CHICAGO–Although it seems like something a manager might never get around to doing, Theodore Kinne has invested some time in studying ways to better manage employees who are procrastinators.
Kinne, a management strategist, wrote on strategy + business.com that approximately 20% of adults identify themselves as chronic procrastinators, habitually unable to perform tasks on time, even when there are serious consequences involved.
But there are seven steps that managers can take to better deal with such workers, according to Kinni.
Pointing to research done by DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari, he said researchers have identified is two kinds of procrastination: avoidance and arousal.
“Avoidance procrastination is fear-based; it is driven by the desire to duck a task,” wrote Kinne. “Arousal procrastination is thrill-based; it is driven by the desire to play chicken with deadlines. Although it’s easy to joke about procrastination, neither kind is a laughing matter for executives.”
“Managing procrastinators can be an extremely frustrating experience. If one in five employees isn’t doing what they are supposed to be doing, or can’t be relied upon to meet a deadline, it can wreak havoc on planning, productivity, team performance, and anything else that depends on synchronized activity or keeping to a schedule,” he continued.
So what’s a leader to do?
Kinne offered these tips that he said are “more akin to judo (the gentle way) than boxing when it comes to managing those who just can’t stop putting things off:
Know your procrastinators. “If your team is booting deadlines, it’s probably not likely that everyone is at fault. Identify the member who acts as a kind of perpetual brake.”
Keep deadlines short and hard. “Nothing enables procrastination more effectively than a distant or a nebulous deadline. As Mark Twain said, ‘Do not put off until tomorrow what can be put off till the day-after-tomorrow just as well.’ So, once you’ve identified us procrastinators, give us hard deadlines for our work. If the task ahead is a long-term one, break the work down into small, manageable pieces and assign deadlines for each one.”
Don’t pile on the work. “It sounds counterintuitive, but procrastinators can, in fact, handle lots of work. Just give it to us sequentially, with one assignment or task following another. Because if you dump several on us all at once and expect us to manage them all rationally, we are likely to find a lot of other really interesting stuff to do.”
Remove distractions. “Distractions, in their myriad forms, are the fuel of procrastination. Isolate procrastinators from distraction — shut off the office television, cancel the 2:00 pm ice cream break — and we’ll get our work done. If only because getting the work done allows us to get back to all the distractions we’re missing.”
Impose structure and accountability. “Procrastinators are always looking for camouflage, as well as excuses for not doing whatever we’re supposed to be doing. So, take away the hidey holes by making sure it’s clear who is supposed to be doing what, and by tracking accountability in the most public way possible.”
Play to strength. “Often, a challenge is the last thing that procrastinators want. So, when you can, assign us jobs that we know we can do. And when you can’t, explain why you’re confident that we can get the job done.”
Ask for help. “Procrastinators are human, too, and like most humans, we like to help other people. When you’ve got a job that absolutely, positively has to be done, ask for our help. Sometimes that’s all we’ll need to muster enough motivation to overcome our natural inertia.”