Ask the coach: I’m always late!

Dear coach,
My boss just wrote me up for lateness.  I really want to get to work on time, but I just can’t seem to make it.  How do I make my boss understand I’m trying?
Better Late Than Never

Dear Late,

Yes, being chronically late can be a problem when you have ADHD.  Instead of focusing on getting your boss to understand why you are tardy, it’s more useful to consider ways to get yourself to work (and school) on time.  You can do it!  It just may take a little experimenting to find what works best for you.

There are three main reasons people with ADHD are usually late.

1.  Getting up late.

Yes, getting out of bed on time in the morning can be hard.  Especially if you are cutting your self short by falling asleep later at night than you should.  (For tips on how to get to sleep on time, see ADHD & Sleep.)  Here are a few things to try:

  • put your alarm clock across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
  • use two alarm clocks, so you won’t be tempted by the snooze alarm.
  • set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than you think you need.  It may be that you are just underestimating how much time you need to get out of the house.

2.  Getting sidetracked

Do you jump out of bed with time to spare and still find that you are late out the door? Pay attention to what you are focusing on.

  • Keep a checklist of everything you need to do before leaving the house.  And don’t turn on the TV, phone or internet until you get these things accomplished.
  • If you take medication, take it first thing out of bed. That way it will start working before you leave the house.
  • Set reminder alarms to keep you on track.  Figure out how much time you need to dress, eat and get organized.  Then set alarms to remind you that you need to have that task completed.  Use your phone or buy one of those reminder watches so your alarms are always nearby.
  • Add in 5 or 10 minutes to your commute time so you have room for the unexpected.

3.  Being disorganized.

Do you walk out of the house only to realize you forgot your lunch or phone?  Do you spend needless minutes hunting around for your keys or shoes?

You need a “launch pad” by your exit door.  Set aside a special place near the door.  Collect all of the things you’ll need in the morning the night before.  If there are things like lunch that you’ll need to make in the morning, leave yourself a note at the launch pad, so you remember it in the morning.  Then at night, put everything there — keys, sunglasses, phone, purse, briefcase etc.  So they’ll be ready for you to grab as you run out the door.

You may have already tried all of these things, but are still late.  That’s where time with a coach can come in handy.  A coach can give you outside perspective about what’s not working and how to fine tune your routine to make it work for you.  ADHD and lateness often go hand-in-hand, but they don’t have to.  With a few simple tweaks to your routine, you can become a punctual person.

Do you have a question for the coach?  Send it to  We’ve love to hear from you.

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4 Responses

  1. […] Ask the coach: I’m always late! […]

  2. […] Ask the coach: I’m always late! […]

  3. susie Taylor

    I’m currently conducting research for college students with ADHD to see what components could be put in place that would be beneficial for success, would you be able to provide any research information that I could use in my dissertation? if you have any insight to share please contact me @ Thank you

  4. Lee Wolff

    Hi Susie,

    My son has ADHD and has struggled significantly in college. He attended a large, out-of -state school and made it through his 1st semester Freshman year completing 12 of 15 credits with a 2.1 GPA. Second semester proved to be more challenging and we learned that, although he told us otherwise, he became so far behind in his classes he stopped attending classes altogether.

    Sophomore year was another disastrous year as we decided he needed to be closer to home at a smaller school with less distractions and more one-on-one attention. He was devastated and angry to learn that he would not be returning to his beloved school. He did 1st semester at the local community college awaiting the transfer to the small school 2nd semester. Sadly, both of these semesters ended in failure as he repeated the same scenario…starting out strong then losing steam, falling behind, and finally, not attending classes at all.

    Please note that throughout both years, especially his first, we had tried desperately to get him to accept the services of the Students with Disabilities department. He did not feel that he needed their services or accommodations and could handle it on his own and, therefore, he missed all of his appointments. We had also hired a therapist and ADHD coach to try to help him during that time as well.

    Needless-to-say, we were emotionally and financially drained and needed to cut the educational umbilical cord. As fall semester drew near, he told us that despite all of his failed attempts and school changes, he had learned his lesson and wanted desperately to go back to his original school. Despite our efforts to reason with him, he came up with loans to pay for school. As parents, we were hoping and praying that, by paying taking the ultimate responsibility with loans, he would look at school differently. Sadly, it was a repeat of the past and another semester flushed, he could not finish.

    He has now been out of school and working for 2 1/2 years. He wants to get his degree but all of the on-line classes he signs up for, he drops and says he is just not ready. I am at a loss as to how to help him move forward to accomplish his goal and overcome the barriers that he has struggled with due to ADHD.

    Regarding your question about components for students with ADHD, I have found that each school handles it differently. My son’s university required expensive psychological tests to prove that he had ADHD before they would even consider him for the Students with Disabilities program. Once accepted, students are required to set up a meeting with each of there instructors to discuss the accommodations needed, present the letter, and request a signature. this task can pose to be very challenging for a student with ADHD form a time management, task accomplishment standpoint. I find it somewhat humiliating as well. Once this was complete sessions were established between the SSD advisor and student.

    My daughter on the other hand, attends a different university and have found that the Disability Services department has been extremely helpful.

    I would love to discuss her experience in greater detail among other thoughts such as alternative education and more experiential/ hands-on learning vs classroom lecture for students with ADHD. However, I must wrap up as I have another commitment. I see that your request for information was several months ago. I would love to discuss further or glean thoughts/ideas as to how to help my son.

    Lee W