How do I become a person who shows up to work on time?
January 24, 2013 6:23 AM   Subscribe

I've worked professionally for over 15 years, and in all the that time, I've never been on time to work consistently. How do I show up to work around 9 o'clock like a normal person?

It's the kind of foible I can get away with because I've got skills that are in demand. If I were just a regular guy I'd have had to work it out by now or I'd be completely unemployable. At this point, I definitely feel like it's holding me back from advancing. I haven't heard much about it from managers at my current job, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were held against me in private. I'd like some help figuring out some strategies I can use to change this behavior.

Most days I show up to work a little before 10:00, which is lucky because I have a standing meeting at 10:00. Probably once a week I'm a little late for that. It's pretty much always been like this, across different years and seasons and different jobs, and different methods
of commuting.

However, it's been worse before. At a job I had roughly five to ten years ago, I would sometimes get stuck in a spirals of anxiety in the morning before leaving for work. I'd start to be late, and then start feeling anxious about that, and then start to do something to distract me from the worry and anxiety about showing up late to work, such as watching TV, reading the Internet, eating breakfast, etc. That meant I'd sometimes be hours late. I haven't had that kind of problem in years, though.

If there's an early meeting or appointment or something I can make it for that, assuming I remember it, of course. It's not like I can't make a 7:00 am flight or go to the dentist before work in the morning. It's just that on a given, regular, boring day, I have trouble arousing any urgency about going to work.

I don't stay up too late. My morning process of dressing and grooming is reasonably streamlined. The alarm goes off at 7:00 or 7:30, which is plenty of time, but I'm liable to decide, "I can be late today it's fine", and then it just becomes a habit that I sleep in or, read a
book, or listen to the news on the radio, or just waste time some other way. And it's really the case that on that day it's fine coming in late. It's only a problem that I do it every day.

The advice in some other threads is to set more alarms, like an alarm for when to leave the house and an alarm for going to bed at night, and I've done stuff like that before. That doesn't seem to help me because it doesn't seem to be a problem of knowing when I need to leave so much as it's a problem being motivated to want to be early.

What do you guys think? Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (62 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of the things I've been working on in January. One of the things that has helped me is Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't Break the Chain!". There are a lot of apps that track this (my favorite is Way of Life), but I have found pen and paper is the most satisfying. Good luck!
posted by valeries at 6:26 AM on January 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

....How do you feel about your job itself?

I have the same kind of problem, but in my case I am pretty sure it has to do with my attitude about the job itself; because for jobs I've liked, I've always gotten there early. For a job I really don't care about or like, I tend to dawdle in the morning and get there 10-15 minutes late.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh - I realize I haven't really offered a solution in my case, but that's because the solution to "not liking your job" is "changing your job," and that's not the easiest thing in the world to suggest. But it may be some insight into a deeper issue.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

There might be some "hack" for this but really it's just like quitting smoking or anything else; you just have to decide to do it. Commit yourself to do it for 30 days so it doesn't seem like an endless chore and just do it.
posted by milarepa at 6:29 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Set up an earlier standing appointment, something that you're committed to. Sign up for an expensive exercise class that meets at 8 and from which you can go straight to work. Commit with a coworker to meet her for coffee every day at 8:30 near the office. Anything that makes it obligatory for you to physically leave the house early and go somewhere else. Once you're already out, going to work is a lot easier.

Also, commit to yourself that, at least at the beginning, you don't necessarily have to start working the moment you get to work. Let yourself go to work and futz around on the internet for the first 20 minutes of the day. Chat at the watercooler for a bit. Heck, watch a streaming sitcom or a bunch of funny cat videos for a bit before buckling down. Make it so that something fun and interesting is waiting for you at work, not something stressful and anxiety-provoking. You need to break the link between going to work and being stressed out, so give yourself permission to do that for a little while.
posted by decathecting at 6:33 AM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is there anything you can arrange that you would look forward to doing at work in the morning? Maybe meeting a coworker for coffee or a walk, or having a newspaper delivered to the office that you look forward to reading? Unplug your TV and radio so that they aren't quite as easy to turn on in the morning, pack your books away. Essentially, make staying at home a little less enjoyable and going to work a little more enjoyable.
posted by payoto at 6:33 AM on January 24, 2013

This sounds like the kind of thing that external motivation would be really helpful for. So, the "don't break the chain" approach could be great. It might also be productive for you to have a friend support you by, for example, giving them $100 to donate to a cause you dislike if you are late more than X days a month while you get in the habit.
posted by spindrifter at 6:36 AM on January 24, 2013

Sometimes people have a problem gauging time in the same way, in order to get out the door in time. That doesn't seem to be the problem in your situation, as you know that you could, if you wanted, get to work on time. The problem is that your "wanter" is a bit broken. This is not something to despair about necessarily, as we all deal with a will that is not always where we want it to be. We often "want" to want things different, we just aren't sure how to make that change.

I'm cautious saying this to people who have issues with time, because I'm not sure this is always the case. But in your case, it might apply: perhaps you need to look at it from the angle of respect. Do you not respect your coworkers and employers enough to get there on time? You do respect your own time when it's important to get to places. Perhaps you need to approach it from that perspective, and ask yourself how to respect others differently, as you do your own time. And then practice things that develop that impulse in yourself. If you have an agreement, and you have a type of contract with someone who provides you money, then you own it to them to treat the time with the kind of respect you treat your own time.

It's not easy to just muster this kind of thing, though, through a sheer act of will, and while you contemplate it, you could set up situations in which you are rewarded for getting to work on time. Perhaps give a friend $100 a week, and let them know that they need to pay you the $100 back only if you get yourself to work on time. In this case, you'd have some skin in the game that might help you pull it off. You might find that if you can simply find a scenario in which you can pull this off successfully through resources outside of yourself, you find that your affections for a thing can change.

There is a religious quote that I think of often that applies this principle. Even if you are not religious, however, I think the principle is true in how we develop our wills to desire different things. We practice. Here it is: "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his 'gratitude', you will probably be disappointed. (People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for anything like showing off, or patronage.) But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less" (C.S. Lewis).

Of course, this can apply, I think, to many things that we need to learn to have a different affection for. We practice. Hope this helps a bit, and good luck!
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:39 AM on January 24, 2013 [21 favorites]

Going to the gym in the mornings is the only thing that reliably gets me to work on time. Otherwise I will lay in bed forever and procrastinate and dawdle around for absolutely no reason. In my case I think the problem is that (much like your situation) nobody really cares whether I'm on time or not, so it doesn't really matter all that much. But if I have some other external routine thing to do that gets me out of the house, it helps, and it helps a LOT when my showering and getting dressed and all that is done in an environment where there are no possible distractions.
posted by something something at 6:40 AM on January 24, 2013

There is no such thing as being "on time." There is early, and there is late. That's a mode of thinking. Some people get it (like, really gut-level get it), and some people don't and never will. You might be one of those latter groups, which means you'll have to work a little harder on being consistently early.

As for specific techniques: Do not plan to arrive at work at 9:00. Plan to leave your house at 8:30 (or whenever you need to; see next paragraph). Not "9:00 minus a half hour" -- make it a totally separate time in your brain. 8:30? Time to leave. Even on workdays you don't feel like you have to be at work right at 9:00, you still leave your house at 8:30. That is The Time To Start The Day, and it has nothing to do with work.

Another specific technique: The first time I go to a new place for something I have to be "on time" for (e.g. a new job), I figure out how long it will take to get there and double it. On subsequent days, I whittle that down to the point that I'm now about 5-15 minutes early, depending on traffic. I don't whittle so closely that one spate of bad traffic will make me late, but if there's a lot of bad traffic, well, one late day won't kill me. If it turns into three late days a week because of frequent bad traffic, then I need to re-adjust my departure time.
posted by Etrigan at 6:44 AM on January 24, 2013 [95 favorites]

I find it helps if I aim to be early, rather than just on time. The energy barrier for "leave sofa, go to work and have an hour or so to read blogs and catch up on email and ease into the day gradually with nobody bothering me" is much lower than the one for "leave sofa, go to work and deal with EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE."
posted by Catseye at 6:45 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you get to work earlier, does that mean you can leave earlier? If you can leave earlier and do something enjoyable, like work out, whatever, you can get home from that early enough to have a longer evening at home. If getting to work in and of itself isn't motivating perhaps leaving work early will give you incentive. Before I had kid, I would get to work at 7 and leave at 3, which gave me half the day to screw around! I really had to avoid having my morning coffee at home, though, as that somehow lead to all sorts of other activities that would delay me. Wake up, shower, out the door...arrive at work, have coffee and breakfast at your desk, wonderful.
posted by waving at 6:51 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

As a person who can say, "I'm never late (almost)," I do have some advice for you. To begin with, you've already overcome the first barrier to change: denial. Most lateniks insist that they're usually on-time, but you're observing your own behavior very accurately, it seems to me.

I've found that most lateniks have an intolerance for being early. In order to be on time all the time, you've got to be willing to be early some of the time, otherwise you're cutting it too close. How do you feel about being early? I bet you hate the idea. See if you can go for it anyway. Experience the pain, and do it anyway. Show up early 5 days in a row, and see how that feels. You'll start to feel like a new person, I bet.

Most lateniks don't target their departure time. Think, "When do I have to leave in order to be 15 minutes early?" Then picture that time in big red glowing letters. Think of it as a really important target that you don't want to miss. Don't wait till you get to the office to congratulate yourself. When you hit your correct departure time, you've already won. Pat yourself on the back.

I second Seinfeld's "don't break the chain" advice. Being on time is a skill. The more you practice, the better you get. Good luck!
posted by markcmyers at 6:52 AM on January 24, 2013 [12 favorites]

Do you want a job or do you want to be homeless? Pick one.

99.5% of everyone that works at your company can be replaced, including you. They can find someone that is able to do you job and get to work on time. Don't give them incentive to do this.

I agree that it doesn't sound like there's a "lifehack" for this problem. It would be a different story if you had problems waking up every morning but I don't think that's going on here. But going into work with a mindset of "I can do whatever I want because I am an irreplaceable company asset" is dangerous. Trust me.
posted by Diskeater at 6:52 AM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

The thing that helps me get up and go running first thing in the morning is to remove all physical obstacles to getting out the door the previous evening - ie have clothes and shoes ready etc and then to not think about what I'm doing when I get up. If I stay in bed for 5 extra minutes and think about whether I want to go or not, then I may well end up not going. You may need to do that for your whole morning process, which is a bit harder, but if it consists of a fixed set of steps (which it sounds like it pretty much does) then this might help.

Basically, just execute the routine until you are on the way to work, and don't second guess yourself. Once at work, ease yourself into the day as previous posters have suggested. If you're straight into hard problems when you arrive it's going to be tough to decide to arrive.
posted by crocomancer at 6:56 AM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

How do I show up to work around 9 o'clock like a normal person?

If I were just a regular guy I'd have had to work it out by now

I'm an early person (except when I get lost or make some other stupid mistake) and I'll say this: in general, it doesn't help in the long run to think of yourself as better than "regular, normal" people. I mean, self esteem is good, but you are not so special that some more special person who can do your job *and* be on time won't appear someday.

On preview, what Diskeater said.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:58 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the folks saying some version of "commit to it" are right: don't say it's okay if you're late today, or I can go back to bed for just 10 more minutes, or I've got enough time (if all the busses/trains/stoplights are set jjjuuuusssst right), or any other excuse. Just, as Nike so famously put it, DO IT.

Make it a habit, and don't ever, even once, let yourself slack off: give in once and you've lost. Hold tight to the schedule, no matter what is going on at work that day. Require yourself to leave at a set time every single day. Etrigan has it: don't tell yourself to "be there by 9am", tell yourself "leave my house at 8:15am", and stick to it.

And for what its worth: I'll bet this annoys the heck out of your coworkers as well as your bosses. What your coworkers see is someone who is taking advantage of the system; someone who, even though you don't mean it to, appears to consider themselves 'better' than the rest of the crowd, which doesn't make for a happy workplace. (I used to have to supervise someone who was late 8-12 minutes every single day, without fail; I tried to talk her into just leaving home 10 minutes earlier --- "oh, that would be inconvient!" Sheesh.)
posted by easily confused at 6:59 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would say there's something about your job that is conflict with your values. Let's look at what we know:

1) You wake up with ample time to be on time.
2) You are always late.
3) This is not an acute problem but rather a chronic behaviour.

You could be on time if you wanted to be on time. Thus, it appears you do not want to be on time.

Now, why would you not want to be on time? You've said there has been anxiety present, which you solved essentially by detaching yourself from the expectations of being punctual. When you aspired to be on time, it filled you with anxiety, thus provoking a response which made you late. At some point, you have to go to work and so you did. It sounds like you set up a pattern of work to deal with the anxiety. That pattern is to remove everyone's expectations – yourself and your employer's – that you would arrive at a preset time. Instead, you found a process – and a time – that works for you. The benefit is that you do not experience anxiety, the cost is you do not arrive on a traditional time schedule.

It's important to honour that this process is working for you in the present. You had a conflict (anxiety versus office hours) and you found a solution. And I say that so you realise that this is not accidental behaviour. There has been a very specific intentionality to your tardiness, and that is to effectively deal with the anxiety (it sounds like).

And now, a conflict is arising, that your tardiness is probably impacting your ability to advance and continue career progression, which I imagine is probably true. On the employer's side, I have managed employees like you, and I will tell you that what it shows is you are more interested in yourself than the company. The person I am going to promote is the person who is a team player, and that means honouring team rules. The person who is valuable, but not a team player is not worth firing – they do well, and their output is great – but they're also not worth promoting because they're interest is in getting a paycheck, not in being promoted.

That you also have to honour. What you are illustrating to your comrades is that this is a transactional relationship. You do your work. They pay you. End of story. You have your own rules – and that's fine – but you have to accept that there is a response to that.

So the picture that I see is that 1) you had anxiety about work, 2) you found a way to manage that anxiety, 3) your current strategy has set your work relationship up as a transactional engagement.

Now, in terms of how to fix it. It's very simple. You have to want to progress. One question I would ask is if you are chronically late in your life or just to this job. That will help you find the locus of the problem. If it's the former and you are late everywhere, then you need to have a serious think about your relationship with other people. If it's the latter, and you are just late to the job, then you need to have a serious think about your relationship to the job.

Let's say it's the job. I imagine a '5 why's' exercise would be a good start. An example:

1) I am chronically late to work (why?)
2) Because I like to have time to myself in the morning. (why?)
3) Because as soon as I get to work, I'm not happy (why?)
4) Because I make good money, but there's just no passion (why?)
5) Because we make toner cartridges for copiers and frankly I don't care about them. (why?)

and the sixth why...

6) Because my real passion lies is photography.

Thus, 1) I am chronically late for work becomes my real passion lies in photography.

Or it could be:

1) I am chronically late to work.
2) Because I have anxiety attacks if I try to be on time.
3) Because I can't always be on time.
4) Because it's just too hard to always get there on time.
5) Because that's just not the kind of person I am.

6) Because I'm not the kind of person who shows up to a job at 9am.

So those are two examples, but you can do your own. If you go through that process, and discover that actually this job is important to you, and you want to improve your timekeeping. Set an achievable goal. That you will show up at 9am on Tuesdays. The rest of the time you can be late, but Tuesday at 9am, you will show up on time. Once you have success doing that a few times, it should be quite manageable from there.
posted by nickrussell at 7:00 AM on January 24, 2013 [24 favorites]

I don't know what your financial or dietary situation is, but in the right circumstances, you could set up a reward system.
If you leave your house by 8:30, you are allowed to: (pick ONE)
- stop at Dunkin Donuts and get your favorite coffee and muffin.
- go out to lunch instead of eating a sandwich
- put $5 toward a really awesome vacation
- something else that might motivate you? spend lunch break at the ice-skating rink, etc.
posted by aimedwander at 7:02 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with deciding what time you leave, as opposed to what time you get there, and also with getting there early. It can feel like you are shortchanging yourself by something to work early, if you can't leave early in return. But you can do stuff that you would have done at home, like check email or pay a bill or make a call. I always have my Nook with me, to read at odd moments, so I usually read a free sample or add to my wishlist or something.
posted by BibiRose at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2013

You have to want to.

You can buy 50 apps, and stay completely out of the anxiety-spiral zone, and you're still going to be That Guy until you care. And you are That Guy, this is not going unnoticed. It is only going unremarked upon, for now.

The closest thing to a hack is, like Etrigan said, don't define it by what time you need to be at work, define it by what time you must leave the house. If you need to write out a schedule backwards from that, do it, but the master of your mornings is the time you have to leave. If it helps you to use a timer system for that, and you have a smartphone, you could use an app that has lots of alarm flexibility (I use Alarm Clock Pro for iPhone, and 5 weekday alarms that move me through my morning) so that you can move yourself along through your schedule. But you could also use a couple of little travel clocks and some post-its. Some kind of time-telling-device is important, but it doesn't have to be fancy.

You may also need to ban certain activities in the morning. I have a little surf time in my routine while I eat (which is right now), but books and other media are not for mornings. Podcasts are for the car, and there's usually something queued up that I'm eager to listen to, so it gets me out the door at or before the appointed time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

A lot of good suggestions here. Here's one very small one I don't see above: Maybe you can work with your tendency to procrastinate leaving, instead of against it. I need a bit of lounging-around-getting-ready-to-face-the-day in the morning, but I don't let myself read a book or mess around on the internet because there's no limit on that and I'd get sucked in forever. I do let myself snuggle up on the sofa, check on my favorite RSS feeds, and do that day's puzzle in a puzzle app that I like. I know that's never going to take me more than, say, 30 minutes, and my get-up time allows for that. So once I get through this predefined set of RSS feeds and my daily puzzle, then I have to get up and get about my day.
posted by Stacey at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I always turn up on time. Five tricks I've used:

1) Set my watch 5 mins fast. I typically go by the time shown, rather than the actual time
2) Get into the mindset of seeing lateness as disrespect for other people - their time, money etc
3) Enjoy mornings, rather than seeing it as "getting up early"; I loved getting into work early; I might have rushed about a bit at home, but I was ahead of the rush, got to shoot the breeze with people first thing in the morning and got work done before others turned up for work
4) Building in contingency: my commute was 45-50 minutes. I left an hour, not 50 minutes to get to work
5) Having defined cutoffs for action: i.e. you have to be out of the house by x time. This cutoff is definitive. Don't kid yourself the commute will magically shorten on the day you are late
posted by MuffinMan at 7:05 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

What about having something waiting for you at work, or having some routine that you do as soon as you get to work, that you enjoy? Buy yourself a cup of coffee, or read the paper first thing in your office, or something else that will get you motivated to get out the door.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:08 AM on January 24, 2013

I haven't heard much about it from managers at my current job, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were held against me in private.

You're right; there is almost no chance that it doesn't bother people. And not just when it comes time for advancement decisions, but they probably think about you differently. So there's that.

I find it's easier to change for a positive reason though. Yours might be: it sounds like you are wasting more time worrying about this problem and needlessly futzing around at home than you would waste if you just got to work early and did a crossword or something, even. At least you'd have that time and not be stressing.
posted by BibiRose at 7:08 AM on January 24, 2013

I also agree with defining a Time To Leave that doesn't budge.

Towards that: is there, by chance, a public transportation option to get to the office? I've noticed that I, dependent on public transportation to get to work, am much less stressed about my arrival time than those who have cars. I'm also more likely to be forgiven for lateness (which actually helps car-drivers who are late for the same reasons as our bus on the days in question), since it's an incontrovertible fact that there are only two buses I can take in the morning: one leaves at 7am sharp, and the other at 7:25. (There are two later ones, 7:50 and 8:15, but they're during rush hour traffic and arrive ridiculously late, so I never take them and basically they don't exist in my mind, to the point where I had to look up their hours right now just to cite them.)

You might try the public transportation route for a few months, to get into the swing of having an external motivation for your morning Time To Leave, and then transition that new habit to your car.

Or, as I sometimes have to do on days I'm tired/know I don't have much to do at the office/whatever: at 7am, which is when I have to be out the door to catch the bus at my stop (it gets there 5 minutes later), I drop whatever I'm doing, turn whatever attention-grabber off, and get out the door, period. I reward myself with music and a nap on the bus. Try and make your commute something of a sanctuary, where you do something you enjoy; it helps too. (Not napping if you drive, obviously.)
posted by fraula at 7:11 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

You've got to find some internal motivation for this. If you get to work early, will it mean you have time to set up your coffee/tea/whatever while having a pleasant chat in the break room? Or maybe, as someone suggested above, that you can leave that much earlier? You need a carrot.

I also thinking moving standing meetings to 9am is a good idea if that's what it takes to

And here's a stick: Your managers in the past may not have mentioned it, but as a manager, I can guarantee that they probably noticed it. Other people do as well. What would happen if you got a new manager tomorrow who views this as both a teaming and professionalism issue? This kind of thing will get you on their radar pretty quickly.
posted by smirkette at 7:12 AM on January 24, 2013

I think you need to look at the reasons you're late. You wouldn't be late if you were meeting the president, for instance. You are late because fundamentally you don't respect your boss and your colleagues. Think of how it would feel on the other side. Or maybe you need to be working at a place with people you respect more. Either way, you need to address this issue because it is compromising your integrity.
posted by Pademelon at 7:16 AM on January 24, 2013

Do you lay out your clothes at night before you go to bed? Sometimes that really helps me. It's one less decision I have to make during the fog of morning.
posted by hellojed at 7:17 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't heard much about it from managers at my current job, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were held against me in private.

Well, what if you turn this into an opportunity to suggest clarification of the company's expectations and requirements vis-a-vis hours at the office, not just in regards to you but across the board? Maybe it's time to revisit the matter, especially since many employers offer a variety of arrangements, from work-at-home to flex time. Other people who would like flexible hours and would value it (and the company) for implementing a new, clear policy would probably support you. What if you raise the issue yourself in a way that acknowledges your late arrival habit coupled with a clear expression of willingness to follow whatever time standards emerge? You can't be the only one who just isn't a morning person or, conversely, would do their best work if allowed to come in at 6:00 and leave at 2:00 on most days.
posted by carmicha at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2013

I am the kind of person you expect to be late for everything. Except I am always early.

When it comes to getting to work on time, the best way might be to start getting there very early. You're up by 7? Get to work at 8 and have breakfast and an hour for Internet AT YOUR OFFICE instead of at home. Change your habit. Just switch the location of the messing around you currently do at home.

I work 3 hours from home (I only go in 4 days a month) and I get to work an hour before anyone else. My first day on the job I drove an hour in the wrong direction and managed to only be 10 minutes late for work. All the behaviours you describe TOTALLY remind me of myself, except I'm always early because I postpone the anxiety attack for later - I just make a habit of waking up, getting dressed, getting my stuff that I put together the night before and getting in the car before I start THINKING. It is 15-20 minutes from wake up to car. Otherwise, I'd start messing around with my iPad, my coffee maker, deciding that today is a good day for waffles (homemade!) with something fancy, then changing my mind and making pancakes and the next thing you know it's 10am and I'm breathing into a bag because I'm so panicked.

Pademelon's comment came in as I was previewing and I have to say, it is exactly that kind of feedback that would just convince my internal narrative that I'm the fuckup I've always believed I am and help continue making me late once that pattern was established. This isn't about how you feel about your job or anyone else except yourself - you're stuck in a pattern and you need to establish a new pattern but you can do it without thinking too much about it. Just wake up, put on your clothes that you picked out the night before, grab your bag and your keys, get in the car, and go. Once you are parked at work, the rest of your morning can unfold - breakfast, surfing, etc. etc. After a few days of this it'll be a habit and you'll no longer be late every day.
posted by annathea at 7:24 AM on January 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

I'm liable to decide, "I can be late today it's fine", and then it just becomes a habit that I sleep in or, read a book, or listen to the news on the radio, or just waste time some other way. And it's really the case that on that day it's fine coming in late. It's only a problem that I do it every day.

Here's a way to counter "just this once" thinking: first, recognize that you always have the ability to choose. Leaving the house late may have become a habit by now, but on any given morning, you can decide to go to work early.

Second, imagine yourself in a couple hours. If you dawdle before going to work, you might enjoy it in the moment, but you probably feel a little guilty when it's over, or you dread slinking in late to work yet again. Showing up early will eliminate that guilt and dread. It's going to be 10:00 soon enough, no matter what you do at 8. Think of it as doing the two-hours-in-the-future you a favor.

Third, for every day that you get to work on time, you're making it easier for yourself to do it again later. You're making a deposit to your good-habit bank. Every time you make a responsible choice, you get a little more accustomed to making that choice, and you loosen the bad habit's grip on you. Plus, if you've banked enough of the good habit, having an occasional slip won't feel as emotionally fraught, and will ultimately be more enjoyable.

Sometimes you can lifehack your way out of a habit with alarms and carrots and sticks, sometimes not. If not, it often helps to reframe the habit as a choice you're consciously making, and to recognize the advantages of making a different choice.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:34 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when I'm lying in bed feeling lazy I think about this passage from the Meditation of Marcus Aurelius. It usually gets me up.

In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present- I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?- But this is more pleasant.- Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?
posted by mmmbacon at 7:34 AM on January 24, 2013 [27 favorites]

I've recommended this on the Green before, and I'll do it again - try BJ Fogg's 3 Tiny Habits program. It's a little 5 day thing where he teaches you how to develop tiny habits that you can then build on each other. I found it incredibly helpful!

It's perfect for this sort of problem, because once you hook on habits like 'after I brush my teeth, I set a 10 minute timer' and 'after my timer goes off, I put on my shoes' &c &c.
posted by 168 at 7:35 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Annathea's point is great. If you don't want to be late, be early. If you don't want to be really late, be really early.

One more comment is that when I started, I was chronically late because I hated fighting Los Angeles traffic. If I left at 8, it took me a little over an hour and I would arrive at 9:15. If I left at 9, it would take 30 - 40 minutes and I would arrive at 9:45 or so.

I thought that was cool, because I worked until 6:30 or 7. There wasn't anything emotional about, it was very logical. I don't like traffic, so I worked out a schedule whereby I minimised my interaction with traffic, which was the goal.

Then my manager asked why I was always late and I told him. He said it made sense logically, but he said I was arriving after everyone, and also leaving after everyone, so what the team saw was me arriving late.

So I flipped it. I started leaving at 6 and arriving at 6:30. Even less traffic (win!). Then I would leave at 3:30 or 4, and arrive back home thirty minutes later (win!). And the perception totally changed. When people arrived, I was already there. So when I left early, nobody ever said anything.

The results were the same – 8 or 9 hour day. Same output. An hour commute both ways. But the perception was totally different – early person versus late person.

And as a side effect, I got so much done between 6:30 and 9:30, that I was much more relaxed the rest of the day.
posted by nickrussell at 7:36 AM on January 24, 2013 [12 favorites]

"I'm liable to decide, "I can be late today it's fine"

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

This Less Wrong post has a really good anecdote on how the writer managed to keep himself going to swim practice early every morning when he was in school. He would think that he didn't want to go in, but he would never let himself say it out loud, lest it slip down that path towards becoming action and then habit and then character and then destiny.

You may want to try telling yourself out loud: "I am going to walk out the door at 8:30am today" (or whenever is appropriate) to dispute your internal thought of "I can be late today" whenever it goes by. Yes, talk to yourself! This is a classic CBT trick, actually - verbally disputing can overpower thoughts that don't get verbalized. And then you're back to habit-building.
posted by 168 at 7:43 AM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm fascinated by this post, since I rolled in to work at around 10 this morning, and tend to do that on a regular basis. (I also spend my first hour futzing around on the you can see.)

I'm a night person; I can't go to bed earlier than midnight, no matter how hard I try, and often it's an hour later than that before I turn the light off. That means to get 7-8 hours of sleep (which I insist on) I end up waking up at 7 or 8. I've streamlined the daylights out of my morning - I prepare my breakfast and lunch the night before (or plan to fast that day) and shower in about 5 minutes. I even cut my hair short so I don't have to do anything to it in the morning to make it look cute. I perform all make-up rituals at work. But I still end up getting in between 9:30 and 10:00 when I (and my boss) would rather I get in between 9:00 and 9:30.

Since you're able to make your 10:00 meeting most of the time, maybe you could just fix this on the back end by staying late? That's what I do. If I start work at 10, I stay till 6 or 7. Sure, people see me come in late - but they also see me still sitting at my desk when they're all bundled up to head home. Plus, I'm better than anybody else in my department about being on time to actual meetings, so I consider myself on fairly even footing with them in the "respect for others" department.

TLDR - If you're doing well at your job, and you're well-respected, maybe coming in late isn't as much of a problem as you think?
posted by kythuen at 7:57 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think Etrigan's advice hits home for me. I arrive early for work because it's not about when I arrive at work but when I leave home that I set my timetable against.

My commute used to be by underground, which meant that I could leave sort of "whenever" because the tube would arrive every 2 minutes or less. Now that I take the overground train, they only come every 17 minutes so if I miss it, I am almost 20 minutes screwed. So I have to leave the house by a certain time to make it into work on time; which happens to be 10 minutes before everyone else which is always better than 10 minutes after everyone else.
posted by like_neon at 7:58 AM on January 24, 2013

TLDR - If you're doing well at your job, and you're well-respected, maybe coming in late isn't as much of a problem as you think?
posted by kythuen at 10:57 AM on January 24 [+] [!]

First off you have to admit that being late is extremely passive aggressive. Your being late makes it all about you. You may have a meeting at 10, but your coworkers may have one at 9 that they may need to see you beforehand. Your boss may like to know what resources S/He has on hand to better able plan his/her day...etc. So start by admitting that. Then you can get yourself motivated in little ways..."If I get there on time i can have a longer lunch". or "have more time to flirt with..."
posted by Gungho at 7:59 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

If this has been an issue your whole life, the best way to get over it is to make it more painful to get there late than on time. Give a coworker a $20 (or $50, or $100), and let them know that if you aren't at work on time, they get to keep it, but otherwise they need to just keep it tucked away in a drawer somewhere. If you show up late one day, they keep the money, and you give them another $20 to tuck away. All of a sudden, getting to work late means you are out $20, and if that happens a few times, it starts to add up to a considerable amount of money.

If that doesn't get you going, you could ramp it up by having your coworker donate that money to a cause you absolutely hate in your name. Then you're out the money, and you are supporting a group you don't support.
posted by markblasco at 8:00 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is important to you, or you wouldn't have written this question. It just doesn't feel important when it's most important that it feel important. So maybe think and journal some more about why it is important to you, and the impact that lateness has had on your life. And maybe ask yourself "if I was determined to get to work on time, what would I do?"

Another thought - coming in late can be a status symbol sometimes. I remember an IT guy who used to come in late regularly - because he was working until midnight, fixing shit and making our stuff work, and he knew everything. So his coming in late was a reminder - "Oh yeah, that guy is always working so late and putting in crazy hours and he knows everything." It can also be a status symbol in other ways. It's worth thinking about, to see if coming in with everyone else would "reduce" your status in your own mind.
posted by bunderful at 8:02 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

nickrussell: You could be on time if you wanted to be on time. Thus, it appears you do not want to be on time.

A few years ago I was tasked with taking my habitually-late best friend to the airport. When she was finally ready to leave we were already running very late, and as we were rushing to the airport she said, "Gah! I hate this! I hate being late!"

I looked at her and said, "No, you love this. I, the pathologically-punctual person, hates this. It's why I do anything I can to avoid this, and if you hated it you would try to avoid it, too."

It definitely rang true to her, and wondered why that was. I then realized that, as an Associate Director, a big part of her job was watching a stopwatch during taping and keeping the show on time to the second. (I actually started to cut her a lot more slack after realizing that.)

Every case is different, but this time I think nickrussell really hit the nail on the head. I don't think this is about finding a hack to be on time, it's figuring out why you don't want to be on time. I think that will give you a lot of insight into the problem and a solution will be easy (and may even be that you decide to maintain the status quo.)
posted by Room 641-A at 8:03 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

How often are you sleeping in? What time do you go to bed? How late do you sleep on weekends?

I'm like this and I'm 90% sure it's delayed sleep phase disorder. I can wake up early, on occasion, but as a chronic, perpetual thing I get more and more exhausted. And when I wake up early, I'm no good. I remember being a kid and stopping in the middle of getting dressed to just sit on my bed and stare into space for 5-10 minutes. I move slow as molasses in the mornings, and it's mostly because I'm just very tired. I've chosen to seek jobs that accommodate this rather than fighting it, and I'm much happier, and better rested.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:04 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

It might be very interesting to understand why you don't tend to be on time, but if you want to change your behavior, just focus on changing the behavior. Move it to the top of the priority list, schedule yourself early morning meetings, make sure you do it every day.
posted by leopard at 8:08 AM on January 24, 2013

I feel like I say this all the time, but: difficulty leaving the house in the morning/chronic lateness in general is one of the more insidious symptoms of my ADHD.

I am late for work CONSTANTLY and it is mostly because I know I can do this without too many problems. I just stay later to make up the time. I also don't take 2h lunches like many of my coworkers, and have stayed overnight many, many times to complete projects by the deadline when everyone else has failed me at the last minute.
posted by elizardbits at 8:09 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

If it's a simple problem of breaking a bad habit, I'll vote with the crowd that says get to work, then let yourself do some of the dawdling that you do at home. For example, I wake up hungry. A rule that says "Breakfast can only be eaten at my desk" would get me to work very quickly.
posted by ceiba at 8:11 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

What got me to work on time consistently was not having a dedicated parking lot, so I had to fight with all the other students and staff on campus for parking spaces. If I didn't arrive before 8AM, I'd have to park on the outskirts of campus and take the shuttlebus in.

And then they started construction on a new building nearby my workplace, and I got a parking pass for a dedicated lot since they took over the lot I used to park in, and now I'm late mot mornings again since I don't have to worry about getting a parking space.
posted by telophase at 8:15 AM on January 24, 2013

First of all, you're late because there's a reward in it for you. More sleep, reading, etc. And let's face it, you don't give a shit about anything else.

If a new regime took over at your job and told you that you had to be on-time, every day, without fail, or you'd be fired, trust me, you'd be there on-time.

I HATE being late to anything, I hyper-ventilate thinking about it because I hate it so much. I would never diddle around at home.

I have a routine and I stick to it, every single working morning. To deviate from it courts chaos. (In MY orderly world)

I am frequently anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes early to work.

Once there, I screw around unless there's something on fire. I cook breakfast, drink coffee, chat with co-workers, etc. BUT, if there's something that must be done, or if someone needs me, I'm there.

One thing that I think would work well for you is to decide that no radio will be turned on, no TV and no books will be read. Wake up, get ready and then leave.

The other thing, is that you will leave the house by X-thirty. Set the time, and don't be on the wrong side of the door.

You have to decide that it's important to you to be early. You have to decide that it's essential for you to be early.

If you think people don't notice, do this experiment. Come to work at 8:50 every day for a week. How many people comment? If it's more than 1, people notice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:33 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

elizardbits said what I was thinking - have you ever been checked for ADD/ADHD/whatever it's classified as these days? Your posts has some elements of distraction/disorganization that kinda point in that direction. /armchair psych

My mom has a great book called Never Be Late Again that is really interesting. It helps you figure out *why* you are late so you can figure out how to correct it. Also it does emphasize that many people perceive it as rude when you are late - basically you are telling them that your time is more important than theirs.
posted by radioamy at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with those who tell you it's not about finding a hack, and yet, I'm going to give you one anyway. If you succeed at it, then your problem will be solved. If not, you'll know why it's not about needing a hack. So here's what you do:

You have no problem arriving at work around 10 each morning. What's magic about the number 10? Don't answer that. Let's use the magic to work for us. Set your clock at home 1 hour fast. Then when you get in around 10, you'll really be getting in around 9. You have to believe in this clock and not "correct" for it in your head. That will require some effort but not as much as you might guess. Good luck.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with an above suggestion. Find something to do at work, before you work. Find something that you want to do, that makes you want to get to the office with time to do it. Find a book you love, but leave it at your office. Find a favorite website to read (METAFILTER), but read it when you get to work and give yourself time to read it before everything starts moving like your meetings.

So in short: Wake up with a goal to be at your office (not work) by 8am to give yourself an hour to do something you enjoy at your office before work.
posted by Atreides at 9:48 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am chronically late. This is a problem for me. It became an acute problem when it came to getting my kid ready for the school bus in the morning. What worked for me was a rolling phone alarm.

I divided the task of getting ready for school into steps: eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth and hair, get shoes and socks on, get coat and backpack, leave the house. Then, working backwards, we worked out timing: The bus comes at 8:25, so we need to leave the house by 8:21, so we need to get coat and backpack on at 8:19. The snooze alarm is 9 minutes long, so at 8:10 we need to brush teeth and hair and get shoes and socks on, at 8:01 we need to get dressed, at 7:52 we need to finish up our breakfast. So my alarm goes off at 7:52, and I keep pressing Snooze and moving onto the next phase of the Getting Ready every time it goes off.

My problem, as it turned out, was that regardless of the fact that it takes us 45 minutes to get ready in the morning, I didn't have a good understanding of what that 45 minutes was really FOR. I also have a tendency to assume that the smallest amount of time anything has ever taken is the amount of time it will take from now on, and to completely erase interstitial time from my planning (the amount of time it takes to get Little Brother into his coat and stroller for the walk to the bus stop, the amount of time I spend staring dully into the mirror after I get up, the amount of time it takes me to find two fershlugginer matching socks). so I'd be like "Well, we have 45 minutes, but only really 9 minutes of actual ready-getting, so we can slack off for half an hour!" and then 40 minutes later I'm trying to shove Clif bars into mouths and pull pajamas off and wave brushes around while screaming.

So, write down a list of everything you need to do to get ready. Include the stuff you'll do whether it's on your list or not, like "check facebook on your phone on the toilet." Break up into stages, and set phone alarms to remind you to move from one stage to another. It seems childish, but it's not as childish as being chronically late.
posted by KathrynT at 10:19 AM on January 24, 2013 [11 favorites]

YES YES YES. Emphatically seconding KathrynT's advice above.

You'll find you have a better idea of how long certain things will take you after doing it this way for a little while, and suddenly it's a habit. But you have to WANT to do it.

I think it helps, paradoxically, to not build any extra time in there. If I'm going to be on time to work I have to be in the bathroom at 6:20 and not a minute after. Building in extra time makes you think "Oh, I can dawdle," and then you're late.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:47 AM on January 24, 2013

Oh gosh yes, seconding hellojed: get your clothes ready the night before. If you don't need to iron, just pick out what you're going to wear - including underwear and socks! - and put it on a chair or your dresser ready to slip into. Breakfast and coffee set up to go too is a big help I find. I like bircher meusli, because I can pull it straight from the fridge and into my tummy (via my mouth obv) with no groping for juice/milk etc. Basically remove any road blocks that slow you down in the morning.

But the thing that really struck me was your reference to anxiety. If it's anxiety causing you to stall, you'll need to address that. Can you spend some quiet time with a pen and paper (or an open text doc if that works better for you) asking yourself WHY you're late for work? What's your internal dialogue? Just keep asking yourself why, gently, until you uncover the root cause. If you do this, I've found it is only fruitful if I am writing (doing it in my head gets me nowhere) and I come back to it over a few days as more things pop up from my subconscious.

Once you know what's at the heart of the problem, you'll be able to address it rationally. Good luck!
posted by t0astie at 2:57 PM on January 24, 2013

This is a big issue for me for all things (doctor's appointments, football game kickoffs, etc.) I find that medication and therapy have been helpful, but it's an ongoing struggle. If that's how it is for you (particularly the "it's like this for everything" part,) don't feel like a crappy human being if the tips offered in the 50+ answers above this one don't seem to help. MeMail me if you'd like to commiserate or hear about accommodations, ADHD tips, etc.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 3:17 PM on January 24, 2013

ADHD meds help, but the real thing I do when I have no motivation is refuse to feed or water myself until I leave the house. A bad coffee addiction and no coffee in the house works too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:00 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's the kind of foible I can get away with because I've got skills that are in demand. If I were just a regular guy I'd have had to work it out by now or I'd be completely unemployable.

But you're not, and you're not. I'd say you're in a good position.

At this point, I definitely feel like it's holding me back from advancing. I haven't heard much about it from managers at my current job, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were held against me in private.

If I were you I'd find out if my perceptions were based on reality by talking with managers. It's possible your anxieties are based on nothing of consequence. I say this as someone who has very similar issues.

I'd like some help figuring out some strategies I can use to change this behavior.

First, find out if it's really a problem, and if it is, what specific expectations you are expected to meet. If not, stop worrying about it. Or just stop worrying about it without investigating whether it's a problem, unless it's brought to your attention by someone that it is. The goal should be to decrease your anxiety, not to be more attentive to what could be an imagined problem.

I don't perform well with work schedules that start very early. It limits my employment offers somewhat, but in my field it sometimes doesn't matter, depending on experience and skill level. When you can work according to your own schedule, you most likely work best, as long as you can eliminate the anxiety about it and don't blow off meetings (although meetings aren't necessarily productive, but participating regularly will decrease reasons for anxiety).

For me, an ADHD diagnosis helped immensely, but it also was the catalyst for a career change. Something to consider along those lines is that some people resist schedules but may in fact benefit by them, depending on the work. For someone like me, many careers are not good options. If the work is engaging, a regular schedule that starts around 10am works best, with a lot of latitude about how I manage my own workload. I don't always have that option, but it's becoming more and more important to me that I work when I am most productive.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:36 PM on January 24, 2013

I once set my work email to auto-send an email to a friend (who is a very motivated, discplined work-a-holic and would be SHOCKED to know I came to work late) saying "Hey friend, I came in to work an hour late today, lol." or something like that. It was set to auto-send at 10:00am every day if I didn't disable it, which I could only do from my work machine.

I can't remember the details of how I set it up, but it should be fairly easy to do. (In fact, I think I asked an Askme question about it at the time, which you might be able to find.)

Originally I planned to use an email that contained an embarrassing secret, but was convinced by mefites that this could backfire. Still, it's a way to increase the level of motivation.

I only had to do it for about three weeks before it became a habit to get in on time, and I've mostly stuck to it since.
posted by lollusc at 7:14 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you depressed? I've had jobs where I was always late, because I was depressed - I certainly didn't want to be early. I didn't want to leave the house. At all. I just didn't care about anything, and the mornings were the worst. Unfortunately I had to have a job to pay for rent and food. I didn't particularly care whether my coworkers resented me for being late at that point, because I figured they didn't like me anyway. So if you're generally really down, and anxious and unhappy, is that the problem?
posted by citron at 8:18 PM on January 24, 2013

If you're not needed at the office until later in the day -- and if that's the case, maybe you aren't as indispensable as you imagine -- then go in early (on time) but plan on doing nothing at first. Start your work day every day with an extended period of fucking around. Watch videos. Read the news. Eat your breakfast. Use the toilet. Nap if you can do it with no one seeing you. But do it all at work. Be visibly at work at 9:00.
posted by pracowity at 1:18 AM on January 25, 2013

I could have written this, down to most every detail. Left to my own devices, I usually sleep somewhere between 3 and 5 AM and wake up between 11 and noon. I think all the people shaming you are in the wrong, and that it's something more like delayed phase sleep disorder. I would recommend reading about that and seeing if it rings a bell. I think people don't understand that it's not that you're lazy or lack the necessary incentives to come in--it's actually the way your body works.

I have had times where I successfully forced myself to awaken much earlier than is natural for me, and the result was that I basically slept 6 or fewer hours per night, and was exhausted and unproductive for the first several hours of the day. Even though I was on time, the result was that I was getting less done, purely for appearances and others' convenience (it was a similar daily standup type of thing.) Now that I have a more flexible schedule, I do come in quite a bit later, but I come in, get a coffee, greet my coworkers and start working, and usually will immediately work for a several hour stretch without any distractions. (If you're familiar with the concept of flow, that's what I'm talking about, from the moment I sit down to work.)

I think the advice to talk to your manager is solid. I have spoken to mine, and while he's expressed frustration that I am often late to morning meetings (which I acknowledge is a problem), he otherwise doesn't have a problem with my hours (I generally work from 11:30 until 8:30 or 9.) You might also find, as I did, that s/he does have reasons for not promoting you, but that they are entirely different than the ones you think.
posted by !Jim at 12:13 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

For a while in my last job, I took a local bus that was pretty regular, enough so that I timed my mornings to leave the house at just the right time, so I wouldn't be idly waiting at the bus stop. But there were other routes that would get me to work, but a bit after the scheduled arrival time, so I had a fallback. I think you see where this is going.

I'd be moving in the morning, heading towards the door, but there were enough little things that slowed me down, and often they were optional events. Do I really need to check my email again? No, but I've got a few minutes, right?

Quite often, I'd be sprinting to the bus stop, because I shaved it too close. But when work was particularly unpleasant, I dawdled, and one morning I was 2 hours late. Why? Because I knew the times when I had to leave the house, but I was dragging my feet, always finding a new distraction, until I looked at the clock and though "oh shit, I missed the bus. No big deal, there'll be another one shortly."

My boss talked to me after that. Coming in slightly late was not an issue, but this was bad.

Work got better, and then I moved to a place where the bus only came once an hour. I'd walk to the bus, and because the walk was about a mile, I knew I couldn't just run and make the bus (though there were times I ran the last block). I told myself, "I'm not going to drive to the bus stop, that's silly." But there were days that I dawdled, and I drove. And some days, I missed that stop, so drove I tried to catch the bus at another stop, but sometimes I'd miss it all-together, so I drove to work. But I was never as late as before.

Now, I get to work by another route, and I am generally not shaving the mornings so close. I get my clothes and lunch together the night before, I eat breakfast at work, and my mornings are (relatively) calm. And I'm enjoying my work, which probably helps a lot.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:20 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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