Blog Post

Procrastinators and Planners, Unite For a Better Work Experience

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

I’m a procrastinator, through and through. My most significant feat as such was as an undergraduate student, when I went to the library at 6:00 pm to start research on a paper. But, I turned it in at 9:00 am the next morning and got an A—gold star for procrastinators everywhere.

For many employees, procrastination delivers results and they see no need to change their ways. Planners have different management styles as leaders, and as employees, planners have different work ethics. As students, this group of individuals would have written this same paper in a different fashion, dutifully dedicating a little time every day to chip away at the assignment. At work, these are the employees with daily to-do lists and highly organized calendars. For them, this works.

Most People Will Tell You Not to Procrastinate

However, as an inveterate procrastinator, I can tell you that there have been so many tasks I avoided altogether because the need for the assignment simply went away before the deadline. Consider this scenario:

Manager on Monday: "We need a breakdown of all company turnover sorted by race, gender, department, and length of service for 2020! We need it for a big meeting on Friday!"

Manager on Tuesday: "We don’t need the department. Can you change that to age?"

Manager on Thursday: "Hey, can you add in location as well?"

Manager on Friday morning: "The meeting has been postponed. We need the full year’s worth of data, so let’s wait until January."

Eager to start the project as soon as possible, a planner would be pulling their hair out because they’ve already done the project four different ways and had to trash it every time—and will have to start over again in January. But me? I know how long it takes to do such a report, and I wouldn’t have started it yet until Friday morning anyway.

On the other hand, as any planner can tell you, the following has happened as well:

Manager on Monday: "We need a breakdown of all turnover by race, gender, department, and length of service for 2020! By Friday!"

Manager on Tuesday: "Where’s that report? I need it now! What do you mean we don’t have a department listed in the HR system?"

So, what happens when a planner and a procrastinator are tasked with working on this report together, or have to execute any other project jointly? How do these types of individuals work together effectively when their methods are so at odds?

Here are five things both sides should keep in mind:

1) Past Performance Is the Best Indicator of Future Performance

I don’t say this to be flippant. It’s a reality. If your procrastinating employee has met deadlines in the past, then take a deep breath: she’ll get it done.

2) For Employees That Plan: Clarify How a Different Work Style Affects You

If your procrastinating manager is always giving you something to do last minute, that can be very stressful for a planner. Sit down and have a conversation about how this affects you, but don’t make it about your manager and their bad procrastination habit. Say: "In the future, I need five days' notice for projects like this because I want to execute this well and that’s the minimum amount of time I need to plan it, outline it, etc." It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially if you can demonstrate how quality can suffer if you have to rush.

3) For Managers that Plan: Provide Realistic Deadlines

Let’s say you’re a planner and have to give a PowerPoint presentation on the 16th. You want time to review it, make changes, practice giving the presentation, and send a copy to attendees so they have time to review it. In this scenario, don’t tell your colleague her deadline for pulling together the relevant data is the 15th. Build your timeline into the deadline, and communicate why you’re doing so to your colleagues. Understanding your process makes fellow employees more likely to respect it.

4) For Managers That Procrastinate: Take Deadlines Seriously

If you’re the type of manager that doesn’t look at projects for at least a week after receiving them, your procrastinating employees are likely to catch on, take advantage and feed this habit. If you set a deadline, be it near or far in the future, and you expect your employees to meet it, do your part and review their work promptly. It’ll keep your procrastinators from delaying their work, and make your planners feel validated for staying ahead of the game.

5) For Employees That Procrastinate: Accept That Planners Find Planning Important

Your manager is your manager and if they like things done early, then early is your new deadline. If you struggle to understand why they want you to start a report immediately when it isn’t due for three weeks, approach the report from a more strategic standpoint than you normally would.

Maybe they want you to just crunch some numbers—maybe they want you to crunch them quickly, and then spend the rest of the time considering how to improve them. Having extra time to complete a task isn’t a bad thing. It can be an opportunity to strengthen your existing skills, such as creating those charts you’ve plotted many times, while developing new ones, like thinking critically about the state of the business.

Collaborating In Spite of Differing Work Styles

Everyone has a unique approach to work—we all do things a little differently. The most important thing, however, is recognizing those differences and communicating with each other if work styles ever clash. What ultimately matters most is that employees’ work is done on time and well.

Suzanne Lucas’ contributes a monthly column to ReWork and pens our Dear ReWorker series. For additional insight from Suzanne, click here.

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