How to Live With a Procrastinator

Young couple talking in their living room.Young couple talking in their living room.

Procrastination can be a stressful habit, both for the person who puts things off and for the partner or family members who find themselves having to pick up the pieces. If you live with a procrastinator, you’ve likely found yourself having to nag them repeatedly with little effect, or feeling like you have to do everything yourself. If it's any comfort, you’re not alone. The Association for Psychological Science reports that as many as 20 percent of people could be chronic procrastinators. If one of them is in your household, don't put off dealing with the problem.

Understand Their Motives

Procrastinators don’t put things off because they’re just being lazy or have time management problems. In an interview with Psychology Today, psychologist Hara Estroff Marano and procrastination expert Joseph Ferrari identified procrastinators as falling into three categories: those who enjoy the rush of having their back to the wall, those who vacillate between their choices until time runs out, and those who avoid tasks due to fear and anxiety. Understanding which category your procrastinator falls into will help you find more effective ways to help her.

Don’t Be Critical

Although it might be tempting to point out how your partner’s or family member’s procrastination is negatively affecting him and you, avoid the urge to criticize. Many procrastinators prefer a calm environment in which they have autonomy, Offra Gerstein writes on her website Relationship Matters. Therefore, criticism is very likely to backfire, and may even result in an argument. Remember, Gerstein says, with procrastinators, the more you try to force them to do something, the less likely they are to do it. Stay calm, and save yourself the frustration.

Decide Whether It’s Urgent

One of the most difficult things about living with a procrastinator is having no idea if or when a task will be completed. This often leads to emphasizing that the task you’re giving the procrastinator is “really important,” in the hope that those words will spur them to immediate action. Unfortunately, says Brown University psychiatry professor Scott Haltzman, some procrastinators avoid completing tasks because they believe the other person deems everything urgent. Haltzman suggests deciding whether the task you need completed really needs to be done right away. If it doesn’t, it’s OK to tell the procrastinator that he has some time to complete it.

Work Around Them

For most people, patience can only be maintained for so long. Instead of waiting until you’ve reached the end of your rope, plan ahead for their procrastination, suggests Gerstein. If you need her to do something around the house, ask -- and decide how long you’re willing to wait. When the time is up, if it isn't done, call someone else who can do it or do it yourself. If your procrastinator asks why you didn’t wait for her, simply tell her you were respecting her busy schedule.

Develop a Plan Together

Most, if not all, procrastinators are well aware that they have a bad habit. Find out if your partner or family member would be willing to work with you to overcome this challenge in your relationship. If he is, try developing a plan to help him stop procrastinating. Business Insider writer Emily Co suggests a rewards system. Encourage the procrastinator to do something he is dreading, and then follow it up with a reward for being successful. Co suggests getting him to just start somewhere, even if the task ultimately completed is small.

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About the Author

A New York native, Carrie Stemke is an avid writer, editor and traveler whose work has covered many different topics. She has had a lifelong fascination with and love of psychology, and hold's a bachelor's degree in the subject. Her psychology research articles have been published in Personality and Individual Differences and in Modern Psychological Studies.

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