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Can Procrastinators Live Peacefully with Non-Procrastinators?

Understanding how other people get things done can improve your relationship with them.

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Sharing a home with another person may be difficult for a variety of reasons, but having different task-completion styles ranks high on the list of things that create conflict. Generally, procrastinators and non-procrastinators clash based on when something gets done because they each assign a certain value to their own sense of timing. Actually, there is no superior way of getting something done.

Nevertheless, task-driven non-procrastinators often don’t trust a deadline-driven procrastinating partner to complete something or to do a good job at the last minute. They also assume procrastinators reap the benefits of their own task-driven efficiency without having to help reduce the workload. Non-procrastinators may also assume a procrastinating partner does not care about them “enough” to get something done right away, and may take personally what he or she perceives as a lack of planning or a failure to make plans in advance.

On the other hand, deadline-driven procrastinators have a difficult time understanding the urgency of task-driven people, which to them seems impulsive, interferes with setting priorities, and compromises outcome. They may assume a task-driven partner is trying to make them feel guilty about not immediately participating in a task or is always too busy to interact. Life with a task-driven partner, according to many procrastinators, can best be characterized as a gigantic to-do list that has to be tackled immediately.

Even simple chores can interfere with a harmonious relationship between procrastinators and their non-procrastinating partners. For example, Ellen said she had reached her limit of doing most of the housework while chores seemed to go unnoticed by Dina. In frustration one evening, rather than do the dishes immediately after dinner as was her preference, Ellen announced to Dina that she was leaving the dishes for her to do. She then patiently waited until bedtime, all the while restraining her urge to clear the sink, before she finally asked, “I assume you are not doing the dishes tonight?” Annoyed by Ellen’s nudging, Dina wondered if for once in their 10 years of living together Ellen could just trust her and wait. Assuming a bit of logic would be useful at that point, she responded, “Why would I do them tonight when I can do them with tomorrow’s breakfast dishes?” This was unacceptable to Ellen who then cleared the sink because, she explained, “I worried about having huge insomnia if I went to bed with the kitchen in a mess.”

You may have concluded that Dina should have considered Ellen’s wishes and just taken a few minutes to wash the dishes. However, it is equally plausible you would think Ellen should have understood Dina’s way of doing things, get over it, and go to sleep. If deadline-driven procrastinators tend to delay, and task-driven non-procrastinators have a difficult time waiting, then they are bound to have conflict unless each partner understands the other’s motivational style and negotiates responsibilities with that in mind.

Generally, people are somewhat able to adapt their style in such situations. Nevertheless, what motivates you to get something done is difficult to alter at a basic emotional level. On a cognitive level, we can take the needs and values of others into consideration and even act upon them (that is, adapt our style in these situations to avoid conflict) when task-completion differences impact a partnership. In fact, avoidance of a negative emotion being triggered by an unhappy partner is often enough to motivate someone in Dina’s position to do the dishes sooner, or in Ellen’s position, to leave them alone. At the same time, anger may be triggered in someone, like Dina, for example, if she feels pressured to do the dishes when she’d rather wait until later and sees no negative consequences to her decision.

It does not seem to occur to those who are deadline driven that pleasurable relief for a task-driven non-procrastinator has to do with completing tasks any more than it occurs to task-driven person that a procrastinator is motivated by deadlines. However, you can better navigate through a relationship with a partner or housemate who has a divergent motivational style, as well as learn from them, if you are able to step back, evaluate what you feel, endure the discomfort of any emotion you might be experiencing, and refrain from shaming a partner in return.

In any situation that involves a relationship with another person, making assumptions about their behavior—and believing the conclusions you derive from those assumptions—usually leads to conflict because you’ll be wrong. Instead, let’s be interested and curious about what’s going on with someone who approaches the completion of tasks in ways that seem very alien to your own style. Essentially, when you intensely experience an emotion, be curious about what you are feeling before you jump to conclusions based on what you automatically and cognitively assign to it.

In interpersonal situations where emotions speak to you, their vague message can be misinterpreted and responded to in ways that disrupt a bond you have with another person. Navigating through differences in task completion, or anything else, may seem rather difficult at times. Try putting yourself into the head of someone who does things differently. You do not have to accept their way of doing things, but only consider their perspective. In the process of doing so it’s possible to learn a lot about yourself and better understand someone else who approaches the tasks in life differently. 

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