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Just in Time

Gila Arnold

Whether you’re always the first to arrive or perpetually late, how you understand time says a lot about who you are — and your personality will shape your perception of time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Picture spending an hour in deep conversation with a close friend. Now imagine spending an hour doing tedious office work. Though the same amount of time elapsed, the first 60 minutes likely feel a lot shorter than the second. The perception of time, says psychologist Robert Ornstein, is a cognitive process and thus can be experienced in relative terms. In other words, different individuals can experience the same amount of time as feeling longer or shorter. In illustration of this principle, Diana DeLonzor, a psychologist and author of Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged (Post Madison Publishing), conducted a study in 1997 at San Francisco State University that revealed certain characteristics distinct to punctual people versus latecomers. The testMs.DeLonzor used was simple: Open a book, mark the time, and start reading, stopping when you think 90 seconds have passed. Results revealed that early birds stopped reading before 90 ­seconds had passed, while latecomers continued reading well beyond. This finding is significant, particularly in a society that values time so much that causing someone to wait is viewed as akin to robbery. Punctual people view latecomers as selfish and inconsiderate, but, according to DeLonzor’s research, a person’s time tendency is a strongly ingrained habit that, for the most part, has little to do with how much they value — or don’t value — another person’s time. “Chronic lateness is a surprisingly hard habit to overcome,” writes DeLonzor. “Most late people don’t do it on purpose. They hate being late, and have struggled with this all their lives.” She likens it to a chronically overweight person struggling to diet. In both cases, the bad habit forms because of a side benefit the person receives from the unwanted behavior. The dieter’s benefit is obvious (chocolate, anyone?); what is the latecomer’s benefit? DeLonzor reports several categories of latecomers, each with its own psychological kickback. For example, the Deadliner thrives on the adrenaline rush of racing to the deadline, while the Producer packs her day with activity, underestimating how much time each task takes. The roots of punctuality are equally complex. Its benefits are readily apparent: arriving in a timely manner demonstrates respect and responsibility and helps maintain friendships and jobs. Yet, like lateness, punctuality involves a lot more than a conscious decision to arrive on time. 

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