Other people's procrastination is a manageable part of life


August 28, 1994|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

We easily overlook infrequent lapses of timeliness in others. It's no big "woop," as Linda Richman of "Saturday Night Live" fame would say. But when a loved one or co-worker with whom you're interdependent -- or worse, a boss, -- makes habitual procrastination a modus operandi, it becomes a big woop indeed.

"I get very frustrated," says Baltimore homemaker Judy Maberry, 34, describing how she feels when her husband -- whom she adores -- puts off doing something today that she thought he was going to do yesterday.

"I'm not perfect, either," says the full-time mother of two, "but I try to do what's important when it needs to be done. For example, I don't think you can put off things like paying bills, but it did take me a month to get around to sewing a button on a shirt."

Coping with habitual procrastination is tough going at times. Says Mrs. Maberry, "Sometimes I feel like screaming and pulling my hair out."

But there is hope. "First, it's important to remember the definition of self-defeating behavior," says Dr. James Murtha, who teaches a course on just such behaviors and is executive director of the Teaching and Learning Center at Harford Community College.

"It's only self-defeating if . . . the [procrastinator] feels they are paying some price for that behavior that's intolerable. You can look at someone's behavior and think it's self-defeating, but for that person, they may be willing to pay the price for that behavior. They don't perceive it as a problem."

Which is very often the case, says Dr. Murtha. So when a procrastinator exacts a price you are not willing to pay, what's a positive course of action to take?

Dr. Murtha suggests:

* Be assertive with that person. Point out the behavior that causes you difficulty and how it affects the procrastinator. State clearly and calmly the consequences if the procrastinator continues that behavior.

"The curious thing is the person who lives with the procrastinator in the home or at the office often is an enabler and not aware of it," says Dr. Murtha. Be it from fear of retribution or confrontation, the person affected by someone's procrastination may be dTC reluctant to provide the offender with feedback. Or perhaps the frustrated person doesn't point out the price paid for certain untimely actions.

* Provide positive reinforcement immediately when the procrastinator does not put something off. "Give 'em an 'attaboy.' " It can be hoped the person eventually will get a bigger payoff from the positive comments than the harangue or pouting that might follow an act of procrastination.

* Anticipate the procrastinator's behavior. Make a plan if the procrastinator doesn't do what's expected on time. "If you have a plan to enact, your emotions won't take over. You won't feel helpless, out of control," Dr. Murtha says. "If after doing all these things, you're still not effective, you're still paying a price you're not willing to pay, you have to reassess whether you want to be in that environment."

Ann Savell, a time-management lecturer based in Birmingham, Mich., teaches a seminar called "Getting Things Done" for corporations and other institutions. She recommends advice for

those who simply can't change their environment.

In the workplace, even with a procrastinating boss, she advises: "Tell the person you understand it is their style and works for them, but that it makes you feel stressed." Then she says to consider your alternatives to dealing with the problem. "In any difficult behaviorial situation you can either avoid the behavior -- don't buy into it, for example -- alter it, preferably with positive reinforcement, or just accept it if you're in a situation you can't get out of."

Make yourself stronger as you live with the situation, Ms. Savell says. Take some therapy or confide your feelings to a friend. Do healthy things that reduce your stress level. "Remind yourself this person's crisis is not your crisis."


Have you developed a time-saving technique you think could help others? We'd like to hear about it. We will share reader tips and offer some solutions to your professional, home or leisure time-management problems. Please leave your name, city of residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.


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