How to stop procrastinating at work
If you’re a procrastinator, it feels like you simply cannot help putting off doing the things that have to be done. You find every excuse to do something else first until it becomes absolutely critical to complete the task at hand and you can’t wait any longer. At that point, you likely have to rush to get it done… and you’re certainly not able to do your best work, so you end up feeling dissatisfied and frustrated.
If this sounds familiar, there are some real reasons for how you got here and what you can do to start fixing the cycle of delaying then rushing, resulting in a poor performance. This isn’t happening simply because you lack self-control, are lazy or just have poor time management skills.
What’s Behind your Procrastinating?
According to Timothy Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination at Carleton University, in Ottawa, it’s really a matter of avoidance or fear when you dread an important or unpleasant task. To rid yourself of that feeling, you tend to do something else that makes you feel good until the reality of the deadline sets in. Then you panic, do a less-than-great job, and now you feel bad about it, which is just another reason to put it off the next time. It’s a vicious cycle.
Another model discussed by Hal Hershfield, a psychologist at UCLA Anderson School of Management, describes it as a disconnect between what they call “the present and future self.” In other words, people are just not all that worried about what’s going to happen in the future and are far more focused on how they feel in the moment. The fact of the matter is, you “just don’t feel like doing the task at the moment.”
What Can You Do About It?
You have to recognize that it really doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not... you simply have to start. How you feel about it doesn’t need to enter into it. You may never feel like it. Instead of focusing on your feelings, think about the next action you need to take and start there.
Here are some steps you can take to break the cycle and build better habits:
- Break up the task into smaller parts: For instance, maybe you dread researching billing questions or disputes. It involves pulling paperwork, finding receipts and verifying the postings to the computer. You may need to contact other departments in the hotel or a bank/credit card company. It’s not quick or easy. Because it may take a while to get the responses you need, it makes sense to break this task up into smaller parts. While you’re waiting for responses from others, start working on the parts you can control to get the ball rolling.
- Create a timeline: Once you’ve gotten the task broken down, set up a deadline for each part. It makes it easier to see your progress when you’re checking off each item on your list as you get it done. It creates a feeling of accomplishment and gives you the drive to move on to the next item.
- Make your workspace productive: If your desk is a mess and you can’t find what you need to get started, that will impact how productive you are. Arrange your space so you have everything at your fingertips and can stop wasting time looking for paperwork and other tools.
- Avoid your procrastination pitfalls: Remove the things that you find distracting. If you have little fidget toys on your desk, fun apps on your computer, constant notifications when emails arrive, etc., it’s time to move those to another place where you won’t be tempted to do something other than the task at hand.
- Be Accountable: Find someone who will hold you accountable to accomplish your tasks on the timeline you’ve set up. Make it a friendly competition, checking in with each other as you go along. When you make your plans public, you’re more likely to stick to them.
- Re-visit your goals: Think about what you really want to accomplish long term. Maybe you’re procrastinating because you no longer really like what you’re doing or don’t find it satisfying. Figure out where this job is taking you and how you are going to get there.
- Simply get started: The biggest hurdle to finishing a task is getting started. You may just have to get a grip and start, even if you don’t think you have all the info you need or can’t immediately reach the people you should talk to. Dive in and get going.
The most important part of building a new habit is getting started… first time and every time. You have to be consistent, especially in the beginning. You can improve on it as you go along and eventually your new habit will get you into the “flow” of working through your tasks like a pro.