One in five people in the U.S. is a chronic procrastinator. The condition is so common that if you’re not a procrastinator yourself, there’s a good chance you work with someone who is. And while putting off one little task now and then won’t have a huge impact, if delays become part of the accepted company culture, a huge drop in productivity could result.
So, if you put off completing a big project at work until the day before it’s due, are you a procrastinator?
According to Joseph Ferrari, PhD, in an article for the American Psychological Association, everyone puts off an occasional task. A true procrastinator habitually delays important tasks, even when he or she knows there will be consequences.
“While everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator,” explains Ferrari. Procrastination is more than just waiting or delaying. “It is a decision to not act.” It usually comes with explanations: “I work better under pressure” or “I’m still gathering information on that before I make a decision.”
Which brings us to another interesting finding: Procrastination is often linked with indecision. How much time and thought should you invest in gathering information and options before making a decision? Some individuals believe that rushing the process will jeopardize creativity. Others struggle with stopping when they’ve gathered a reasonable amount of information—causing them to be indecisive or delay taking any action at all. Additionally, sometimes an effort to produce perfect work can cause an person to become mired in minor details and procrastinate.
- To help kick the habit, experts suggest focusing on simple self-regulation skills. “Little self-control wins around intentional action fuel us — simply putting one foot in front of the other,” recommends Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD. Set an intention and then get started. “Showing up is half the battle with self-regulation.”
- Another suggestion offered in a Princeton University article is adopting a time management technique that doesn’t increase your anxiety. A giant to-do list or a minute-by-minute schedule only increases your stress. Instead, make a manageable list with built-in flexibility and portions of bigger projects. (Include things you enjoy doing as rewards as you complete steps.)
- Put deadlines on your calendar (both for the complete project and smaller portions of it). Again, don’t overwhelm yourself with 12 things all due on the same day.
If you’re working with a procrastinator, and you’re a do-it-now person, this is a setup for frustration. How can you best work together without driving each other crazy? You struggle to understand why the other person keeps stalling … while they wonder why you want the information a week before it’s due.
- Relieve some pressure by making sure that deadlines aren’t arbitrary, and that everything isn’t “urgent” or due at the same time. Try assigning one task at a time.
- Move up the date or time when a task is extremely important.
- Communicate the consequences of a delay. (This might also help you realize that consequences aren’t dire.)
While procrastination is extremely common, it can definitely take its toll on workplace productivity. Though frequently viewed as a tendency to be lazy or dawdling, chronic procrastination is not a time management issue. It can, however, be a serious problem and takes real effort to correct.