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Procrastination: What, Why, and How to Beat It

Procrastination - voluntarily delaying tasks even when we know it will have negative consequences - can significantly impact productivity and morale. It can lead to stress, missed deadlines, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. 

But why do we procrastinate at all, and what can we do to stop it? By understanding and addressing procrastination, you can create a more efficient and positive work environment for you and your team.

Why We Procrastinate

Procrastination isn't just about laziness. It's often driven by deeper anxieties and emotions. Here are some common culprits:

  • Fear of Failure: The dread of messing up can be paralysing. We might avoid starting a task because we're afraid of not doing it well enough.

  • Task Aversion: Some tasks can just seem boring or repetitive. Data entry? Updating spreadsheets? Responding to emails? No wonder we put them off.

  • Being Overwhelmed: A complex project can feel like an insurmountable mountain. This can make it difficult to understand where to even begin. 

  • Perfectionism: The need for everything to be flawless can prevent us from even starting a task. Getting bogged down in the details of a task rather than getting on with it can stop us from making progress.

How to Beat Procrastination

Beating procrastination is a battle, but with the right approach to tasks, it’s completely possible. Here are some techniques you can use and tools to help along the way:

1. Chunking:

Don't let giant projects intimidate you. Chop them down into bite-sized pieces. Write down a list of smaller, more manageable tasks. 

  • Action Step: Spend 10 minutes today breaking down your biggest project into 5 achievable steps.
     
  • Tools: Consider using project management apps like Trello (https://trello.com/) or Asana (https://asana.com/) to visually organise your tasks and track progress.

2. Schedule and Conquer:

Treat important tasks like appointments. Block specific times in your calendar for them, with clear start and end times. This creates dedicated focus periods and prevents them from getting lost in the shuffle. 

  • Action Step: Right now, open your calendar and schedule dedicated time slots for your top 3 priorities this week. 

  • Tools: Explore calendar apps like Google Calendar or the built-in calendar on your smartphone to set reminders and recurring tasks.

3. Silence Distractions:

Identify your biggest time-wasters (social media, email notifications, etc.) and silence them while working. Consider website blockers, putting your phone away in another room, or using apps that promote focused work sessions.

4. The 2-Minute Rule:

For tiny tasks that take less than two minutes, do them immediately. Don't let them pile up and create a mental burden. Answer that quick email, return that phone call. It'll free up mental space for bigger things. 

  • Action Step: Look at your to-do list right now. Identify 3 tasks that can be done in under 2 minutes and complete them immediately.

5. Reward Yourself:

Sometimes you need more motivation for dull tasks. By strategically rewarding yourself for some of these tasks, you can make completing them less unpleasant and avoid procrastinating.  

  • Action Step: Create a "reward system" for yourself. List out enjoyable activities you can pair with completing specific tasks. If you have reports to write, you could listen to your favourite playlist while writing. After completing a major step in a task you could take a short break or have a treat (this could be a snack of choice, a cup of coffee, or one of your favourite foods). 

6. Forgive Yourself and Refocus:

We all succumb to procrastination sometimes. Don't beat yourself up. Acknowledge the setback, learn from it, and recommit to your goals. 

  • Action Step: The next time you find yourself procrastinating, take a deep breath and ask yourself "why?". Understanding why you are procrastinating can help you take steps to avoid it by making tasks seem less daunting for yourself.

7. Focus on Progress, Not Perfection:

Don't let the pursuit of perfection become a trap that leads to you never getting started. Getting started, even if imperfectly, is better than waiting for the "perfect" moment to complete a task. Celebrate small wins and acknowledge your progress, no matter how small.

  • Action Step: Instead of focusing on the end result, track your daily progress towards a goal. Celebrating the steps you have taken can help you stay motivated on the path to reaching your goal or finishing the task you are working on. 

  • Tools: Consider using habit trackers like Habitica (https://habitica.com/) or Forest (https://forestapp.cc/) to gamify your progress and stay motivated. These tools allow you to set small, achievable goals and track your progress visually, making it more rewarding to stay on track.

Remember: Consistency is key. By implementing these steps and using some of the tools we’ve recommended, you can develop a powerful toolkit to overcome procrastination and achieve your goals.

What HR can do:

  • Promote awareness: Include articles or workshops on procrastination in employee wellness programs.

  • Management Training: Train managers to recognise signs of procrastination and have open conversations with struggling employees. Provide managers with resources on how to coach employees on overcoming procrastination using the techniques mentioned in the guide.

  • Create a Supportive Environment: Ensure workloads are reasonable, deadlines are clear, and employees have access to the tools and resources they need to complete tasks effectively.

  • Encourage breaks and healthy habits: Promote healthy work-life balance and breaks throughout the day to help employees avoid burnout and maintain focus.

  • Identify root causes: Help employees identify the underlying reasons behind their procrastination (fear of failure, unclear tasks, etc.) to develop targeted solutions.

  • Offer flexible work arrangements: Consider flexible work schedules or remote work options to accommodate different work styles and preferences that may help some employees avoid procrastination.

  • Recognise and reward progress: Celebrate employee achievements, no matter how small, to maintain motivation and a sense of accomplishment.

To help you beat procrastination in your workplace, we've compiled a Beat Procrastination playlist on our platform which you can watch and recommend to your team from the link below. 

All of our content is broken down into short, bite-sized modules, so you’ll never feel overwhelmed or want to procrastinate learning.

 

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