Making the Most of Timing Differences: Managing a Team of Procrastinators and Non-procrastinators

post from Mary Lamia:

At times, projects that
require teamwork can lead us to imagine we are back in middle

school doing a
group project where a couple of the group members tend to get things done at a
deadline, while the others tend to do things ahead of schedule. Those who
complete their part of the project early become anxious and then critical that others
have not done their part, even though there is still time before the project is
due. They may even be inclined to complete the project themselves because they
do not trust the others to do it or to pull it off. They may complain that they
have done all of the work or want the procrastinating group members to
withdraw. In such cases, the relationships among group members may erode.
Unfortunately, far reaching negative implications and assumptions are not
uncommon in such situations. Moreover, once the procrastinators pull everything
together as the deadline is looming, non-procrastinators may become resentful
that procrastinating team members always “get away with it,” especially if the
procrastinators are perceived as equally-valued in the organization or receive
accolades from management for their contributions.

Most human behavior can be
understood by recognizing the emotions that motivate it. The different ways in which people are motivated
to complete tasks is based on when
their emotions are activated and what activates
them. Procrastinators who consistently complete tasks on time—even if it’s at
the last moment—are motivated by emotions that are activated by a looming
deadline. They are deadline driven. I
refer to them as deadline driven in order to remove the stigma and recognize
procrastination as a valid motivational style. In contrast, people who are compelled
to take action right away are motivated by emotions that are triggered by tasks
themselves. I refer to them as task-driven.

In the workplace, people may
tend either to be acquiescent about motivational style differences or to become
frustrated about the way someone else gets things done. We generally interpret
the behavior of others according to our own standards, values, and way of doing
things. If you are task driven, the incubation period for the procrastinator is
time wasted. If you are a procrastinator, the constant urgency of a task-driven
person is time wasted as well. Where procrastinators tend to produce a finished
product at a deadline, task-driven people are likely to create a draft of their
work, modify it themselves, or assume a coworker on the project will make
modifications later. If completing a task is their primary goal, task-driven
people may believe it is done, when, in fact, it can be improved by further
work. Revisiting or reviewing what they have written will often lead
task-driven people to submit revised documents. These revisions will likely
annoy deadline-driven coworkers because those who procrastinate tend to
complete work in one draft.

Optimizing the
productivity of a team requires gaining an understanding of motivational style
differences, as well as learning ways to discuss conflicts with coworkers and
how to navigate through them. In employment settings, recognizing stylistic
differences in task completion could allow group members to strategize,
organize, and find creative solutions to handling project completion. Identifying
the motivational styles of various team members (or whether or not they have a
typical style) can prove to be an asset in terms of how work is structured.
Task driven people who tend to get things done ahead of time can be responsible
for first drafts, for example, and deadline-driven procrastinators can be
assigned the inclusion of details, compiling data, and the responsibility for
modifications at the end. Managers who involve their employees in weekly goal
assessment and performance check-ins, rather than only reviewing their work
performance once or twice a year, are taking both task‑completion styles into
consideration. High quality work that is on time is a consistent goal.

is no superior way of getting something done when managers evaluate employee and
teamwork performance based on the neutral standard that deadlines are never
missed and work quality reflects one’s best efforts. With this in mind, it is
irrelevant whether something is completed on the early side or at the deadline.
Emotions provide us with information and motivation to take action. However, in
interpersonal situations within the workplace where emotions speak to you,
their vague message can be misinterpreted and responded to in ways that disrupt
bonds we have with co-workers. Navigating through differences in task
completion, or anything else, may seem rather difficult at times. Nevertheless,
in the process of doing so it’s possible to learn a lot about oneself and
better understand others who approach things differently.

Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist,
psychoanalyst, and professor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She
is the author of five books, and she
blogs for Psychology
and Therapy Today websites.
Her current book is What
Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success