I’ve started this blog about six times and either abandoned those blogs as ‘drafts’ that remain unfinished or have deleted them, because this is a tough subject.
I will begin with a little background:
I’ve been married to a decent and kind-hearted man for 28+ years. He’s got an incredibly strong work ethic when it comes to his employment and he would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need without thinking about it.
He has one really big problem that seriously impacts me and our son, our home and pets. He is, at home, the “King of Procrastinators.”
Asking him to do something at home, to help out, is a waste of breath and time. At least once a week, usually many more times than that, we have a discussion about ‘helping out’ with tasks that I either cannot or should not be doing myself because of my disability.
The discussion usually sounds something like this…
Husband: “If you need me to help you, you have to tell me, ask me for help.”
Me: “Honey, you know there are things I’m not supposed to be doing, why do you have to be
asked every time they need to be done? Why can’t you just assume responsibility for
doing these things instead of making me ask you over and over again?”
Husband: “You know I forget and I’m not always paying attention to what you’re doing. Just
ask me to do it and I’ll take care of it.”
Me: “Okay, I’m not supposed to be bending or stooping and it’s very difficult for me to scoop
and/or empty the litter pans from my power chair. Can you please scoop the litter
boxes? They really need taken care of badly.”
Husband: “Ok. See how easy that was? Just ask me.”
The following day…
Me: “Honey, did you take care of the litter boxes yet?”
Husband: “No, I haven’t had a chance to get to them.”
Another day passes by…
Me: “Honey? Are you going to get to the litter boxes soon?”
Husband: “I said I’d do it.”
The next day, one of the cats has peed on the floor by the litter box because it’s so nasty he didn’t even want to go inside. I struggled, using a dust mop handle to manipulate the litter box close enough to my chair to hang out of my chair and unlatch the hood. I used the dust mop head to pull the ‘pooper scooper’ close enough so I could reach it, trying not to fall out of my chair on my face in the process. I wrangled the trash can into position so I could scoop right into it and proceeded to hang out of my chair, trying to pick the clumps and feces out of the box and get them into the trash can without making a bigger mess. After scooping the litter box clean, I tossed the hood back into position and used the dust mop handle to push the litter box back to its original position, with the scoop on top of the hood. I dragged the trash can from the doorway of the utility room (where this litter box is kept) and got some paper towels and Clorox spray to clean up the pee on the floor. I sprayed the puddle and tossed the paper towels on top of it. I used the handle of the dust mop again, to move the paper towels around. I scooped up the paper towels with the handle and deposited them in the trash can, then sprayed the spot again and used my Libman Green Mop to mop the floor.
Me: “Honey, don’t worry about cleaning the litter box in the utility room. I took care of it.”
Husband: “I told you I’d do it. I was going to do that this afternoon. If you’d just give me a
Okay, if there’s anything that pushes my buttons more than the procrastination itself, it blaming me for not giving him a chance to get a task done, when I’ve asked him three or four times over the course of a week, not to mention the fact that he walks past this litter box four times a day and can see, as well as I can, that it needs to be taken care of.
He does this about almost everything at home. When the dog needs to go out to do his business and I’m not able to get right up and do it, he’ll keep trying to convince “Kodi” to just wait, wait a little longer, lay down and hang on…
When it comes to taking care of the lawn, he sometimes doesn’t mow it for 2-3 weeks, even though it’s 8 or 10 inches deep and weeds are overtaking the sidewalk and planting bed. He will put it off saying “It’s too hot right now”… “It looks like it might rain”… “I think it’s supposed to be nicer tomorrow, I’ll do it then”… “I was thinking about doing it Tuesday night”, etc. By the time he does get around to doing it, it takes longer and is much harder on the lawn mower because it’s so thick and chokes the engine. It looks horrible when he’s finished because the trimmings are like a blanket over the lawn, turning brown and clumpy, left there until the next time he mows.
The last time he put it off, he’d waited nearly 3 weeks. There had been some beautiful days within those three weeks when he could have mowed. I was even tempted to roll out to the shed, get the weed whacker and do the trimming, which I’d done before, though it had caused problems for my power chair. When he finally mowed, a thunderstorm rolled through when he was halfway finished and he had to put everything away and wait until later in the day to drag everything back out so he could finish.
So, this brings me to today… I’ve encountered, in the past three and a half months, a number of folks who’ve proclaimed to me that they are procrastinators! These are people who’ve offered to ‘help’ me with the big project I’ve undertaken. One person actually said, “I want to help, will do whatever I can, but I’m a procrastinator, so don’t expect me to get things done when you want or need them.”
What the heck is that? So, why offer to help, if you’re going to offer a disclaimer right from the ‘get-go’ telling me that you’re undependable and I shouldn’t rely on you?
A friend of mine, who has the same work ethic and drive that I do, who also knows my husband, let me cry on her shoulder a couple of times over the course of the past three and a half months. After talking with her, I decided I had to find a way of coping with folks who procrastinate, at the very least, I needed to be able to cope better with my husband’s procrastination. I wanted to try to understand why people do this and whether they are aware of how their ‘inaction’ negatively impacts those around them.
I did some research and I have to say, I have very mixed feelings about what I learned.
Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For them procrastination is a lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one. And it cuts across all domains of their life. They don’t pay bills on time, they miss opportunities to buy tickets to concerts, they don’t cash gift certificates or checks, they file their income tax returns late, leave Christmas shopping until the last minute, etc.
It represents a profound problem of ‘self-regulation.’
Procrastination is not a problem of ‘time management’ or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time.
Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately, they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
Procrastinators actively look for distraction, particularly ones that don’t take a lot of commitment on their part. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.
There are big costs to procrastination. Health is one. Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students had such evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds and flu, more gastrointestinal problems. And they had insomnia. In addition, procrastination has a high cost to others as well as oneself; it shifts the burden of responsibility onto others, who become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.
Another resource gave suggestions for working with someone who procrastinates.
Procrastination is fear and avoidance. It inhibits action but pushes away the gnawing anxiety of starting, the tyranny of the empty page or the empty canvas.
Procrastination does not remove the stress and uncertainty of the thing we want to avoid. But it does buy time. We try to avoid what needs doing in the hopes that our future self will be better equipped to do it or in the hope that our little problem will resolve itself. If we acted on what we needed to do, even if nowhere near completion, we would cease to procrastinate.
Some things recommended to try, when working with people who procrastinate included:
Call them out. Procrastinators thrive on ambiguity and the conflict avoidance of others. It allows them to keep procrastinating. They are masters of stimulating sympathy. If a procrastinator knows you won’t say anything, they will keep putting off whatever they promised. Sometimes it helps to say, “I know you’re putting this off, but it absolutely has to get done.” And, mean it.
Keep the heat on. Find your lever. The secret about bad procrastinators is that they are the most focused and the most inclined to finish when they are in crisis mode. They will finish if they must, but sometimes it takes the focus created by crisis. If there are real consequences and real deadlines, they will finish at all costs. The trick is to gear them up into that state where they WILL finish. Every person has their lever. The social procrastinator might be motivated by the potential for public shame; the competitive procrastinator might be motivated by a challenge; the friendly procrastinator might be motivated by guilt. As long as your goals are noble and beneficial, don’t be afraid to apply your lever to keep the pressure on.
Verify and incent progress. Check on the progress of what you want done. The procrastinator will hate this, but they might have to admit they have not started, which shines a light on their procrastination and forces them to face something they’re actively trying to avoid. Ask to see what they have completed thus far and give them time to create something as they are likely to not have started at all.
Now for those mixed feelings….
I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel sorry for these folks, inconvenienced by and resentful toward them, but also insulted for them.
Sorry for these folks, that they are unable to manage their responsibilities and so fearful of failure that they create failure for themselves by self-sabotaging. They seem ‘stuck’ in neutral, never really going forward, just holding ground trying not to slip backwards.
Inconvenienced by and resentful of these folks, because their ‘issues’ impact my life and put more responsibility and stress on me, that I don’t need, that seriously compounds the symptoms of my disabilities. While I try hard to think of others and to be helpful and remove burdens from those I love and care about, these folks inflict the consequences of their inaction on me without thought or consideration.
(This is probably the most difficult issue my husband and I have faced during our long marriage. He seems to not care how his lack of action impacts my disability and life in general. He sees me struggle, but to preserve his sense of self, to keep himself from having to take responsibility for the difficulty his inaction causes, he accuses me of not giving him enough time to complete tasks, rather than admit how difficult he’s making life for me.)
I feel insulted for these folks because the ‘tips’ for how to work with a procrastinator suggest that they should be lied to, that deadlines should be given, but that they should be false deadlines, earlier than necessary, so the procrastinator can be ‘manipulated’ into being more responsible in meeting their obligations.
The tips suggest that they need strict supervision and constant correction and pushing to complete assigned tasks. It almost suggests that they should be treated like children. That seems quite insulting.
I came away from my research with no more understanding than I had before. If this is a maladaptive behavior and if, as one article suggested, the procrastinator can change this behavior if they truly want to, then I’m no closer to understanding why they continue this behavior when they know it causes them issues at work and within their relationships.
I honestly don’t want to have to ‘gear someone up’ so they will finish a task, trick them into doing what needs to be done. I can’t imagine that any adult would want someone treating them like a child, as if they are incompetent. It’s not my responsibility to manage the obligations of others.
I don’t feel I understand any better now, than I did before, how to cope with a procrastinator… so much for all that reading and research.
**This blog isn’t intended to offend, it is, like all my other blogs, an examination of a situation that I’m experiencing and an effort to try to better understand.