Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

Dear Everyone Who's Always Running Late: It's Not Your Fault

person running late
Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

It’s your second day this week showing up not-on-time to the office, and your boss is starting to throw you death glares. Or, worse, you’re late to an important interview. Do you go with the dog vomiting excuse? The broken subway? The alien invasion that just couldn’t wait for the weekend?

Well, according to recent research published in The British Pschological Society Research Digest, you can actually throw blame on your brain.

Why, you ask?

Because that big important organ in your body gets all screwy when it comes to evaluating familiar routes. After asking a group of students in London to sketch a map of their campus and estimate the time and distance between certain landmarks, researchers not only discovered that the students “overestimated the physical extent of these routes,” but also “underestimated the walking time of routes with which they were most familiar,” says BPS author Christian Jarrett.

You should be confused at this point, because how can you possibly walk a longer route in less time? While researches don’t have an exact answer to this phenomenon, Jarrett states that the biggest thing we can get out of this is that in general, we underestimate the time it takes to travel our everyday routes—which is why we’re never on time when we expect to be.

What this means for you is that you can’t trust yourself. And while you could try to use the “My brain’s failing me” excuse to your boss, it probably won’t go over so well. Nor do I recommend actually saying this to an interviewer (if you want the job).

The real solution to this issue is simple: Now that you know you underestimate the time it takes you to travel from point A to point B, overestimate it. If you think it takes you 30 minutes to get from your apartment to the hiring manager’s office, leave yourself 45 minutes. If you think it’ll take you 10 minutes to grab lunch, give yourself 25 minutes before your next meeting.

Worst case you have some time to spare—but no one ever got death glares for being early.