Growing up, the title of this post was an oft-heard phrase in my house. My dad used to talk almost every day about taking up running, but his “I’ll start tomorrow” attitude became a joke rather than an actuality, as he would never actually go for a run.
In the workplace, it’s easy to fall into a similar trap. Big projects come up, and employees often think “I’ll start tomorrow,” but tomorrow turns into the next day and the day after that. Before you know it, the project comes down to the last minute and you’re working overtime to meet the deadline.
According to one study, 20 percent of people self-identify as chronic procrastinators. Additionally, as many as 80 percent admit to procrastinating every once in a while*. Dragging ones’ feet to put off large or complicated tasks is a common problem, no matter where you work. Most everyone does it at one time or another. The question thus becomes how to reduce the occurrence of procrastination in the workplace, rather than how to prevent it completely.
Since leaders may not always recognize when team members are procrastinating, it is often the individual employee’s responsibility to avoid this tendency. Employees can use the following tips to reduce procrastination:
- If you notice you are prone to putting off projects, try cutting each project into various parts. For example, if you are writing an article, establish deadlines for yourself to accomplish the different parts of the project, such as the outline, first draft, and final article, and stick to these. Dividing the project into parts may make it seem less overwhelming. Additionally, the feeling of achievement you get when you accomplish one part of the task may spur you on to finish the other aspects.
- Determine personal rewards for yourself when you get your work done on time, like splurging on a coffee or dessert. Doing so will give you added incentive for completing a project.
- Communicate with your manager about your tasks and deadlines. When you have open and honest conversations about your workload, you will likely feel less stressed and can work with your supervisor to establish manageable deadlines.
Managers can also help employees avoid delaying projects. As a leader, you can implement the following guidelines to decrease procrastination in the workplace:
- Find out what employees enjoy working on, and assign them more projects with these aspects. When employees are working on something they enjoy doing, they will be less likely to put it off.
- Showcase how particular projects play into the greater mission and strategy of the organization. Doing so will help employees recognize why their work matters, and must be done on time.
- Spread less enjoyable tasks among the team. There are certain tasks in every workplace which must be accomplished but few people enjoy doing. Spread these tasks among your team so no single employee is receiving these undesirable projects every time.
- If you notice someone is chronically procrastinating, talk to that individual to better understand why he or she continues to put off the work. Procrastination can serve as a defense mechanism to avoid failure, or can be due to apathy, boredom, stress, or various other causes. Having an understanding of an individual’s reason for procrastinating will allow you to better tailor a solution for that individual team member.
- Recognize and reward employees for completing tasks on time. Consider letting employees leave early when they complete a big project, or reward them by taking them out to lunch.
If you have read other posts in our blog, you may recognize that many of the tips managers can use to avoid procrastination are also tips to help increase employee engagement. Procrastination and disengagement frequently go hand in hand. Disengaged employees often have no connection with the organization, and thus are not concerned about the outcomes of their work and the effect their delays have on the overall organization. They likely procrastinate due to apathy. Engaged employees, on the other hand, will get their work done on time or early. They understand the importance of their contribution, and will do everything in their power to accomplish their tasks.
Engaging your employees will help decrease the prevalence of procrastination, leading to better business outcomes in general. Work will get done more quickly, and often in better quality, allowing you to move on to the next project. This is just one more reason why employee engagement is vital to positive organizational outcomes.
In my dad’s case, “tomorrow” finally became today; he has run nine marathons in the last few years, and does not plan to quit anytime soon. He became engaged in this personal goal, and procrastination (at least in this vein), became a thing of the past. The same is possible for members of your staff, if you and your employees put forth a dedicated effort to reduce procrastination.
*Hara Estroff Marano, “Procrastination: Ten Things to Know. “ Psychology Today. July 07, 2010. Accessed June 29, 2012. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/procrastination-ten-things-know.