These days, every deadline seems to have a rush. So if procrastinators were driving you up the wall before, they've probably got you five seconds from mental explosion now. Why do they put you through such misery, and how do you cope?

1. They want to enjoy life.

Procrastinators aren't oblivious to job importance, and they don't always have hurting others on their agenda. But they can believe that feeling happy is just as important, too. So they go where the wind of feeling takes them, putting off tasks because they get too tempted by the moment.

How to fix it:

  • Present what they want to do as the positive, motivating carrot. For example, you might say, "Just 5 more files and then you're free to..."
  • Check in and offer redirection more frequently, but don't micromanage once they're back on track. Some of the redirection can come from good tech tools designed to keep people on task and give reminders.

2. They want to show you that they, too, have some power.

Ideally, the person you're dealing with will feel like they are on equal footing with you. But if this isn't the case and they don't feel comfortable expressing their displeasure verbally, they might use procrastination as a passive-aggressive way of asserting some dominance.

How to fix it:

  • Ask how they are feeling about the work and ask for their opinion on how they'd like to do the job.
  • Give them choices wherever you can.
  • Once they've made a choice, get out of the way and trust them to finish.

3. They are obsessed with perfection.

Perfectionist types sometimes put jobs off if they're not sure they can do to a T, afraid of the shame they'll experience if they fail.

How to fix it:

  • Admit times when you've made an error so the procrastinator can see it's OK to make mistakes.
  • As you discuss the project, acknowledge potential issues or tough areas. Reassure the procrastinator not only that it's fine if problems crop up, but that you and the procrastinator can figure out a solution to overcome the hurdles together.
  • Set yourself up so you can give more frequent feedback on smaller steps, as they likely won't stress as much with less to do and a shorter time to wait.

4. They're terrified of potential success.

Familiarity can be extremely comforting, and some people are painfully afraid of the change that will happen when they're recognized for good work. And even if they're not totally perfectionistic, they can have biases about their talents and struggle to be self-compassionate. They subsequently doubt and stress about their ability to meet additional challenges as things get harder or more higher stakes. They'd rather stay where they are, putting it all on the back burner or sticking with specific types of jobs that fit their self-concept, than discover their limit or that they couldn't hack it. It's not really that the procrastinator doesn't want to get ahead in these cases. It's just that their anxiety and inner critic overwhelm their desire.

How to fix it:

  • Pace larger projects more incrementally so they have time to process and adjust to each step.
  • Give lots of varied, smaller (but not necessarily less important) projects so they have lots of opportunities to win and reexamine their idea of what they can do.
  • Express confidence in them, helping them see how far they've already climbed.
  • Be a mentor. Have a frank discussion about their vision for themselves and any personal barriers that might hold them back.

5. They're scared of isolation.

People are hardwired to want to be part of the group. Evolutionarily speaking, this keeps us safer than if we were isolated and alone. So if a person doesn't have information or a skill, they might procrastinate because they don't want others to discover they are "deficient".

How to fix it:

  • Collaboratively create a game plan for the job with the person who is procrastinating. Then ask what you can do to help them achieve each step in the plan, whether it's offering training, resources or just a listening ear.
  • Casually tell them about when you were in similar situations and how you felt and handled them. Your empathy, demonstration of faith and vulnerability in sharing makes it more likely that they'll see you as an advocate or partner, and that they'll trust you enough to accept some guidance.

6. They're feeling down.

People who are feeling blue can have trouble seeing the meaning or purpose in what they're given to do. Since the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 300 million people experience depression around the world, it might be that the procrastinator needs joy, not more criticism about their work habits. Other mental health issues, such as bipolar and anxiety, can affect the desire to finish jobs, too.

How to fix it:

  • Be empathetic and try to connect with the procrastinator more personally to understand them. Sometimes that's all they need, to see that somebody is paying attention.
  • Point out your concerns along with your desire to see them succeed.
  • Refer them to a mental health professional or other good resources.
Published on: Jun 26, 2018