33 thoughts on “Why Are People With ADHD Always Late?

  • February 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Plus, as an ADHD adult, time is perceived as a fluid that cannot be held in a container. It just sort of flows and wanders and I have a very poor awareness of time passing. (Thus 3 alarms when it’s imperative I be on time)

    Also, as disconcerting as this may be for “neurotypicals”, sometimes it’s just sort of fun or exciting to play my odds against the clock and see if I can make it somewhere on time. The fact that I may be late adds to the thrill.

    I suppose when the choices I could be making might be excessive gambling or shopping, this is a rather innocuous way to live enough on the edge to indulge the ever present boredom…but, as far as ADHD is concerned, I’ve just realized that I’m rather boring! LOL!

    • February 17, 2016 at 5:55 pm

      That makes sense — I think in general, many of us with ADHD tend to use procrastination as a way of making boring things more stimulating.

      • June 13, 2019 at 3:42 pm

        I was diagnosed with ADD and learning disabilities when I was a child and then again in college. I am almost always late for absolutely everything in my life including work! I have just lost a job because of it and I honestly dont know what to do anymore. I can set a million alarms and tell myself a million times that I need to get moving but it just doesn’t register until it’s almost too late or too late. 🙁

      • June 21, 2019 at 12:44 am

        Shannah, really sorry to hear that! I wish I had some good advice to solve your problem, but one of the frustrating things about ADHD is that sometimes you use all the right coping strategies like setting a million alarms and it still doesn’t work. If you’re not already doing it, maybe some combination of meds + therapy would help control your symptoms and give you other ideas for coping strategies that might work for your life in particular. Best of luck!

  • February 17, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I hope to be able to read this article sometime in the future. No, really!

    • February 17, 2016 at 5:47 pm


  • February 17, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    I’m all of the above. For some appointments, I have gone whole hog the other way – going early, with a plan to read a while before hand rather than risk being late. I also have found that I need to write things down – on one calendar – in ONE place – so that I don’t mix up dates entirely – which also sounds odd to people who do this naturally, A complaint by a friend gave me some “motivation” – but when there is a time that isn’t a pressing deadline, I find it really hard to stick to a step by step plan -even tho’ I could spell it out for someone else. what I am doing right now – reading stuff and making comments on-line – is one of the greatest time sinks and ways to become focused on tangents while avoiding preparation to finish tasks or get ready for someting.

    • February 17, 2016 at 5:47 pm

      What you say about being able to spell it out is true for a lot of things with ADHD in my experience — it’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we have a hard time actually doing it!

  • February 18, 2016 at 10:34 am

    We are (or at least the ones I know with ADHD) a little self destructive and time is a great example. I know I have to be some where, why not set an alarm to stop myself from hyper-focusing, well that would be to easy. Like taking my meds 3x a day why not set an alarm on my handy dandy phone like my Dr requested, now where is the fun in all that. I think for us sometimes it is the challenge. Our minds are so busy we get bored with everyday mundane adult responsibilities like being at work on time that we have to put a little challenge to it. But lets get real we lose 90% of the time because we get distracted by something that is far more interesting or something that needs our immediate attention like cleaning the sink even though it has been nasty for 2 weeks, and your going to be 30 mins late for work.

    • February 18, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      I do think there can be something circular about ADHD coping strategies like using alarms — the very thing that setting an alarm is supposed to FIX might result in not setting an alarm in the first place!

      • March 5, 2016 at 12:04 pm

        Yea, what you said.

  • February 19, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Excellent, succinct write-up, Neil! I am sharing it with students in my academic program who suffer from chronic lateness — like I do.

    • February 19, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      Thanks Michael!

  • February 22, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Getting lost was always a big factor in my lateness. I consider my ability to get lost in my closet as part of the ADHD, though I’ve read that it may be something else. So, as much as I hate to be early and have to wait,I start out about an hour earlier than I need to leave, especially, if I’m driving someplace new. I map it and even do test runs and can still automatically turn left instead of right, or fly by that exit without even noticing it. I start basic getting ready 3 days ahead of time and time will still play its tricks on me. Nowadays,I will cancel rather than be late, or end up in a wreck, or Canada, trying to be on time.

    • February 22, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Susun! I think there’s a subset of people with ADHD who become chronically early rather than chronically late. Just like some people with ADHD become perfectionistic to compensate for their lack of attention to detail.

  • February 23, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Susun you and I seem to be using the same map ;), I’m pretty sure my Google Map on my phone hates me because she thinks I’m not good listener. What she doesn’t understand is I’m trying to make an L with my fingers to know which is my left vs my right, while she is barking her orders at me. By the way can be a sign of dyslexia, which studies show folks with dyslexia typically have ADHD. (Now not all people just a large majority).

  • February 23, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Dmramom: I’m an avid reader, so not dyslexia, but I was told I have what they called left/right dyslexia and it supposedly also keeps me from adding 2 + 2 without a calculator. A 12 yo ADHD boy showed me a trick of drawing out the directions and that does work, when I remember to do it. It has something to do with fixing the map in the mind. It also slows me down enough to be mindful.

  • February 25, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I think it’s the inability to realize the link between time and the passing of events…

    • February 26, 2016 at 1:11 am

      If we choose to acknowledge the existence of time at all, that is! 😉

  • February 25, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    When I was in college, we had a chronically-late professor. One day, one of us showed up early, and wrote “Class is cancelled” on the blackboard, and signed the professor’s name. By the time he showed up, the room was empty and he read the message on the board. At the next class, he was really ticked off, but didn’t show up late again.

    • February 26, 2016 at 1:10 am

      Haha! We had one of those, and it became an unwritten rule just to show up for class 5-10 minutes late.

  • March 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    An expectation to take the time to set alarms to remind me that it’s time to transition because I have no concept in the passage of time.

    The sheer magnitude of the time involved in figuring out just how many alarms I would need and THEN having to pair each alarm with it’s required time to sound and THEN PROGRAMING all said alarms into a single device is excrutiatingly painful. THEN, add the anticipation of daily, innumerable alarms going off… …good God!! As entertaining and invigorating as it can be living in randomly warped and infinite 78 rpms in a 33 1/3 world, you wanna add some potentially obsessive crazy too?! Stop the world, I wanna get off!

    • March 5, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      Yeah, there are definite limitations with this strategy, and there’s a point at which the effect of having alarms constantly going off becomes worse than the original problem — enough alarms will turn anyone into a nervous wreck! A good compromise I’ve found is my iPhone automatically giving me alerts leading up to anything important enough to make it onto my calendar (of course, many events in my schedule never get that far in my first place, but that’s a different problem).

      • March 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm

        Neil, I find that the way Outlook divides “tasks” from “appointments” is very useful for calendar and notification management.

        “Appointments” are tied to a specific time and can have robust reminders (I use both a calendar and an SMS notification for each calendar entry). “Tasks,” on the other hand, are to do lists that remain live until checked off, even if the reminder date has passed. Tasks should have reminders but not so much as to turn them into noise.
        Outlook is the very best calendar/task management system out there, and if you haven’t tried it I strongly recommend you do.

      • March 6, 2016 at 8:31 am

        Thanks for the tip — I’ll check it out.

  • April 30, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    I feel so hopeless sometimes with getting anywhere on time consistently. Even when I have my bag packed beforehand, something happens. Or the one-more-thing-itis takes over. It’s quite awful.

    • May 1, 2016 at 8:48 am

      In college I sometimes wondered why I had to be the one where people would act shocked if I showed up to class early. I’ve learned that half of coping with ADHD is about trying to develop strategies for dealing with symptoms, and the other half is about trying to develop a sort of Zen attitude to just accept it when those strategies don’t work.

      • May 1, 2016 at 11:15 pm

        Thank you; that’s what I’ve got to work on: developing better strategies for dealing with the symptoms.

    • May 1, 2016 at 10:58 am

      Betty, as others have discussed, for those of us with time disconnect, events are constantly interrupted by something else that grabs our attention, the “one-more-thing-it is” as you put it, that time just goes away. I call it being “overly focused,” and I find myself getting so much more done than others because of it, even if I’m on a different time zone.

      I find it liberating at times, as it has encouraged me to develop efficiencies in everything I do, to cut through process and get to outcomes as quickly and effectively as possible. I find that my professional peers can’t do half as much as me in the same time, and I pity them for having clocks that are so slow!

      We do need to be wary of our limits. As a kid, I discovered that I make a horrible waiter– they have to balance multiple tasks, whereas I would focus on one table while the others’ food went cold. OTOH, I was super good at rote jobs like being a cashier or stock clerk, as I could bust through those tasks brilliantly by getting lost in or jumping randomly between them.

      It does complicate being around me, — having to call the doctor to say I’m late or whatever. It drives my wife crazy that I’ll say “5 minutes” and then 20 minutes later I’ve gone off on something else or gotten “lost” (i.e. getting it done) in the one thing I was working on. I manage it by communicating with others as to what’s going on and where I am. I apologize, explain my situation(funny to watch other people process that “I have a time disconnect”), and get busy with our common task.

      But we must also pick our battles: if being on time is THAT important, get those reminders and environmental triggers going and make it be THE most important thing ever. You won’t be able to do that every time, and to expect so would only worsen your situation. But there are — certain — things than can be made THAT important. My rule with my business is that if it’s for a potential sale or an existing client, I WILL BE on time. PERIOD. I get there by thinking about it constantly and reinforcing that one rule, while at the same time accepting that other situations can be different.

      As Neil put it, dealing with attention deficit is 50% strategy and 50% Zen… something I’m working on my wife with (lol)!

      Hope this helps.

      • May 1, 2016 at 11:16 pm

        Thank you!

  • August 25, 2019 at 9:13 am

    I always arrive late, no matter what it is for. No matter how much I love it or looked forward to it, I’m always about 5 minutes late.
    People that love me or understand ADHD, have accepted this. I remember arriving late at a crafting-club, apologizing for it and the woman saying; ‘Oh, that’s alright, we’re just happy you are here now! Don’t worry about that!’ And I almost burst into tears.

    Schools on the other hand have sometimes tried to think of the most cruel ways to ‘make me arrive on time.’
    From demanding payment for every minute (despite me being a 12 y/o from a poor family) or taking away my Nokia 3310 (that I réálly needed to call my mom if I lost oversight of travelling with public transport from school) or just making me write 50 lines for every time I arrived late, it just never helped and it made me feel awful about myself.

    I can go on for hours and list all the doubtful and inconsiderate tricks and ‘games’ that teachers and ‘friends’ have thought of, from hiding behind a bush and witnessing me panic at the sight of an empty parkbench or simply ignoring me when I arrived in class and the teacher putting my table in the corner, facing the wall, as if I wasn’t there.

    Last time I was invited to a picknick with acquaintances, there was a 5-minute-margin for everyone and they’d leave at 14:05. I’d like to remind you that there was no pressure, it was supposed to be a nice day out. We had all the time in the world.
    I arrived there at 14:05 and they said; ‘Listen, we léáve at 0:5, we don’t gather at 0:5!”
    They then stepped in the car and drove off, leaving me behind.
    They later said they hoped it made a statement and it’d cause me to get on time more often.
    Instead I just went home and cried my eyes out.
    The same happened later, they left as well, but then I turned out that their clock was 3 minutes ahead and I’d been right on time after all. It’s safe to say, those are no longer people I hang out with.

    Despite realizing that arriving late is not okay, I doubt the people having to wait 5 minutes for me to arrive, realise how awful I feel and how fearful I get.
    Sometimes I just give up, call them in tears and tell them I’m going back home and they can leave without me.

    I hate doing that, because I really lack social moments with people, I’m very lonely and even if I say so myself (I might not sound like it now) but I am a very friendly and happy person. On the crafting-course, I always crack jokes, bring sweets or help people if they’re experiencing a bad time. I’m a great addition to a picknick, I love helping people in the garden or carry their groceries back to the house or take care of their pets. But running late is part of that as well and that seems to be a big dealbreaker every time.

    • August 25, 2019 at 6:41 pm

      Hi Lilith, thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s too bad that you’ve had to deal with teachers and “friends” who are so narrow-minded. Sadly, there are some teachers who seem to care more about enforcing rules for its own sake than with helping students learn. It’s amazing that we still have an education system where it’s not always accepted that different people have brains that work differently, and that a rigid environment simply isn’t going to bring out everyone’s strengths.

      It’s great you have already found some people who are more understanding. You sound like an empathetic and fun person, and I think that in time you will find more people who are able to appreciate everything you bring, rather than try to “teach you a lesson” for being five minutes late!

    • March 11, 2020 at 8:34 am

      I’m in the same boat. I try implementing strategies and routine, but I can stick to them.

      I’m usually so exhausted in the evening that I either fall asleep or my mind keeps wandering and it takes me forever to get anything done. So preparing for the next day is a real struggle.


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