The word procrastination has recently become very fashionable, especially in business circles, where effectiveness, efficiency, agility and other KPIs that define the level of skill and speed of achieving goals are constantly measured. From the Latin procrastinatio, it means delay, postponement. Procrastination is a tendency identified with procrastination, delaying or postponing something, which manifests itself in various areas of life, otherwise known as the student syndrome.
This condition has recently been recognised as a type of mental disorder, but some people believe that it is an excuse for plain laziness.
Psychologists find many reasons for this affliction. These include:
- Fear of failure due to:
- high level of difficulty of the task,
- low self-esteem of the person performing the task, who assumes in advance that he or she will fail (this applies above all to perfectionists),
- Fear of success:
- paradoxically, people are often afraid that as a result of performing a difficult task correctly, they will be given another, even more difficult task with which they may not cope.
- Lack of immediate results;
- Low attractiveness of the task;
- Genetic and personality conditions.
Abstracting from diagnosed clinical cases, many people more often or less often succumb to this tendency. One could add to the list of reasons for this state of affairs many points that we have served ourselves in connection with the development of civilisation, e.g:
- The information noise and chaos in which we live;
- Advertising offers attacking us from everywhere and through every possible channel – even when we are not fully aware of it (e.g. advertisements on the Internet displayed on the basis of the most frequently searched topics). Even if we don’t think we’re reacting – our brains are picking it up;
- A culture of constant rush and competition;
- The decline of certain values in society and interpersonal relations, e.g. keeping one’s word when making an appointment: currently we make an appointment once, confirm it, reschedule it, make another appointment, etc., and this takes up our time and attention;
- The development of apps, mobile games and social media – the most powerful ‘eaters’ of time that could be spent on personal development, physical activity or family and friends. What’s worse, involuntary ‘scrolling’ through a smartphone screen can be truly addictive, and reacting to every ‘like’ received effectively distracts us from work, even if we have managed to get down to it without procrastination.
As mentioned earlier, procrastination affects most of us to a greater or lesser extent. How do the most effective managers of today deal with it? Remember that every leader, on the one hand, has his or her own goals to achieve and, on the other hand, is responsible for achieving the tasks of his or her team. How to fight the tendency to procrastination in yourself and in your team? Here are some ways:
- Clearly define the goal and make sure it is precise and understandable to all*, with a deadline for completion, listing the different steps and tools needed to complete it, preferably written down (so you can come back to it at any time),
*) if not all members understand the group’s objective, there is a good chance that it will not be achieved in time or at all. For the boat to go fast and in the same direction, everyone must row equally.
- Take the time to plan so that you can save it for later – plan your tasks every day so that you are in control of the degree to which the goal is achieved at all times. Take pleasure in ‘ticking’ them off your ‘to do’ list and in the same way, cheer your team into action.
- Group tasks according to urgency and importance, giving them weight. In addition to the most urgent ones and those that the rest of the team depends on, choose those that have the biggest impact on achieving your goal*.
*) Don’t forget about delegating tasks – skilfully done, it will save your time, at the same time developing your team’s competences and boosting morale and sense of participation on the way to achieving the goal.
- Tidy up your surroundings so that nothing distracts you – tidy the desk where you will be working, prepare the necessary tools and materials, mute the phone and turn off your email – in short, eliminate as many factors as possible that can distract you and take you away from your work.
- ‘Eat the frogs’ at the beginning of a day – Brian Tracy in his book ‘Eat that frog’ referred to the frogs as the hardest and most difficult tasks we have to do for the day. “Eating” them at the start of work makes sense and is important in the fight against procrastination. Psychologists say that for the first two hours after waking up, our productivity is at its highest level, so we should focus on the hardest tasks as soon as we get to the office. Besides, everyone knows and likes that pleasant feeling when they already have something “out of the way”. Why not give yourself that dose of endorphins right at the start of the day?
- Take breaks – no one is able to work with the same level of attention all the time. For your own comfort and the effectiveness of your work, take breaks from time to time. For example, people who work in front of a computer should stretch their bones in the fresh air for a while, analysts should take their mind off things with a casual chat with colleagues, and manual workers should sit in a comfortable environment.
Each break must have a specific duration, which must be scrupulously respected, and at the end of which you should immediately return to your activities.
- Use the Swiss cheese method – if the enormity of a task really overwhelms you, there is a method of doing it piece by piece until holes are made in it, symbolising the completion of the task, as in the metaphorical Swiss cheese. Doing smaller tasks systematically is meant to mobilise you to complete the whole.
- Do not disturb your subordinates at work. Sounds absurd? And it is a very common, unconscious habit of many managers, who most often distract employees from their tasks by: convening ill-considered briefings and meetings (the greatest affliction of corporations, which can sometimes cut a whole day out of work; as a rule, such meetings are unannounced and unscheduled, both in terms of timing and content), adding tasks that often exclude the one that was currently in progress. A manager should always be mindful of how employees use their time and respect their work.
- Use technological achievements – civilisation provides us with many tools which are to assist us in our everyday professional and private life. Used wisely, they can save a lot of time. These include, for example
- Integrated online calendar – facilitates appointments, shows the occupancy of each participant and also informs and reminds about deadlines.
- CRM – salespeople cannot imagine working without it. Such systems not only organise, segregate and group contacts, but also automate part of the correspondence with customers. They have extensive functions supporting the sales process and its proper course and systematise large amounts of information about customers and their preferences.
- Mobile applications supporting the development of personal habits – e.g. regular drinking of water, healthy eating or systematic training.
- Audiobooks – an alternative to a classic book when there is no time to read; it is worth using them e.g. during driving time.
The approach to procrastination depends primarily on our attitude. If our goals are well set, ambitious but realistic, measurable and timed, they should naturally motivate us to act and inspire determination to achieve them. What we should undoubtedly focus on is the level of our dependence on time eaters, which are more and more aggressively entering our lives and taking over all our free time.