ESSAY- Punctual U: How to solve that perennial lateness problem

No one ever plans to be late, but something always seems to come up. Last-minute chores keep us from stepping out the door. Or we don't do chores at all and can't find the car keys because the house is such a mess. Or maybe we just like living on the edge and secretly enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from pushing to make a deadline. Even though we don't actually make it.

More than 20 percent of us admit to being chronically late (there are no statistics on how many of the rest are lying). Most of those people, if pressed, would be inclined to blame their lateness on circumstance.

Diana DeLonzor says that's bull. DeLonzor, herself a recovered late person and author of Never Be Late Again, says tardiness is actually a trait of one of many personality types. She identified the types while researching her book and studying people's lateness habits.

Do you match one of the personality types here? It may be good news if you do, because DeLonzor and others also have some strategies to help each type begin arriving on time.

The Producer

Possibly the most common late personality type there is, a producer doesn't see herself as late, but as someone who produces. "They tend to get an ego boost from how much they can get done in a day," DeLonzor says. But tardiness becomes a problem when a producer believes she can get a lot done in a little time, such as showering, dressing, applying makeup, washing dishes, and starting a load of laundry, all in the half hour set aside for getting ready in the morning.

Telltale Signs: You write to-do lists during your coffee break. You feel the need to squeeze as much activity as humanly possible into each moment of each day.

Getting back on track: For at least a week, time everything you do– from the drive to work to that one last cleanup in the morning. "You'll start to see that what you thought you could do in 20 minutes actually takes 40," says DeLonzor. "You'll get a realistic idea of time."

Plan to be early and have something to do. "Take along the thank-you notes you're always meaning to get done," says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. "Organize your planner. Call a client or two. Or you could always carry along that novel you want to read." Learn to say no to last-minute demands that will make you late. Practice exit strategies, such as, "I would love to help you out as soon as I return around 3 p.m." to use when you're on the way out the door. "Don't let interruptions in," Morgenstern says. "Don't answer the phone. Don't check your e-mail."

The Deadliner

Deadline-oriented people thrive on the race. They need a crisis to get motivated and react at the last minute– which leads to being late.

Telltale Signs: You go to the ATM only after you've run out of money, have coasted to the gas station on fumes more than once, and are no stranger to late fees at the library.

Getting Back on Track: Start retraining yourself. Choose two or three activities you will do ahead of time each day, DeLonzor says. Fill up the gas tank when it's still half full and stop by the ATM when you still have $20 left. Instead of getting an adrenaline surge from the constant rush of your life, start a contest with yourself to see if you can be 10 minutes early three times a week. Reward yourself– a massage, a dinner out– when you achieve a goal, DeLonzor says. Find another source for adrenaline, says Alyce Cornyn-Selby, speaker and author of "What's Your Sabotage?""There are other ways to find action in your life," she says. One of her client's procrastination habits drove his office crazy. Then he took up skydiving and found that he didn't need to get a rush from racing to meet office deadlines. Your thrill issues may not be as extreme, but that should make finding substitutes easier.

The Absent-Minded Professor

Sometimes clichés are true. Absent-minded professors are smart, but easily distracted.

Telltale Signs: You misplaced the piece of paper with that important appointment information. Oh, and the car keys, checkbook, and purse. You may jump from activity to activity, like that thing you were doing before you picked up this magazine.

Getting Back on Track: Like the Producer, you can benefit from taking a week to time your tasks. Prioritize each item on your to-do list and assign it a realistic time frame. If you're tempted to start a task at the last minute, refer to your list and see if you have enough time. Organize your time and space. Buy a planner and record your appointments and activities. At night, plan out your schedule for the next day. Set out what you'll need the night before in a designated spot, DeLonzor says.

Use tools to stay on task. Keep a clock in every room– even a waterproof clock in the shower. Set a timer for 30-minute intervals and when it goes off, ask yourself whether you're accomplishing what you set out to do, DeLonzor says.

The Rationalizer

Rationalizers are frequently late for work, appointments, and social engagements yet don't feel it's a problem because it's not their fault. At least, that's what they think.

Telltale Signs: You may be late but you always have a ready excuse and a good story to tell: There was a wreck on the interstate, a sick pet, a last-minute phone call. You feel other people are too uptight about punctuality.

"Rationalizers hate being called on their lateness," DeLonzor says. "That's why they tend to make up excuses."

Getting Back on Track: Instead of making excuses, practice saying "I'm sorry," DeLonzor says. Focus on other people. As you get ready to leave, envision the person on the other end and how the encounter will go if you come flying in the door making excuses.

Make a deal. Tell friends and family that if you're late, you'll buy the drinks or dessert– or to go on without you, DeLonzor says.

Finally, if you're always late and you have a choice, ask yourself: Is it something you want to do in the first place? The answer may be no, but it's better to be honest about it than to let yourself and others down by being late.

Karen Haywood Queen is a frequent contributor to Better Homes and Gardens.