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Sacramento Bee
By Cynthia Hubert

Not Too Late?
Even the Terminally Tardy can Learn Time Management


At his high school in Santa Monica, Mark Reichel set a new record for tardiness, showing up late for class 72 times in a single semester.

In college in San Luis Obispo, a professor called him on the carpet for his chronic lateness and lavish excuses.

Now Reichel is a father, a homeowner and a lawyer, but some things never change.

His dinner parties in east Sacramento are fabulous but rarely start at the appointed time.  His friends routinely cool their heels waiting for him to deliver a promised tool or meet them for a drink. He is notorious among clerks at the federal courthouse, where he typically finds himself dashing through the doors moments before a schedule appearance.

Perhaps his most serious lapse in timeliness occurred in February, when he arrived to deliver his Uncle Bernard's eulogy just as mourners were leaving the church.

Reichel is, to put it kindly, punctually challenged.

"It's true, it's true," he acknowledges, not without some embarrassment. "I wouldn't know how to live my life any other way."

He is in good company. Studies have suggested that as many as 20 percent of Americans, from homemakers to company presidents, are chronically late. Bill Clinton, Richard Gere, and Robert Redford are reportedly among the puntually challenged. California's embattled governor, Gray Davis, is often late for press conferences and meetings, and doctors and dentists everywhere are notorious for keeping patients waiting.

But all is not lost for the people whom author Diana DeLonzor calls "lateniks," and for the loved ones and colleagues they drive batty.

"Lifelong habits are hard to break," says DeLonzor, who lives in San Francisco. "But it can be done."

DeLonzor is living proof. She was terminally tardy for most of her life. It caused havoc in her job as a sales manager and chaos in her marriage. She offended friends, missed airplanes, and showed up late for business gatherings.

"It was a running joke, but people also got angry," she recalls. "Every encounter began with an apology or a story about why I was late. People always saw me as a little bit of a flake."

DeLonzor has changed her ways. For the past seven years, she has been a stickler for punctuality and now teaches others to overcome lateness and procrastination. State agencies and private corporations tap her for seminars on the subject, and recently she published a book, "Never Be Late Again, 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged," (Post Madison Publishing; $13.95).

Employees of the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the Franchise Tax Board, two agencies not commonly associated with speediness, packed seminars hosted by DeLonzor.

"Ours was voluntary. People had to come during lunch, and I had to keep getting more and more chairs," says Lane Mayberry of the tax board. "I think everybody saw a little bit of themselves in the things she was saying. Time management and procrastination have been issues for a very long time for both employers and employees."

Teresa Swafford, who works for the Department of Food and Agriculture, attended a DeLonzor seminar and has taken some of her tips to heart.

"Lateness issues had caused a lot of stress for me," Swafford says. "I was always rushing., trying to get a lot done in a little bit of time. I didn't want to just sit around waiting if I arrived early for something, so I postponed leaving until the very last minute. Now she tries to leave early for most every appointment and brings a book to occupy her free time.

"I haven't been late since that seminar," Swafford says. 

The first step toward overcoming chronic lateness, DeLonzor says, is understanding why it happens.

Before she wrote the book, DeLonzor did some research. With the help of psychologists at San Francisco State University, she interviewed 225 people who identified themselves as being chronically late. Among other things, the research team found that the punctually challenged often share personality characteristics including anxiety, low levels of self-control or a penchant for thrill-seeking.

"Contrary to popular belief, it's really not about being selfish or believing their time is more important than yours," DeLonzor says of her chronically late soul mates. "These are people who are late for the gym, job interviews, even vacations. It's about their inabiity to control their own time."

DeLonzor urges lateniks to recognize that their behavior is complicating their lives and the lives of others, and to change their attitudes about punctuality. In her book, she offers tips for eliminating lateness, including keeping a journal documenting how long it takes to accomplish certain tasks. "Reward yourself with a pedicure, a slice of cake or a nice dinner when you have been successful," she advises.

DeLonzor maintains that it is almost never acceptable to be late, at least in American culture. But she notes that some offenses are more egregious than others. A dentist who must deal with an emergency tooth extraction, for example, has a better excuse for making his other patients wait than someone who is late for a business meeting because she was perusing the new shoe collection at Macy's.   

"Most doctors and dentists do make people wait. It's unavoidable sometimes," says Sandra Grice, a longtime dental assistant in a busy Sacramento office. "Someone comes in for a simple appointment, and it turns out they need a crown, and the crown turns into a root canal. We have to address the situation right away. We can't send them away."

Apologies to those left waiting are mandatory, she says. "Some do get mad and leave, but most understand. We make notes on the charts of the people who had to wait, and we roll out the red carpet the next time they come in."      

At the state Capitol, lateness is the order of the day. Sessions rarely start on the button, in some cases inconveniencing people who have come from far-flung places for the opportunity to testify before legislators.

Martha Escutia, a Democratic senator from Whittier, is one politician who has little patience for chronic lateness.

"I think timeliness is a matter of courtesy," says Escutia., who chairs the Judiciary Committee. "In our jobs in particular, it's critical."

Escutia uses her power to shut down hearings, allowing bills to die, unless legislators show up on time. It usually works.

"Punctuality is a quality that is just not appreciated in today's fast-paced society," she says.

Most members of the chronically late club, DeLonzor says, are victims of a phenomenon she calls magical thinking.

"It's the ability to deceive yourself into believing you can accomplish everything you want to do in a certain period of time, even if all evidence points to the contrary," she says.

Within that group are people DeLonzor labels "deadliners," who get a psychological rush from sprinting to the finish line. "Producers" are those who get an ego boost from accomplishing a ridiculous number of tasks in a single day.

Reichel, the perpetually late lawyer, seems to be a little bit of both.

"For me, it's a feeling that I can do it all," he says. "I can have my coffee, make a phone call,m tell a joke to someone in the hallway, and then get in the car to get to court, which starts in three minutes. I usually walk in just as the bell rings."

Reichel also firmly believes that he can use his charm to temper any feelings of resentment that his lateness might cause.

"I can usually talk my way out of things," he says. "My friends are constantly intrigued by my new and creative excuses." But he admits his credibility has been damaged over the years. Even his young boys, Jack and Joseph, sometimes shake their heads at his explanations.

Overcoming chronically late behavior is not as simple as turning the clock ahead 15 minutes, DeLonzor says. Rather, dawdlers must consciously train themselves to do better. Victims of the punctually challenged can help, she says, by threatening to leave if their friend or family member is more than 15 minutes late for an appointment or by sending one of DeLonzor's humorous, anonymous "lateness citations," available on the Web site www.neverbelateagain.com.

Reichel has another suggestion.

"Really, the people in my life just need to realize that, despite my lateness, I have a lot of good qualities," he says. "They need to know that I will always be there for them, 15 minutes late. and I'll always have a very interesting excuse.
 

"I am late because...

Below are the most common excuses for lateness, from Diana DeLonzor, author of "Never Be Late Again, 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged."

  • The commute was horrible.

  • My child got sick

  • I couldn't remember where I parked the car

  • My alarm clock broke

  • A car was blocking the driveway

Following the more creative excuses DeLonzor's heard:

  • A window-washer was outside my window, and I sleep naked, so I couldn't get out of bed until he was gone.

  • Today is my horse's birthday, and I wanted to celebrate with him.

  • My neighbor's house was on ire, and I had to help put it out.

  • I got locked in the bathroom of the restaurant. It took them an hour to get me out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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