Recently, we featured tips for motivating your team and developing a healthier attitude to achieve personal and professional goals. A recurring theme within these posts was the importance of just getting started, something we all struggle with from time to time. We are all procrastinators!
Procrastination means putting off a task for a short or extended period of time, often in favor of doing something more enjoyable. A simple example is spending time online watching funny videos instead of starting a new project report. An inevitable occurrence in any project, procrastination can lead to delayed tasks, low team morale, constant changes to project deadlines, poor quality deliverables, and so on.
As a project manager, you may assume that procrastination is easily overcome with a well-defined schedule, regular meetings, and the odd pep talk to boost morale. If only!
Procrastination is often driven by emotional factors, such as a fear of failure, and can have multiple, negative consequences for individual team members. If you want to get the best from your team, you need to develop effective strategies for dealing with procrastination.
In this article, I will explore some of the reasons behind procrastination and outline anti-procrastination strategies for both project managers and individual team members. Let’s get started!
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of delaying a task in favor of doing something more enjoyable. People value short-term rewards instead of long-term benefits, a behavior known as ‘time inconsistency’. When we plan or set a goal, we are imagining a planned state that is easy to push into the future. A long-term goal of getting fit is easily cast aside in favor of catching up with your favorite TV show.
Over time, procrastination can lead to stress, lack of confidence, underachievement, and a long list of ‘want to-do’s’ that never happen. Chronic procrastination is also linked to long-term health issues including depression and anxiety.
It should be noted that procrastination is sometimes useful, especially when working on a creative problem. Delaying a task allows a fuller exploration of all possible solutions, and can help you to complete work faster. The key is not to procrastinate indefinitely.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Procrastination has many sources. Sometimes, we are tired or simply ‘not in the right mood’ to start a new task. A busy work environment can lead to various distractions and interruptions, which can lead us astray. We may fool ourselves into believing that ticking multiple items off our to-do list is quite productive when in reality, we are delaying an unpleasant or difficult task. Procrastinators will also often argue that the panic associated with looming deadlines leads to creativity and ‘their best work’.
Other reasons for procrastination include:
- Poor Planning: Procrastinators often plan tasks in a vague way and try to tackle too much too quickly. Becoming quickly overwhelmed, they seek distractions and short-term rewards to avoid a seemingly insurmountable task list.
- Lack of goals: Motivation is deeply linked to your ‘why’, both personally and professionally. If you fail to consider your desired destination, you will never start the journey.
- Worrying about what other people think: For some, the fear of failure is so powerful that they would rather appear lazy than incapable.
- Ineffective decision-making: A procrastinator may struggle to make decisions in various areas of their life. As decision making is quite draining, some prefer to avoid it as much as possible.
Note that poor time management is not listed above. Undertaking time management training is a useful but limited tool when dealing with procrastination; understanding the emotional roots of the problem is far more beneficial.
Procrastination is more complex than may appear at first glance. Dealing with this challenge requires a two-fold approach: project set-up and individual guidance. Use the following anti-procrastination strategies to create a productive, collaborative environment and help procrastinators make meaningful changes to their routine.
Overcoming Procrastination: Project set-up
- Break the Project into Smaller tasks and Milestones. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, team members have a manageable roadmap with several deadlines. This also reduces any indecision regarding where to start.
- Set goals: Help your team to set goals (personal or professional) and a schedule for achieving these objectives. There are a few ways to approach this challenge including the Ivy Lee Method for creating task lists and Warren Buffet’s 5-step process for prioritizing success.
- Convey the Why: Personal responsibility and ownership are key to motivating your team and avoiding procrastination. If a team member feels a task is unimportant or a waste of time, they will never start! Make sure that everyone understands the purpose of the project and the value of individual contributions in achieving the desired outcome.
- Reduce distractions: Distractions come in many forms, especially when working in an open office. Encourage your team to use the 3 Ds – Decide, Delegate, or Defer – to avoid interruptions and distractions.
- Communication: Quite often, we put off a task as we are unsure how to get started or do not fully understand the request. Give your team the opportunity to discuss the issue one-to-one and in group meetings.
Overcoming Procrastination: Individual guidance
- Start! Sometimes, we put off getting started because we do not really believe we can complete the task. Over time, this attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the list of things we cannot do keeps growing! The best way to overcome this fear is to start small, persist with the task and record your progress in a diary. When in doubt, refer back to the diary as proof that you are capable.
- Set Your Priorities: As mentioned earlier, procrastinators are often poor planners who become quickly overwhelmed by long task lists. Look at your goals or upcoming tasks and pick one item to focus on. Do some research on how to tackle the item and create a schedule with smaller tasks culminating in the larger goal.
- Accountability: Tell someone about your goals. Set a deadline. Think about a reward. Use an alarm or calendar reminder to let you know when to start the task. Reduce distractions in your environment – delete social media apps from your phone, use headphones at the office, limit the amount of time spent on emails every day, and so on. Commit to overcoming procrastination.
We all procrastinate from time-to-time. The trick is to manage and curtail the impact of procrastination, both personally and professionally.