The end of the shift is approaching and the clock seems to be ticking away faster than it has been all day.
You're frantically trying to finish a report preceding that dreaded Five O'clock deadline, you know you should be focused, however, in the back of your mind, you are cursing yourself for wasting time on menial tasks earlier in the day.
You're so far from finishing, and you ask yourself, how did time go so quickly? How did everything go so wrong? There is one reason for your lack of remaining time, you detached your focus from the task at hand.
Your focus disappeared for hours while you re-read your emails. There were the odd occasions time ran away, while you scanned your social media feed, you lost countless minutes with unreasonable "preparation", those coffee breaks, and when you finally did feel motivated, you turned your motivation towards the not so important tasks on your to-do-list, instead of the task you are now rushing to complete.
Top 5 procrastination techniques
- You fill your day with low-priority or unimportant tasks instead of completing the important activities
- You leave your task on your To-Do-List for a long time, even though it is important
- You read the same emails, over and over again without making a decision about them
- You attempt to make a start on your task, then you decide to make a coffee, have lunch, go for a break or socialise with colleagues or friends.
- You justify your delay because you're not in the right mindset or mood, or it's too early, or too late in the day to start it
Does this sound like something you do on a regular basis?
Procrastination is a trap that catches many of us. In fact, Piers Steel believes 95 percent of us procrastinate at times. But why does this happen to you? How can you overcome the habit of delaying the inevitable? What strategies can you put in place to manage and prioritise your workload effectively?
If you are a procrastinator, does this mean you are lazy?
The short answer is no! The long answer is procrastination is a choice. You CHOOSE to place a higher priority on an opposing task, which is a typically an unpleasant task, however a task which has a greater amount of importance than the one you were working on. Usually, the task you chose to do, is simpler or quicker and easier to achieve. You're not being lazy because you are working on something else. If you were lazy, you would be apathetic, inactive and unwilling to complete the task at all.
Sometimes you get away with procrastination.
If you have been lucky, you have been able to find another time to complete the task, however, the majority of the time, procrastination makes us feel stressed, annoyed or maybe even embarrassed, especially if everyone else has completed the task except for you. Delaying the inevitable may even cause you to lose your objectives or a career opportunity.
If you procrastinate multiple times, over a long period, procrastination can turn into demotivation and disengagement, which could turn into performance management and job loss in extreme cases.
A word of warning
Office politics often goes unspoken, and NO-ONE likes someone who procrastinates. Your colleagues may not say it to your face, but rest-assured, they are talking about it behind your back. When you create additional pressure for the team because you are always late submitting your part of the project, or you leave important tasks to the last minute, you are actually telling your coworkers that you care less about their welfare, than you do about getting the work done.
Procrastination is more than an awful habit for some, it may also be a sign of a genuine wellbeing issue. For example, people suffering from ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression may procrastinate more than others. In order to avoid coming across as insensitive, prior to kick-starting performance management, make sure you understand the reason behind the procrastination symptoms and give the staff member an adequate amount of support.
There are four steps to overcome procrastination.
- Recognise you are procrastinating when it happens
- Find out why you are procrastinating
- Stop procrastinating
- Prevent procrastination next time
Recognise you are procrastinating when it happens
Are you delaying a task because you had to prioritize? If the task was delayed for a good reason, you can give yourself a pat on the back, because you were not procrastinating, however, if you complete the higher priority task, then CHOOSE to flitter around to complete other low priority tasks, then you ARE procrastinating. Stop yourself in your own tracks and begin the task you should be doing.
If you are aware of your procrastination habits, you will start noticing them straight away and be able to tackle them, head on. For example, do you avoid tasks which are boring? Do you get distracted by phone calls, people around you, or a task which is more challenging?
Poor organisation and time management techniques might prompt procrastination. Organised people effectively beat procrastination as a direct result of tools such as a prioritized to-do list, time managed schedules.
Find out why you are procrastinating
Regardless of how organised you are, you can still feel overpowered by an overwhelming task. Maybe you have doubts about your capacity or have a skill gap, and it’s easier to keep putting it off and start procrastinating until you are in a rush to get the task completed. Overcome your guilt by breaking the task down into smaller, attainable goals to give yourself solace when it comes to approaching the deadline.
Top 20 ways to prevent procrastination habits from ruining your career
- Procrastination is a learned habit which has not been developed overnight, it will take time and effort to be able to break the habit. You can take steps to avoid procrastinating including:
- Know which tasks cause you to procrastinate the most
- Concentrate on doing a task instead of avoiding it
- Have a visual cue that reminds you to stay focused.
- Use a prioritised to-do-list
- Schedule time in your calendar to complete particular tasks
- Give yourself a reward for completing the task
- Get someone else to keep you focused
- Complete tasks at the time of the day when you have the most energy
- Use proactive language: Using proactive language is really helpful to tackle tasks which you are prone to procrastinate over. Instead of saying, “I really should do…” say to yourself (or someone else if you can), “I’m going to”, “I have to,” and don’t let self-sabotage get in the way, instead of saying to yourself, “I’m not sure how to…” say, “I can find a way to…”
- Minimise distractions: If you are someone who is a socialite and can be easily distracted by the latest office gossip, remove yourself from the area so you can focus. Tell the people around you that you are going to focus on completing a task and ask them not to interrupt you. Schedule the task for a quieter time if possible, or come in early, stay late so no-one is around to interrupt you.
- Get some quick wins completed to give you strength for the labour some tasks that you procrastinate about, or if you find this makes you procrastinate more, tackle the hardest task first.
- Know your weaknesses and upskill in areas that you need to
- Delegate if you can. The task you procrastinate about maybe another person’s strength, they may have a task that you can do for them instead.
- Break the task into smaller portions with easily achievable goals and limit them to small bursts of 15 minutes which ensures the time goes quickly.
- Schedule the task each week, fortnight, month, quarter or annually in your calendar if it is a regular task that is required
- Practice mindfulness to ensure
- Set personal deadlines ahead of the actual deadline.
- Have a winning list, which shows you all the quick wins you have had at the end of the day.
- Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed!
In summary, procrastination may be the symptom of delaying a critical task, however generally, the procrastination symptom is only the tip of the iceberg, under the surface there is a build-up of habit-forming activities, energy levels, skill gaps, mental health issues etc.
Procrastination over a long period of time can be damaging to your general wellbeing, and reduce the opportunities which are presented to you, such as financial gain or career openings. You will also delay a sense of self-reward for completing your job to your fullest potential.
Procrastination is a common issue for many mentees of Business Mentoring Australia. With a proactive mindset, positive attitude and a little effort and support from a mentor, you can easily let go of old habits and get the most out of your time. Book in your free 30-minute introductory consultation now to get a personalised list of things you can do to be procrastination-free.