How to Work with a Chronic Procrastinator (Even if It’s You!)

Researchers believe one out of every five people in the U.S. is a chronic procrastinator. Chronic procrastination is so common that if you’re not afflicted yourself, chances are good that you work with at least one or more procrastinators.

But while virtually everyone puts off tasks now and then that have little to no impact, the person who constantly is running into deadlines can cause a drop in productivity throughout your organization. A chronic procrastinator habitually delays important tasks, even when he or she knows there will be consequences. If left unchecked, procrastination can creep into your company culture with disastrous effects.

While everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator. Procrastination is more than just waiting or delaying, it is a decision to not act. And, like most bad behavior, it comes with rationalizations, such as “I work better under pressure” or “I’m still gathering information on that before I make a decision.”

Procrastination is often linked with indecision. While no one would complain about someone doing prudent research, how much time and thought really needs to be invested before making a decision? Some individuals struggle with stopping when they’ve gathered a reasonable amount of information—causing them to be indecisive or delay taking any action at all.

Furthermore, some procrastinators have a streak of perfectionism in them which makes them unwilling to let go of a project because they’re stuck in minor details.

How to work with a procrastinator when you’re not

If you’re one of those “get it done” kind of people, working with a procrastinator is like getting dental work done without Novocain—it’s painful! You just can’t understand the procrastinator’s penchant for stalling, and just admonishing them to get started falls on deaf ears. So how do you help a procrastinator without going insane? The first thing you need to do is figure out the causes of the delay.

  1. Lack of Interest: If your priorities and theirs do not match, explain to them why this is important to you and what the consequences are in not doing it.
  2. Lack of Time: When they typically underestimate how long something will take, and then end up with incomplete work, teach them “back-timing.”  That’s the process of going backwards from the final deadline through all the steps until reaching the start date.
  3. Need to be Flawless: If they delay because they aren’t sure they can produce a good enough result, evaluate the possible outcomes and consequences of not getting it done using a “What if …?” technique.
  4. Vagueness: Encourage them to seek clarification from those involved when they aren’t sure what is expected from them.
  5. The Unknown: They fear new things and this risk factor causes avoidance. Recall things in the past that they accomplished, reminding them that conquering something new can also be stimulating and rewarding.
  6. Inadequate Work Habits: To limit their multitasking habits, you can remove distractions. Keep the children out of the way or handle phone calls so that they can focus.

Now that you know the reason and can work on overcoming that challenge, here are some other things you can try to do to help:

  • Relieve pressure by setting up false deadlines, moving up the date or time their part of the project is due. Also, make sure everything isn’t due at the same time, reducing the urgency.
  • Communicate the consequences of a delay. (This might also help you realize that consequences aren’t dire.)
  • Reward effort and completion of goals with subsequent free time.
  • If all else fails, hire someone to take over the job or assist the procrastinator. It’s more difficult for the procrastinator to ignore a task if someone else is present. However, if you’re hiring outside help for something this person is fully capable of doing, perhaps disciplinary actions may be needed.

How you can stop being a chronic procrastinator

When you’re the procrastinator, first thing you must do is admit that you have a problem. Overcoming this behavior starts with awareness and some serious self-auditing. Think about what causes you to procrastinate like in the list above. Then, try the following:

  • Focus on simple self-regulation skills. Start by simply putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak. It’s the little victories that count and give procrastinators like you the fuel to kick the habit. When it comes to self-regulation, just showing up is half the battle.
  • Find a time management system that works for you. One that doesn’t add to your stress, but takes it away. The beauty of this is that there are numerous systems out there that almost universally work for somebody. The trick is to find yours. Gigantic to-do lists or minute-by-minute schedules tend to increase stress because just looking at them seems overwhelming. Instead, make a manageable list with built-in flexibility that breaks down big projects into smaller pieces.
  • Put deadlines on your calendar for both the completed project and the smaller pieces and look at it every day. Give yourself enough time to do each piece within the deadline so you don’t overwhelm yourself by having 10 things due on the same day.

While procrastination is extremely common, it can definitely take its toll on workplace productivity. Though frequently viewed as a tendency to be lazy or dawdling, chronic procrastination is not a time management issue. It can, however, be a serious problem and takes real effort to correct.


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