How to Effectively Deal With a Chronic Procrastinator

It helps to accept them as they are

Procrastination can impact not only the person doing it, but everyone around them. If it’s a co-worker who is constantly waiting until the last minute to do everything and stressing out their colleagues, it can create serious work problems. If it’s your best friend who waits until the day before plans need to be made to celebrate a birthday, or plan a girls’ getaway weekend, then it can strain the relationship.

Know that there is very little you can do to change how a procrastinator behaves, only in how you react toward them.

Read on to learn how to better handle the procrastinators in your life.

Don’t let others hold you back

“It rarely is possible to change someone else, so you need to learn to deal with another's procrastination by accepting it, but not letting it hold you back. To do that, learn to solve the problem for yourself, while keeping the option open for the other person to join you. You may find, when you get moving, the other person will, too,” said Tina B. Tessina, PhD, aka “Dr. Romance,” a psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.

Reasons for procrastination

Tessina said, “Procrastination is only one of the ways we stop ourselves from accomplishing what we want to do. In most cases, procrastination is a result of putting too much pressure on oneself, expecting perfection, or a negative outlook. Getting in your own way is all about how you relate to yourself. In addition to procrastination, there are many ways you can stop yourself from getting the most out of life - not enjoying what you have or have accomplished; not being able to get motivated, or finish what you begin; and having a negative focus, which leads to discouragement, anxiety, despair and even depression.”

How to handle it

Don’t criticize the person who is procrastinating.

Approach it from love and support, Tessina said. Don't say “You're lazy.” Or “You never get things done.” Instead say, “I love you, and I want to enjoy spending time with you. And I'm worried about you. What can I do to help?”

Tessina pointed out, “If you say this, you'd better mean it, and be willing hold the person's hand to get them through whatever they're putting off. Remember, if this were easy for that person, they'd be doing it already. To your loved one, this change feels beyond their ability, and so they're avoiding it. No one is trying to be unhealthy. They need help.”

“The best ways to support someone in being more organized and productive is to give positive reinforcement without sounding condescending or preachy; curb your own impatience if someone slips, and get people involved in helping,” she said.

First, take a look at your own judgmental attitude. You're not perfect, either, so don't throw stones. They'll bounce right back at you. Motivation comes from celebration and appreciation. Don't scrutinize everything your loved one does, and don't comment too often. Saying “I'm proud of you for your hard work” is good. People who change habits are always worried that they'll relapse, and that you'll be angry at them if they do. So, be positive and helpful, but don't make too big a deal out of it, she said.

“Asking them what support and encouragement they'd like is always a good idea. Your support is not so needed when things are going well, for example if the person is sticking to the diet and losing weight. Your loved one really needs the support when things are not going well, they're at a plateau, or they fell off the wagon. That's when they need to know you're with them,” she said.

“If your loved one simply isn't ready to change, analyze your own feelings: Look inside. Why are you so invested in the change? What if your loved one never changes? What if your worst fears come true? How are you going to survive it? You are not in control of anyone but you, so you have to decide what to do. If your husband is messy or a hoarder or lazy, and you find it unbearable, you may have to leave. Oddly enough, losing a relationship is one of the big motivators to change. Get support for yourself as you negotiate this problem,” Tessina said.

Ways to help

Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist in San Jose, Calif., said the best way to deal with a procrastinator is to give very specific assignments and deadlines.

“Problems arise from assignments and/or deadlines that are unclear and nagging or micromanaging. Whether at home or the office, give detailed instructions on what you want done and when it is due. Instead of tell you son to clean the kitchen today, tell him to load the dishwasher, wipe the counters, and empty the trash by 5 p.m. Then leave him alone until 5 p.m. Nagging only makes things worse. A true procrastinator will wait until just before the deadline to begin. So, if you really wanted the kitchen cleaned earlier, you should have said that. And if there is a consequence for doing the assignment late or not at all, this should be spelled out as well,” Martin said.

If you are a procrastinator, there are ways to change your behavior. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the task, such as thinking that it’s boring or difficult, focus on the positive aspects, such as learning new things, how fast it might actually take, etc., Martin said.

“Procrastinators also find it helpful to start with the most challenging task first and commit to a certain amount of time, such as 15 minutes, to help get them started. Rewarding yourself for beginning and completing tasks can also be motivating,” she said.

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