Mentoring a Procrastinator by LawCrossing


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Mentoring a Procrastinator
By Surajit Sharma

Alike other fields of work, it is quite common to find talented people procrastinating on legal jobs. Sometimes, it seems to be a conflict
between priorities, sometimes, just lack of interest, but whatever be the cause, procrastination kills a career and snuffs out talent every

If there was a term called ‘’career poison,’’ procrastination is        excuses to frustrate you. You end up being frustrated yourself
one of the most potent career poisons I have ever seen. It              if you push a procrastinator the hard way.
is frustrating to be in a position where you have to mentor a
procrastinator, for failure to handle things correctly can make         Continual Checking: Continually checking on the
or break his/her career, and sometimes your own career and              procrastinator’s progress just makes you somebody to hide
mental health is also affected drastically.                             from.

You need courage, not ‘’encouragement’’                                 Using ridicule, criticism, or threats: You may think that
                                                                        shaming the procrastinator publicly will make him or her take
Mentors have a tendency to resort to “encouragement”                    action. Although you may humiliate the person into some
when dealing with those under their guidance. Usually                   quick action, in the long run, he or she will only remember the
encouragement does provide positive results. However, with              indignity, not the positive outcome.
a procrastinator, the story is entirely different, and blunt
encouragement is not going to solve the situation.                      Doing the task yourself: Worst thing you can possibly do.
                                                                        You just perpetuate the problem and create a bigger mess of
Once you have identified a procrastinator, the normal reaction          things.
is to start offering reassurances and encouragement. You
believe that the procrastinator will find his or her own                Acting the smarter guy: Saying “I told you so” is one of the
motivations to get going. You are wrong.                                worst things you can do to a procrastinator who, for once, has
                                                                        done the right thing. The procrastinator already knows you are
Anybody in the grip of procrastination does not see your                right. Patting yourself on the back is like rubbing salt into his
encouragement as support but rather as an attempt to gain               or her wound.
control and force him to work. He or she will most often view
a mentor offering encouragement as being pushy and will                 What Works
reflexively start pushing back.

                                                                        Focus on the immediate: There are no universal solutions.
Understand that deep down inside them, many procrastinators
                                                                        However, two things are of the utmost importance. First, never
are afraid they may not be up to the task. When you assure
                                                                        forget your individual perspective; second, be flexible about
them of their abilities or intellect, they take you to be
                                                                        your strategy. When working with a procrastinator, focus only
another who is deceived by degrees. Encouragement fails on
                                                                        on “now” and never on the past or future.
procrastinators who believe they are undeserving, or are just
trying to shirk work by being sly.
                                                                        Establish clear limits, deadlines, and consequences. Involve
                                                                        the procrastinator in setting his or her work schedule, make
What Doesn’t Work
                                                                        the limits and consequences clear, and try to put everything
                                                                        into writing endorsed by the procrastinator. Then leave it up
Following strategies seem never to work with people who are
                                                                        to him or her to live up to the agreement. If the procrastinator
genuine procrastinators:
                                                                        is unwilling to participate, set conditions unilaterally and
                                                                        communicate them effectively, clarifying that he or she is
Pushing for work: Pushing for work, and asking them to ‘’just
                                                                        responsible for following through.
do it’’ rarely works with procrastinators. They will always find

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Set small intermediate goals. When creating the                          they would like to do rather than what they can do. Do not
procrastinator’s work schedule, set small intermediate goals.            give the procrastinator leeway to pursue unrealistic goals.
Procrastinators tend to concentrate on end-points and ignore
the steps needed to reach them.                                          Communicate your anger directly and dispassionately. If you
                                                                         are angry, communicate it directly, but don’t overdo it.
Respond immediately to successes and failures and move on.               Let procrastinators recognize they are more to you than their
Recognition or punishment should be immediate, and you                   performance. If you really desire to help a procrastinator,
should move on to the next step right away. Always imply                 let him or her know that you rate his or her other qualities
that you have forgotten the procrastinator’s successes or                besides productivity. Procrastinators often become depressed
failures in the past and that you are not concerned about                when they judge themselves solely on their productivity.
what will happen in the future. You are focused on what is
happening now and always will be as far as the procrastinator            Procrastinators can be great workers if they are shown the
is concerned.                                                            way, but if the mentor does not understand them, he or she
                                                                         will find procrastinators to be the most obstinate challenges.
Concretely outline tasks. Procrastinators are notorious for
being vague. They like unrealistic goals and think about what

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