The Simple Way to Prevent Procrastination in Others
Procrastination quickly becomes a bad habit. Why? Because the dread we have about a task is immediately relieved when we procrastinate the job. The relief is the immediate, and powerful reward.
The next time we think about the task (which may have become more difficult because of the first delay) we experience an even BIGGER relief when we procrastinate it again. And so the cycle escalates until a crisis occurs.
Once in awhile, fate (or others) will step in to rescue us, and so the pattern of procrastination is reinforced still more. “See?” our subconscious may tell us, “If we put things off long enough, magically, they go away! How cool is that?”
But we can interrupt that cycle in a powerful way so that the pattern is not established in the first place. How?
Change the reward structure. Start now = Easier job. Start later = Harder Job.
Offer a choice that is structured so that if one immediately gets to work the task is easier and if one delays the task, it gets more difficult. This structural change disrupts the old patterns so now, delaying action creates more stress instead of relief.
Example 1 with a child: “Janey, if you will do your piano right now, you don’t have to do your scales today. But if you wait until later, you will need to do your scales at least 3 times along with the rest of your lesson. What is your pick?”
Example 2 with an employee: “Pat, if you get that report in by today, you can leave the office 20 minutes early. Otherwise I will expect it tomorrow at the usual time.”
Example 3 with a spouse: “Darling, if you will start working on the laundry right now, I can help out. But later I have an errand to run and you’ll be on your own.”
The great thing about this arrangement is that even if the other person chooses to procrastinate, the reward cycle has STILL been disrupted and they are now feeling LESS relief by procrastinating. And that will serve to weaken the cycle eventually. Just remember, any time we are forming new patterns, we must take into account how long the old patterns have existed. Longer patterns= Longer change time.
Sometimes people will question, “But if I let my kid, spouse or employee off the hook just because they start early, doesn’t that teach them to be lazy?” The answer is that you are working on one habit/pattern at a time. Just focus on encouraging others to start promptly and then later, they can carry a heavier work load. But if we can temporarily lighten the task to encourage a new pattern, then we have done a very good thing indeed!
See my post on 4 Ways to Replace Procrastination with Persistence for useful self-motivation tips.