What about NOW, Patty? Preserving Relationships with Procrastinators

“I’ll do it later.”

We’ve all heard those four seemingly innocuous words. In fact, you’ve probably uttered them more than once. You might use that phrase to acknowledge a request that you honestly intend to fulfill — later.

Others use the phrase unthinkingly, and it’s void of any substance. Procrastinating Patty, who keeps promising to complete that much-needed report you’ve requested more than once, says it much more than you’d like to hear. She has more than a little bit in common with that teenager who is promising to clean her room for the umpteenth time.

While you have some control over your teenaged kid by way of threatening loss of privileges and free time, you are more limited in the methods you can use to motivate someone at work to get that report done. “Clean your room or move out!” won’t fly at the clinic.

But you have to do something, right? Unfulfilled promises and missed deadlines are annoying and potentially harmful to that person, you, and the clinic.

Who Are These People, Anyway?

You might recognize procrastinators as:

  • Dawdling coworkers
  • Overcommitters — the people who say “yes” to everything
  • Disorganized, unstructured people
  • Decision-makers who drag their feet

So what drives these folks? Some of them procrastinate out of fear, some because they are addicted to the excitement, and others because they can’t be bothered to make a decision. Generally, all of these emotions are rooted in a lack of self-esteem.

Fearful Folks

They don’t want to disappoint you with poor results. They pressure themselves with “You have to” statements and try to be perfect. They resent and resist the authoritarian voices in the workplace, which in turn causes them more stress about being judged and possibly fired. This type of procrastinator is highly self-critical and rarely, if ever, acknowledges when he or she is doing something right.

Excitement Addicts

They need to their feel blood pumping and the adrenaline rush associated with a tight deadline. Cutting it close gives them a thrill.

Decision Avoiders

They don’t want to be held responsible one way or the other. They cite “not enough time” as a reason for avoidance. They defer the decision, and often never make one at all.

Lollygagging is lovely — when on a summer stroll or window shopping — but not when you are prepping for surgery or serving a waiting room full of people! When a co-worker habitually puts things off and constantly avoids responsibility, you are left to pick up the slack.

When she finally does show up to work, late, again, she’s slow to respond to emails, phone calls, and messages. You have to deal with excuses, socializing, web surfing, and clock watching, or long lunches and smoke breaks. Colleagues and employees with this mindset waste not only their time, but yours. It puts you at risk of losing clients — the people who ultimately pay the bills.

If it’s your boss that fails to commit and make decisions, it might result in more responsibility being added to your plate. Decision-avoider bosses don’t want to make waves, so they don’t provide direction to the team. Overcommitter bosses want to be nice and can’t refuse anyone. They promise to do things they don’t agree with or can’t get done, and never follow up.

How to Motivate the Unmotivated

You might think Patty is lazy or lacks pride in and dedication to her work. In reality, she might have too much on her plate. She could need your help prioritizing. Or she could need your guidance and mentoring. If it’s a confidence issue, the fix could be a pep talk to boost her confidence and get her back on track.

To break free from the tyranny of your co-worker’s or employee’s procrastination:

  • Clarify responsibilities. Unclear expectations can throw even the best employee off her game.
  • Help her get organized. This will keep everyone from scrambling to meet crisis-imposed deadlines.
  • Teach her to be punctual. If necessary, impose the “Three Strikes” rule with her: 1. Talk about the problem and what she must do to resolve it. 2. Talk about the problem again in 30 days. 3. Let her go.
  • Make sure there is a back-up plan for her assignments when you know she will be late.
  • Don’t nag. Seriously, who likes a nagger? Nagging will only cause resistance and contribute to the procrastination patterns.
  • Create challenge, excitement, and fun. This will really help the employee who is competent but not challenged.
  • Give options. When given clear options, rather than faced with demands and threats, employees willingly contribute and step it up a notch.

Bosses can’t be perfect. Recognize their weaknesses and give them additional support. To help your boss make a decision:

  • Stop pushing, and lower your level of enthusiasm. Make it easy for her to level with you. Probe with indirect questions.
  • Pay attention to evasive terminology. Make eye contact, and don’t interrupt.
  • Tap into her most compelling desire and tie it into your proposal.
  • Refine the content; don’t give her any more information than she needs to make the decision.
  • Present deadlines for specific tasks.
  • Request regular staff meetings. Review time-prioritized action items. Focus on how lack of productivity cuts into profit.
  • Point out the benefits of change.
  • Listen to what she is saying. She may be afraid to hurt your feelings.
  • Step up to the plate, whatever the reason for your boss’s incompetence. Claim the problem as your own.

No doubt — it’s not easy to work with the folks who just can’t seem to get ‘er done. By using some of the techniques described here, you will minimize the fallout of dealing with people who tend to piddle.

One thought on “What about NOW, Patty? Preserving Relationships with Procrastinators

  1. Hi Shawn!
    How timely this is! What about not being able to complete things on time due to either lack of time or being pulled away because someone needs help and not being able to get back on track….Our lead tech is supposed to be training new employees, who are no longer new employees, but gets pulled away by the doctors or other staff to help when we get busy and then can’t get back to training or completing her other paperwork that we’ve asked from her…This has been going on for some time now. The doctor wants more accountability from her for what has been completed and has asked for forms to be filled out and given to her to show what training has been done. The forms are not being filled out because she doesn’t have time to complete them. It’s becoming a cycle of failure…..What can I do to help us move forward?
    Thank you!

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