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Lateness as a Routine

Many people with ADHD tend toward chronic lateness, and a paradoxical way this can show up is when lateness becomes a routine. You become consistently late to some commitment, and when you notice you’re late on the way to that commitment you start to get a familiar feeling of oh, this again.

A typical example is when lateness becomes a part of your morning routine before school or work. I remember when I was a kid, my mom (herself a promising candidate for an ADHD diagnosis) had the same morning routine that would always culminate in a frantic rush to the car and frenzied drive to get me to school barely on time.

ClocksIn college, I was chronically late to my first class of the day. I simply could not get myself out of bed without that feeling of running late, or if I did get myself out of bed, I would dawdle along with my morning routine until the panic of being late kicked in.

People with ADHD often rely on the feeling of last-minute pressure to kick our brains into gear, something we have trouble doing ourselves. It happens when we procrastinate on work until right before a deadline, and it happens when the feeling of running late becomes a necessary cue for part of a routine, such as a morning routine.

Talking more generally, lateness becomes part of your routine when there is some habitual series of actions you do that causes you to run late. Now, this is where self-regulation and being able to override your habitual actions is supposed to kick in: you say OK, I am doing X that keeps making me late, so now I am going to do Y instead.

Unfortunately, this type of self-management is where ADHDers often struggle, so we’re apt to keep repeating action X out of instinct, even if it’s causing us problems. And action X then becomes an essential part of our routine. Sometimes ADHD means having no routine at all, but sometimes it means getting stuck in a routine that isn’t working due to deficits in self-regulation.

What can work is replacing that feeling of needing to be late with some kind of motivating reward. In the best-case scenario, you can make being early part of your routine. If you have to go somewhere every week, maybe part of your routine can be to get there early and go to the coffeeshop you like that’s nearby beforehand. If you struggle to get up on time in the morning, maybe part of your routine can be to get up early so you have time to do an activity you enjoy.

Whether techniques like that work is a little hit-and-miss depending on the specifics of the situation. But in general, it’s good to be aware of how lateness can become embedded in habitual actions. Not only because recognizing that problem can potentially help you do something about it, but because this behavior often ties in with broader ADHD-related deficits in self-regulation that influence other areas of life as well.

Image: Flickr/Andoniaina Nambinintsoa Razafindradoara

Lateness as a Routine

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Lateness as a Routine. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Dec 2019
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