is that I should be seen to be WORKING at 9. So no getting coffee, no starting up my computer, no going through my schedule. I need to be AT WORK. And that doesn’t mean “present at the office”.
A complicating factor is that when I ask about starting times, I often get the answer of “oh, we’re not that particular about times, as long as you get the work done.” That is a lie. (And it has taken me nearly two decades to figure out it’s a lie). People get annoyed when I always get in later than they do, never mind that I’m also always the last to leave (usually by one or two hours). It doesn’t make sense. It’s all about messy human perceptions. It’s not about how much work I do, or how many hours I’m working. It’s only about how it makes people feel. And apparently, me getting in late makes them feel like I don’t really care about making an effort.
So, knowing all this, why is it still so incredibly hard for me to get anywhere on time?
Because I struggle. I struggle with timing, knowing how long things take me. I struggle with executive function, initiating the actions that will get me somewhere on time. I struggle with why it’s important, because to be honest, how it makes others feel is not a paramount motivation for me.
If there is a specific reason why I need to be at the office ahead of time (like manning the phone line that opens at 8:30, or having a website go live at 10:00), I can manage just fine. But simply keeping up appearances? Not logical. No motivation.
And I think the last part might be crucial. Because I’m hardly ever late for appointments with friends (although that’s also because the one-off schedule overbuffering kicks in there). But with people I’m not emotionally invested in? Not really. And maybe that’s why I get grief for being late for work. Not because it’s a rule not to be late, because others get away with being late on occasion, and I never get away with it. But because people can somehow tell that making them happy just by doing something completely illogical is not that important to me.
The problem is made up of so many unrelated but heavily interactive elements, that I have no idea where to start in fixing it. And I’m not even sure I want to fix it. Deep down, I just want to yell at employers to simply let me be. Let me do my job, because I do my job well and I put in all the hours and I always get things done on time. So why make my life miserable by focusing only on what time I get in? Is that really the most important thing about my job? Get a f***ing grip!
But this is the way people feel. Will I try changing them, or will I try to change myself?