Chronic procrastination can have a huge impact on a business. Here's how to recognize it in yourself and overcome it.
- Everyone is guilty of procrastination at some time in their life, but there is a fine line between normal everyday procrastination and procrastination that threatens your workplace productivity.
- Procrastination in the workplace creates anxiety and increases others' workloads, leading to resentment and possibly even job loss.
- If you are a workplace procrastinator, it's important to recognize these behaviors and take the appropriate steps to avoid procrastination going forward.
What is chronic procrastination?
Procrastination is something that everyone deals with at some time or another. You may not want to deal with a certain project, or maybe you just think you'll have time to get to it later. Unfortunately, things tend to sneak up on you sooner or later, and you'll scramble to get it all done.
This is a temporary issue for most people, something they do only occasionally rather than as a habit. Chronic procrastination, on the other hand, means the person deals with these issues every time they have something to do.
A chronic procrastinator frequently puts things off or delays the work because they feel as though they cannot handle it or they simply aren't interested in the work. This can include chores, working and other actions that typically should be done in a timely manner. For instance, if you put off cleaning the house because you have to take the kids to practice, this isn't procrastination; however, if you sit down and watch TV instead of doing the housework, it's procrastination. If you do this on a regular basis, it's chronic procrastination.
Downfalls of procrastination in the workplace
Procrastination, the loss of concentration, affects everyone at some point, but it is in the workplace where it is felt the most – the place where you are expected to complete certain tasks each day and to the best of your ability. Putting off, postponing or delaying things in the workplace, especially important tasks that require your immediate attention, is the cause of many problems for businesses. Procrastination is a visible cost to businesses, and although it is often difficult to measure, it does have a negative impact. Both the company and the individuals within it suffer when members procrastinate. In many situations, psychological therapy is necessary to help the employee learn to manage their time and get the behaviors under control.
These are the biggest costs of procrastination to a business:
- Wasted time: Lost time is perhaps the most impactful result of procrastination in the workplace.
- Missed deadlines: Due to procrastination behaviors, individual deadlines may be missed, and the person may not even follow up with the task.
- Excessive workload on others: The extra burden a procrastinating employee puts on others may lead to resentment.
- Anxiety: Procrastinators often become anxious as deadlines get closer, which ultimately leads to more anxiety.
How to break the cycle and become productive
If you delay writing a report, the world may not come to an end; everyone puts off unpleasant tasks from time to time. Chatting with colleagues and checking your email during breaks is acceptable, if done in moderation. But when you or any member of staff procrastinate regularly, it signals a larger problem.
When procrastination becomes widespread and institutionalized within a work culture, companies pay a steep cost in individual and team productivity. According to the Organization Against Chronic Procrastination, 20% of people in the U.S. are chronic procrastinators – and this doesn't even take into account occasional and moderate procrastinators.
Understanding why we procrastinate, and what can be done to address it, is important for staff at all levels of a company. Procrastinators aren't necessarily aware they are procrastinating; sometimes it's done unconsciously, which is why we're shining light on this important issue with this workplace report.
5 signs you may be a chronic procrastinator
1. You have difficulty coping with change and transitions.
When a project ends, you feel anxious and aimless. You take your time before diving into a new project. A few days pass – maybe a week or even longer. This void creates a performance gap that prevents departments and companies from running at optimal efficiency.
2. You're lost without a road map.
When you begin a new project, initially you feel overwhelmed by its enormity. You're not sure where to begin. You can't see the trees from the forest. Better to put it off, right? But avoiding unpleasant tasks doesn't make them disappear.
3. You are chronically late.
Chronic procrastinators are not exactly known for their punctuality. They frequently underestimate the amount of time a task will take, routinely show up late to meetings, and are notorious for missing deadlines.
4. You have a staggering to-do list.
You invest a good amount of time dutifully preparing your to-do lists, even including a little box to check off once a task is complete. You feel good about yourself; no one could accuse you of not being organized. There's one problem, though – the list is growing longer than Pinocchio's nose, and the boxes are not being checked off.
5. You focus on nonessential office work instead of what needs to get done.
We're fooling ourselves when we putter around the office, engaging in trivial work when we ought to be tackling the high-priority project staring us in the face. True, it doesn't feel like we're procrastinating, because we're getting stuff done – just not the right stuff.
Surprise, surprise – a Robert Half Management Resources survey of chief financial officers suggests that company bigwigs are not thrilled with the advent of social media. More than one-third of the CFOs surveyed indicated that, of all the ways to procrastinate at work, social media is the biggest distraction of all.
What to do about it
If individual staff members are procrastinating, leaders must try to understand why they are less engaged at work. Perhaps they are bored, don't feel challenged, or don't understand their roles.
Meanwhile, employees who know they have a procrastination issue can use these strategies to manage (and hopefully conquer) their procrastination before it becomes chronic.
1. Break down your project into its components.
If it seems enormous and overwhelming, simplify the project so it's easier to manage and less threatening. Once you've reduced the project to a series of specific actions, it's less daunting to get started.
Start with one task, and one task only – ideally something that seems the easiest or most enjoyable to you. Complete that task and then the others, one at a time, using your action plan as a road map.
2. Use peer pressure to your advantage.
If you know you'll be held publicly accountable, you will do anything to avoid being humiliated. When a new project comes down the pike, share your goals, tasks and deadlines with your co-workers. Write them on your whiteboard so everyone can see, and share the good news when the task is done.
3. Consult your doctor.
Many procrastinators become paralyzed because they care too much what others think of them. They may be quite competent, but the pressure to perform, and to be perfect, is just too much for them to bear.
In some cases, medication (with your doctor's guidance) may help you focus better at work and live in the now. It can ease some of the worries and anxieties that, in all likelihood, are the root cause of procrastination.