How Late People Plan: Risky Planning

Creatives, shouldists and mastery seekers have unrealistic expectations that lead to ineffective planning. Waiting avoiders, sprinters and prioritizers knowingly risk or even accept certain lateness when they decide to leave at the last minute—or later.

When waiting avoiders consider leaving early enough to compensate for possible transit delays, they realize that if things go well they will arrive early. If they expect that they will then have to wait, they feel intense negative emotions that are stronger than the negative emotions they feel about being late: they would sooner be late than wait. On the other hand, the idea of having more time at home, followed by a smooth transit and seamless start is appealing. So they put off leaving to the very last minute and hope for the best. If they suspect that they will be kept waiting past the agreed start time, they plan to arrive late enough to avoid having to wait.

Some waiting avoiders are “control freaks.” They feel outraged when they anticipate waiting for others because they consider waiting to be a humiliating sign of inferior social status. Less consciously, people who have histories of being neglected, rejected or abandoned may avoid waiting for others because it triggers fears that they will be forgotten or stood up.

When sprinters imagine arriving on time in spite of leaving at the very last minute—or later—they feel pride and an empowering sense of mastery. By contrast, timely preparation and departure to ensure certain punctuality seems too easy and dull. Some sprinters have low levels of mental energy which leaves them feeling chronically bored. The rush of adrenaline makes them feel energized and enlivened.

Some developed the sprinter habit in childhood. Many were bright students who could dash off a paper, cram for tests and be late for lectures and still get good grades. They may have made easy homework and boring household chores more challenging by racing through them at the last minute. They may have experienced a sense of mastery in exciting activities such as computer games or informal sports that didn’t require advance preparation. They may have lived close to school, allowing them to run out at the last minute and only be a few minutes late. These childhood sprinters got in the habit of doing what they felt like and then snatching success from the jaws of failure. As a result, they didn’t learn to associate the tedium of preparing in advance and budgeting ample time with the pride of success. They didn’t learn self-discipline because they didn’t need it to feel good about themselves. But, more often than not, when they became adults most discovered that without self-discipline they needed to carry out their plans, they couldn’t excel, maybe even succeed. By then, their brains were wired in a certain way: old habits die hard.

Prioritizers consider other things to be more important than being exactly on time. Although they see their decisions and actions as being the direct result of their priorities, their behavior is still determined by their emotional responses: the feelings that they have when they consider doing (or not doing) the things that they value more highly trump their motives for punctuality.

These emotional responses may come into play in the planning stage. For example, a sleep prioritizer who experiences train delays of up to 15 minutes may think:

“I can get up at 6:45 am—ugh, that’s bad!!!—so I can always be on time—which is good;
I can get up at 7:00—ah, that’s better!!—and be no more than 15 minutes late every so often—which isn’t that bad.”

Because {ah, better!} + {not that bad} feels better than {ugh, bad!!!} + {good}, the second option “sounds,” i.e. feels, better than the first, leading the prioritizer to decide: “7:00 it is.”

Prioritizers may also change their plans when appealing activities unexpectedly come up in the course of preparation and transit: for social prioritizers talking to a friend they run into is more important, and emotionally rewarding, than getting to work on time.

Summary of planning styles that lead to lateness

Which brings us to the next topic, plan implementation. How do punctual people follow through on plans?