Do you spend time with a procrastinator? Here are some coping strategies.

Cindy JobsADHD In The Workplace, Health and Well-Being, Organization

I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t admit to procrastinating now and again. 

For some people, procrastination pays off, and things adequately work themselves out. For others, procrastination can be highly consequential.   

Either way, I know that spending time with individuals who routinely procrastinate can be very stressful on a relationship.

Procrastination manifests in many ways but generally falls into a few categories: lateness, inaction, and failure to follow through on commitments. Suppose you are on the receiving end of any of these categories. There may be a desire to “fix” the Procrastinator, assuming that the Procrastinator merely needs better systems and support. 

In actuality, procrastination has little to do with time management or the desire to act. According to Dr. Tim Pyshyl, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”

As detailed in the book “Procrastination,” PhDs Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen offer four stages of interacting with a procrastinator:

  1. Encouragement:  You believe with enough encouragement (“You’ve got this!”), the Procrastinator with “get it” and make progress. Trust me, if they could, they would.
  2. Disappointment:  Once it becomes apparent that encouragement isn’t working, disappointment in yourself and the Procrastinator follows. “If only they/I had tried harder.”
  3. Irritation: Following on the heels of disappointment comes irritation on both your part and the part of the Procrastinator. “You’re not trying” and “Get off my back” are common themes in the irritation stage.
  4. Standoff:  Neither side budges, both sides lose, and relationships are strained.

What can you do to support yourself and the Procrastinator?

  1. Realize their procrastination isn’t about you. The Procrastinator is not intentionally trying to make your life miserable. 
  2. Be open and honest. Living on the receiving end of procrastination can be frustrating. Letting the Procrastinator know, in a non-threatening way, how their actions affect you may go a long way to maintaining a healthy relationship.
  3. Understand there may be an underlying cause of procrastination. There is often a neurological reason that manifests in procrastination, like ADHD, traumatic brain injury, or executive dysfunction.
  4. Become a partner, not a rescuer. Offer non-judgemental assistance when appropriate. Procrastinators may not see options that seem obvious to others, like breaking big projects down into manageable tasks.
  5. Put the relationship first by separating the Procrastinator from the procrastinating action. Every Procrastinator I know has a bucket-full of amazing qualities that their procrastinating tendancies overshadows.

Looking for more resources on procrastination? I thought these were a great place to start.

NY Times: Why you procrastinate.

ADDitude Magazine: What stops me from starting?

Psychology Today: Clashing: Procrastinators living with non-procrastinators.

Cindy Jobs, PCAC, ACC

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