15 Alternatives to Nagging

Photo: Peter Gene

If everyone did what they are supposed to do, then there would be no need for prompts, reminders, nudges, or nagging. But we all have different priorities, workloads, and understandings of what we think is a normal timeline from request to deadline. If you find yourself constantly giving someone else an extra push to get things done, consider these alternatives. (See also: 25 Ways to Communicate Better Today)

1. Give a Lesson

Children, teenagers, and even adults may not have the capabilities to complete a project, chore, or particularly technical task. But instead of asking for help or telling you what needs explaining, they remain silent and don't take action. Some may be unable to pinpoint and articulate what type of instruction or information could be useful. Others may be hesitant to admit lack of knowledge.

Providing a hands-on lesson is one way to enable your child, teen, or grown-up friend to do something new, important, and urgent. You can also offer general instruction, encouraging questions and experimentation, and give advice as needed.

2. Choose One Thing

If the person who should handle your requests has a zillion to-do items, then she may feel overwhelmed and be unable to respond quickly.

Realize that asking for everything you need to be done within a short period of time usually is not a reasonable option. Consider all of your requests as well as those from others, including teachers, coaches, friends, and bosses.

Determine which task is most important and time-sensitive. Then, establish and communicate your priority. Don’t ask for anything else until this one thing is finished.

3. Focus on the Goal, Not the Method

Your colleague wants the same things you do, but hasn’t taken the steps you think are needed to accomplish your shared goal. The reason for her inaction may be your insistence that certain tasks are required to achieve a desired outcome, although alternate methods could work just as well.

Talk about ways to get what you both want, including techniques that may be easier and more convenient for your co-worker. Stay focused on the goal, but be willing to negotiate the means to achieving results.

4. Break It Down

You think a friend has the capability to do whatever you've requested, but the agreed-upon project remains undone. Your request may be complex, requiring significant planning, resource gathering, and hours of executing multiple tasks, not a simple one-step item.

If just one or two of these tasks require special expertise or brawn, break down the project. Ask for help with steps that you can not handle yourself.

5. Hire Someone

You may think that someone has a particular skill or piece of equipment along with willingness to help with your project, but her lack of progress means that something is wrong. Consider that she may feel ill-equipped to handle your request. Hire a professional who can fulfill your needs according to your timeline and quality requirements.

6. Get Resources Needed

Many people are eager to undertake a new challenge. Later, they realize how difficult it is to accomplish something outside of their regular routines. Roadblocks may be lack of gear, knowledge, or time. To move things forward, help them get whatever resources are needed.

7. Be Patient

Even though a certain person has not yet finished an assignment, you may not need to keep asking in order to get her attention. Just because she responds slowly doesn't mean that your request is not on her radar.

The challenges in this scenario include:

  1. Understanding that silence is not the same as inaction
  2. Discerning whether the person needs more time or whether she is stalling
  3. Determining and giving enough of a lead time to get things accomplished
  4. Knowing when to ask for an update and when to pursue another course of action

If you develop a professional or personal relationship with someone who does not need multiple requests, be patient and respect her timing.

8. Do It Together

Rather than asking a co-worker, friend, or fellow volunteer to complete a project in isolation, work together. Consider using this approach:

  • Set aside a specific date, time, and place to start and finish the project
  • Identify and remove any obstacles to successful completion before your get-together
  • Bring snacks and drinks
  • While you work, learn what motivates, inspires, encourages, discourages, frustrates, and inspires her
  • Deal with concerns and answer questions as you work through the project
  • Celebrate after the project is complete

9. Do the Legwork

You may need someone to make a decision, complete a form, approve a payment, or take an action that you are not authorized to do. Instead of nagging them to do multiple tasks leading up to the critical one, handle the behind-the-scenes duties.

For example, you might present all the relevant information needed to make a purchase decision, enter information that you have already, or confirm that an invoice is accurate. Explain the background research and ask for the single action needed to complete the process.

10. Let Consequences Happen

If you are a parent, you nag your child (or the child feels as if you are nagging) because you can clearly see the consequences of the child’s inertia whereas your child doesn’t seem to understand what could happen as the result of her negligence.

A great way for a child to learn about consequences is to experience them firsthand. However, drawbacks to this approach include:

  1. The long-term nature of consequences prevent your child from experiencing negative impact within a reasonable time frame
  2. Other people hold you accountable for your child’s actions, so you experience consequences, not your child
  3. The consequences seem, well, inconsequential to her despite being monumental to you

Still, sometimes the best thing to do instead of nagging is to let your child experience the consequences of her actions. For example, if she doesn’t remember to do her homework or she does the homework but doesn’t turn it in, then let her get the bad grade or explain to her teacher why she is turning in things late. Many children quickly figure out a way to get things done without parental prodding when they are held accountable.

11. Show Appreciation Rather Than Annoyance

Sometimes a person doesn't do a certain thing because she feels that no matter what she does, you won’t be satisfied. Worse, she may think that you’ll demand more if she complies with your wishes.

Tell her you appreciate what she has have done in the past. Name specific actions that you noticed. Don't manipulate her to get what you want but express genuine gratitude for her efforts, talents, and successes.

If she feels appreciated and not pressured (and you readily accept "no" in reply to your requests), her positive responses are likely to reflect true interest in and commitment to your projects, needs, etc. and not just a way to quiet you for a while.

12. Let It Go

Sometimes, you realize that whatever is critical to you just isn’t important to the other person. Let go of your quest to get someone else to take action.

13. Be Cheery

The negative aspect of nagging often stifles motivation and cooperation. Infuse your request with humor and cheer so that others really want to respond positively.

14. Do It Yourself

If the person who has claimed responsibility for a task simply isn’t getting it done, then it's possible that this person is a perfectionist about certain things. Rather than compromise on quality and thoroughness, she delays the project until there is plenty of time to tackle the assignment. The problem arises when days and weeks pass, and no progress has been made.

In these situations, rather than feeling let down, do it yourself. Your techniques may deviate from the perfection envisioned by your co-worker, friend, etc. but are preferable to leaving the task undone.

15. Work With People Who Don’t Require Nagging

There are people who do what they are supposed to without being nagged. They schedule their time and prioritize their to-do lists in a way that allows them to get important things done.

If you work with responsible and responsive people, plus you have mutually agreed-upon goals and approaches to getting things done, then nagging is unnecessary.

There may be rare occasions in which you need to ask such a person to complete a task or remember to meet a specific deadline. In these cases, though, the other person takes your prompt as a positive reminder of a commitment, apologizes for not dealing with the problem, quickly takes care of the issue, and appreciates your nudge.

You may be responsible for getting your friends, family members, children, coworkers, employees, and even bosses to complete certain tasks. Do you have special techniques for getting things done?

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15 Alternatives to Nagging

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Guest's picture

Good article!

One other thing that helps avoid nagging entirely is to talk about problems before they happen.

That way when nagging happens, it's more of a reminder than a nag :)

Julie Rains's picture

Perfect -- getting the agreement upfront is great, and perhaps working out the details, especially those that you anticipate to be a problem based on experience. Then you can avoid the clashes about expectations and just "remind" as you mentioned.

Meg Favreau's picture

I've been working on some projects that make this very timely for me. Even if people are willing to help you with something, I think that "no one will work on your project as hard as you" is a really helpful reminder.

Julie Rains's picture

And no one else has your vision, I might guess! I find that people either buy in and have time or they don't, nagging usually doesn't move things forward.

Guest's picture

I'd like to add a plug for timely versus delayed reminders: a pleasant, gentle reminder at the time when a chore-habit should be occurring rather than after the fact.


"I see you're done eating and I bet you're ready to go play. Would you please bring your dishes to the kitchen when you leave the table?"

gets the motions of the intended habit going at the time when you want it to be happening.

"Stop playing, and come back here and clear your dishes from the table."

tries to insert the habit into the wrong activity (playing) rather than the one you want it linked to (eating).

If you are forgetting a chore at the same time your spouse/child is forgetting a chore, clearly it is an easy chore to forget, and you need to empathize with the difficulty of remembering it at the right time!