How to stop procrastinating at work
We all fall into bad habits from time to time. And procrastination, like breathing, is a fact of life. Interestingly enough, procrastination is one of the most common workplace habits to befall employees, despite its tendency to lead to negative consequences.
Intentionally delaying tasks can have a huge impact on your professional development and can even put the work of others in jeopardy. Luckily, there are lots of strategies you can put in place to manage your procrastination.
If you’re looking for advice on how to overcome procrastination habits, don’t put it off; keep reading to find out more.
What is procrastination and why do we procrastinate?
Procrastination is the act of putting off starting or completing a task. When procrastination strikes, workers will typically find themselves spending time completing easier tasks or even engaging in unproductive behavior, like cyberloafing.
This happens for a number of reasons. If you’ve ever typed ‘Why do I procrastinate so much?’ into Google, we’re here to give you a proper answer, once and for all.
Prioritizing instant gratification
In today’s world, we’re always chasing instant gratification — that rush of excitement when we can check something off our to-do list or have fun. This isn’t about being lazy, or not wanting to work hard. The reality is that a lot of the work we do won’t be as fun, interesting, or instantly gratifying as we may like.
That’s because our day-to-day work typically feeds into larger projects or wider company goals. Our work often pays out its rewards after a longer period of time; though that reward may be greater than the satisfaction of a quick win (think bonuses or promotions versus watching a funny video), our preference for immediate gratification can win out.
Perfectionism, or a fear of not completing a task to a high enough standard, is a common reason for procrastination. If you’re feeling anxious that your work will be critiqued negatively or that you’ll fail to do what you set out to, that can prevent you from getting going. This can even lead to a feeling of overwhelm.
A lack of clarity
Fear of failure can also be the result of a lack of clarity. It can be embarrassing or anxiety-inducing to ask for support on a task where you don’t quite understand what you’re meant to be doing or why
Lacking an understanding of how your day-to-day work benefits the team or the business as a whole can also encourage you to procrastinate. That’s why it’s so important to set clear goals and expectations.
Why procrastination is an issue
While we’ve shown that procrastination is often not about laziness, that doesn’t mean that it is something we need to accept. Procrastination has negative consequences both for the individual and the business they’re part of. Some issues procrastination can lead to include:
Delayed or failed projects
Failing to complete a critical task in time can have negative consequences for your projects. It’s as simple as that. If an extension isn’t possible, putting off tasks can mean deadlines end up being missed. Missed deadlines often cause a domino effect, which can lead to further delays in the completion of the project, lower revenue for the business, or even the loss of a key client.
Loss of job security and satisfaction
Don’t underestimate the impact frequent procrastination can have on your professional life. If your boss identifies procrastination as a reason for your lower-than-usual productivity or performance, you could face serious consequences. On a personal level, it can change how you engage with your job, leading to reduced motivation and satisfaction at work.
Poorer work-life balance
Picture this: you started the day with three tasks on your to-do list. You finish two and take a break. When you returned to tackle task three, a report that is needed for a meeting the next morning, you find yourself unwilling because it’ll take three hours and you’re anxious. Instead, you procrastinate by making a coffee and answering non-urgent emails.
At 4pm, you set your sights on the report. You have two options; rush to complete it before the end of the work day or work late to get it to a satisfactory standard. You choose the latter and miss out on enjoying your evening.
A task you procrastinate on still needs to be completed. By procrastinating for a whole workday or more, you could end up working longer hours.
Consequences for health
Recent studies have suggested that procrastination is often about how we feel, not about managing time. One such study suggested a link between chronic procrastination and a whole host of mental and physical consequences, such as anxiety, colds, and other serious conditions.
5 techniques for reducing procrastination
If you’re a chronic procrastinator, don’t worry. Put a good plan in place using these anti-procrastination tips, and you’ll kick your bad habit in no time.
Create a dedicated workspace free of distractions
For those that procrastinate at work because of distractions, creating a distraction-free workspace could help you focus better.
If working in an office, that can include keeping your workspace clear of any non-work-related items and putting a note on your computer that gently lets your colleagues know that you’re not available to talk.
For remote workers, removing distractions from your workspace can be more challenging. Consider dedicating a space in your home to work so that when you sit down with your laptop, you automatically get into ‘work mode.’ Ideally, you’ll be able to close your door, though if that’s not possible, noise-canceling headphones can work wonders.
Plus, there are numerous apps available online that block access to time-wasting sites (think social media and news platforms) during your working hours. Though you may still try to access Twitter when you should be checking invoices, you’ll be quickly reminded that you’re meant to be focusing.
Make work feel more achievable with a time management technique
If you avoid work because it’s overwhelming, time management techniques can help. These strategies aim to reduce overwhelm and anxiety by breaking the work day into clear, manageable chunks.
- Pomodoro: The Pomodoro technique breaks the day into 25-minute work sessions and 5-minute breaks, with a longer break after four consecutive Pomodoro sessions (or two hours of work). This works because it takes longer, overwhelming tasks and cuts them into bite-sized chunks.
- Timeboxing: When timeboxing, you set aside a fixed amount of time to spend on a specific task or activity, with the intention of completing the task within that timebox. Setting limits for tasks can curb perfectionism. When the block is done, the task is done, no matter what state it’s in.
- Time blocking: For each task in your to-do list, you create an event in your calendar. Unlike timeboxing, time blocking is more relaxed in its scheduling; you can move the blocks around as priorities shift and extend them as needed.
Create clear deadlines
As mentioned, a lack of clarity can often lead to procrastination. When we have unlimited time to complete a task, we will use as much of it as possible. This is known as Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This is where task prioritization and deadline setting come in. If your tasks often have open-ended deadlines, set your own deadlines. This will help you manage your time better by providing a structure to work within. Once you have deadlines set, you can easily prioritize your tasks based on urgency and how critical they are using task prioritization techniques.
Use an electronic to-do list
Say goodbye to paper to-do lists. Electronic to-do lists allow you to capture all information related to a task in one place, with automated reminders informing you when your deadlines are coming up and editable priority levels that help you manage your workload.
Electronic to-do lists come in many shapes and sizes, so you can pick the right one based on your ways of working. Looking to gamify your to-do list (hello, instant gratification) and get more done? Check out Habitica.
Take a look at these 10 tips for creating a prioritized to-do list you’ll stick to.
Buddy up with an accountability partner
Do you struggle to complete your tasks because there’s no one to hold you accountable? In jobs where you’ve got days, if not weeks, to complete tasks and a hands-off manager, it can be easy to become complacent.
Having an accountability partner, usually a colleague, can be a good way to level up your motivation and help you get more done. They’ll have oversight of your to-do list and goals, and you theirs, and use communication tools to check in to see how you’re progressing. Holding one another accountable can go a long way to increasing productivity.
If your team uses a project management system like Forecast, this can also help create a culture of accountability and transparency. Team leaders wondering how to prevent procrastination at work can easily run reports on utilization, performance, productivity, and more, helping their teams work together better and get more done.