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 think you'll have time to get to it later. Unfortunately, things tend to sneak up on you, and you'll find yourself scrambling to get it all done.
For most people, this is a temporary issue rather than a habit. Chronic procrastination, on the other hand, means the person deals with these issues every time they have something to do. This can include chores, work 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 regularly, 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 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: Because of 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 procrastination.
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 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. Procrastinators aren't necessarily aware they are procrastinating; sometimes it's unconscious, which is why it's important to learn the signs of chronic procrastination and the steps to stop.
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, you initially 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. It doesn't feel like we're procrastinating because we're getting stuff done – just not the right stuff.
How to stop procrastinating
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. Many people use a project management tool or indepth to do lists to accomplish this.
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. Make tasks more appealing.
Once you break your project into smaller tasks, it may still be difficult to get started. However, if you make your tasks appealing to complete, you may find yourself getting more done in less time.
To make tasks more appealing, you might get a notebook that's aesthetically pleasing so you'll want to use it to take notes, or create a work environment that makes you feel happy and focused.
3. 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, resolve to share your goals, tasks and deadlines with your colleagues. Write them on your whiteboard so everyone can see, and share the good news when the task is done.
4. Ask for help.
You can't always do everything on your own. If you don't know how to do something or don't have the skill set to complete a task, ask someone else if they know the answer and can assist you. It's OK to ask for help. This will not only free up time to focus on tasks you're more confident in tackling, but also prevent you from putting off assignments that discourage you.
5. Consult your doctor.
Many procrastinators become paralyzed because they care too much about what others think of them. They may be quite competent, but the pressure to perform and to be perfect is too much for them to bear. In some cases, medication (with your doctor's guidance) may help you focus and stay present at work.
6. Remind yourself of your successes.
It's easy to forget what you've accomplished when you're in the middle of a stressful or anxious situation. Think about all the projects you've been a part of, all the tasks you've been able to do that week, and the contributions you've made at work. Reminding yourself of success can help motivate you to complete the tasks ahead.
7. Find the root of your procrastination.
Sometimes people avoid engaging in tasks because they're unsure of how to do them. Other times, it might be due to fear of failure or letting their team down, perception of the tasks as unappealing or strenuous, or lack of confidence in their abilities. If you discover the root cause of your procrastination, you can address it and move forward with certainty.