Procrastinating or Planning?

As a coach or a line manager you might find yourself working with someone who says they procrastinate. But what is procrastination really and how can you overcome it?


When supporting someone to manage procrastinating habits it is key to identify what procrastination means to them and what is actually putting them off working on a task.

Watch out for behaviours such as the following that will help you explore whether procrastination is really getting in the way of someone’s performance:

  1. “It can wait” – happens when an individual actively avoids completing a task… and there could be a variety of reasons for this. For example someone may avoid a task because it is unpleasant or because they do not derive pleasure from doing it. They might also avoid because they do not see any immediate gain from doing something (e.g. I can’t see how me filling this spreadsheet links to the customer being happy.)
  2. “I don’t want to be told when to do something” – someone might procrastinate because they want to complete tasks on their own terms rather than when given to them. So an individual might question why they should complete a task just because they are told they need to do it.
  3. “I love the excitement of submitting something at the last minute!” – a theme linked to procrastination whereby a person might be motivated by the last minute rush of completing a task. Getting it done just in time is more rewarding to them than having completed a task at an earlier stage.
  4. “If I don’t do it, someone else will” – a tactic that a person might use in the hope that by not completing a task someone else might do on their behalf. They might even engage in conversations where they make someone else feel sorry for them who then rescue them.
  5. “I have too much to do!” – this refers to over-commitment which is linked with a person’s inability to say no. These individuals might therefore take too much on and therefore have to delay tasks otherwise nothing would actually get done.

So what can you do to support either yourself or someone else who finds themselves procrastinating?

  • First identify whether this is genuinely procrastination – note that as per the areas above not everything that people label as procrastination is genuinely so (i.e. the person putting tasks off.) To do so, I ask someone to provide me with their definition of procrastination. Why do they think they are procrastinating? A response of ‘Cause I can’t bear the thought of starting on Task A’ is different to ‘I have too much on my plate right now’. Look for evidence of any planned delays which are a sign of prioritisation rather than procrastination (a lot of people get these confused!)
  • Ask the person to explain the task in more detail including the general thinking and reasoning around why they are delaying the task.
  • Focus clearly on people’s thinking patterns and ask them to write down any thoughts that are stopping them from starting a task. I would be careful to write down their statements verbatim. I then ask the person to write down some more positive statements and thoughts in relation to the task.
  • Following this activity I encourage the person to identify a couple of first steps, quick wins, that they can achieve in order to get them started with the task. This is followed with a discussion around what could keep them going with the task in order to prevent them from lapsing back.

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