5 Reasons People Put Things Off Until the Last Minute
Have you wondered why everything has to be such a fire drill? Much of it has to do with the sense of urgency (or lack thereof) of your colleagues that are working on the same project. Below are some reasons why people put things off to the last minute and ways you can keep your project at the top of their list.
“Who’s screaming for this?” asked the CTO, somewhat indignant.
“Nobody is screaming for it…yet,” I replied.
“Then what’s the big deal?” he asked. “If nobody is screaming for it, we’ll get around to it when we get around to it,” he said with a tone of finality.
Argh! That conversation happened each time I met with this guy to talk about his department’s deliverable for the project, per the project plan we had all agreed to a number of weeks prior.
He had been with company since its inception and had some type of amnesty from having to follow normal business rules like the rest of us. I had a hair-pulling, frustrating experience every time I set foot into his office.
If somebody wasn’t screaming for it, he wouldn’t give it any attention whatsoever; that’s the way he viewed the world. Only when a client turned up the heat and complained to the CEO or President would he all of a sudden get motivated to save the day.
Truth be known, most people operate this way. They probably are not as blatant as this CTO was, but they wait to the last minute before doing anything. It’s only until static and noise begins to surround them because they are late delivering their part of the project that they will begin to engage.
Why Do People Put Things Off Until the Last Minute?
This type of behavior has deep roots, but the reasons are most likely not deliberate or conscious. Below are a few ideas for your consideration:
- They’re Busy: This is an easy one to understand and very common: they may just be busy and there’s nothing more to it than they have more on their plate than they can handle.This happens over time, like the heat gradually being turned up on a frog in a pot of water. The heat increases so gradually the frog doesn’t even notice it. Before long, the water is boiling before the frog even jumps out!
Project team members often end up the same way. When they start with the company they have next to nothing to do. In time, their responsibilities grow. One thing after another is added to their already long list of responsibilities and before you know it they are boiling in their own stew of busy-ness without even knowing it. That’s why they put your requests off to the last minute.
- They Feel as if They Work Best Under Pressure: Notice the emphasis on they feel. They are the only ones that feel this way. Ask anyone else on the team and they won’t agree so readily.This team member reasons procrastination is actually good, as it really gets their adrenaline going when they feel the pressure of a looming deadline. This is when they do their best work, come up with their best ideas, and work most efficiently. Don’t believe it for a minute!
- They Are Not Organized: Another cause for why people put things off to the last minute is that they are not organized. You see all the trappings of disorganization when you walk into their office or pass by their cubicle.Post-it notes are not limited to a corkboard; they are on cabinets, walls, the door, computer monitor and desk. Stacks of paper are piled everywhere. There is a half-assembled hard drive and the phone they ordered still sitting in the corner.
Sure, they say they know where everything is, but don’t you believe it! If that’s how their office looks, can you imagine how their computer desktop looks? People put things off because they forget they need to do it…until the last minute.
- Their Major in School Was Drama: Sure, they may be working in the corporate environment now, but what they really majored in college was drama. They miss the old days of people over-reacting, running around frantically, and being emotionally upset.The only problem is that they try and recreate this environment while you are trying to manage your project. This was our CTO’s problem. He thrived on all the drama that ensued when items were left until the last minute.
- They are Passive-Aggressive: This is the most insidious reason why people put things off until the last minute, and arguably the most deliberate.For whatever reason, they may not agree with your leadership, the project, what they’ve been asked to do, or a myriad other things. Rather than bring their issue out into the open, they deliberately undermine or even sabotage a project. I’ve worked with my share over the years and this is a potentially volatile type of person.
Can You Overcome People Putting Things Off Until the Last Minute?
What can you do as a project manager that could mitigate the issues caused by those who like to put things off until the last minute? For one, you can set real early dates.
“C’mon,” you may say. “That’s the oldest trick in the book. Tell people something is due with an artificially early date so that when they miss it, there’s still time to get the work done. Who doesn’t know that?”
That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about real (as in, not fake), early (as in, when it needs to be done), and dates (as in, dates). Give yourself some breathing room to put the project on the shelf and let everyone relax a bit. The real end of the project can be a week or two before it has to be delivered, and that’s perfectly fine and a perfectly real date.
Everyone will appreciate your ongoing sense of urgency. Plus, you’ll appreciate the little bit of extra time at the end of the project to fix those issues that inevitably will creep up.
Next, encourage everyone to change their thinking about who they are working for. Rather than be concerned with which squeaky wheel needs the oil, as was our CTO, focus on the fact that, out of respect for the team everyone should stay on top of their project responsibilities.
Transcend the need to finish work on time because of the client, although that really should be a pretty good motivator itself. Rather, finish the work on time because your team counts on you. You show your respect for them, and you have a feeling of pride and accomplishment for getting another great, collaborative project done.
Unfortunately, some team members may have very little respect for the client due to what they perceive as unreasonable demands. The client is always wanting something more than the team can deliver. If they can’t bring themselves to getting something done on time for the client, then hopefully they’ll be able to get it together for the sake of the team.
Now, we can’t say this would happen in your case, but here’s what could happen if you continue to not deliver on time: enough people complained about the tardy CTO that eventually he was moved over to special projects. For those not familiar with what that is all about, it means the company still wants you around for your legacy knowledge or unique skill sets, but they also need you to get out of the way of those who are getting it done.
Everything changed as soon as this guy was out of the way. The director from the department stepped up and took over day-to-day operations. Fortunately, this new person had not taken any Drama in college. He thoughtfully committed to what he could do and respectfully renegotiated new time frames for what he knew would not be possible.
The days of “who’s screaming for this” were replaced with “can you call the client and let them know we’re done.” This even left a bit of time for the rest of us to take some drama classes!
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