Procrastination: A workplace problem

Procrastination is the ongoing avoidance of a variety of tasks which need to be accomplished – often leading to feelings of guilt, inadequacy and self-doubt. Procrastination often becomes chronic and paralysing and has a huge impact on people’s productivity levels, particularly office jobs.

Why do people procrastinate to this extent? There are many and varied reasons for this:

1. I’m too busy: Procrastination may be used to call attention to how busy the employee is, “My affairs are too demanding and complicated to deal with this,” – considerable time is spent justifying why they are too busy.

2. Manipulation: Procrastination may be used to control or manipulate the behaviour of others. ‘They cannot start if I am not there,’ – or, ‘I will do this task when I am ready…’ The negative impact of the procrastination of one employee on co-workers and the organisation may be huge and is compounded when it is deliberate.

3. Fear and anxiety: The person may feel overwhelmed with the task and afraid of failure. More time is spent worrying about failing, rather than attempting to complete the task. This usually results in self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.

4. Difficulty concentrating: Environments not conducive to working or carrying out tasks, make this situation much worse. Offices and homes are often distracting and noisy.
Desk clutter and disorganisation add fuel to this.

5. Poor time management: Procrastinators usually have poor time management skills. They prioritise the wrong things, or fail to prioritise at all. Usually they postpone the difficult or very boring tasks in favour of the tasks they prefer doing. They may also have low frustration / tolerance levels and feel overwhelmed when tasks seem too hard or feel they have been marginalized by being the one singled out to do the task

6. Perfectionism: Procrastinators often have unrealistic expectations of themselves. Perfectionism creates a high degree of dissatisfaction and frustration because seldom is anything accomplished that is acceptable first time round - feel if they haven’t done the best they could, they should continue to postpone completion of a task until they think it is perfect. This often means projects are completed after deadlines and this reflects poorly on the employee. Unfortunately, this is often not a true reflection of their abilities and has an even bigger impact on an organisation’s bottom life.

7. Negative beliefs and poor self-esteem are similar problems. The employee believes he/she lacks the necessary skills or ability to perform a task. Even when the task is eventually performed successfully, the employee cannot recognise the accomplishment or accept praise.

Procrastinators try all the wrong methods to combat this habit. They often try minimising their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. This never works; it only gives a procrastinator another excuse not to postpone these activities – as they now convince themselves there is more time to delay in getting to do these tasks.

How do you help an employee who procrastinates?

  • Help them set realistic goals
  • Identify real – not perceived skills deficiencies and offer training opportunities.
  • Modify their environment: remove avoidable distractions or set parameters for interaction in the workplace.
  • Encourage them to get psychological help.

Overcoming your own procrastination:

  • Recognise self-defeating behaviour and underlying reasons - realise it will take self - discipline, and reward yourself when you do change your pattern and achieve your tasks on time.
  • Dwell on success – not failure.
  • Identify your special behavioural diversions
  • Note when and where you procrastinate
  • Plan how to diminish and control this behaviour
  • Break large tasks into small ones
  • Prioritise work and set deadlines
  • Use behavioural suggestions, by placing reminders around you
  • Bogged in the Middle: change location or position, take a break, switch subjects or tasks.
  • Reward yourself for accomplishment.
  • Learn cognitive strategies to overcome procrastination
  • Learn to tolerate discomfort
  • Watch for mental self-seductions

Speak to LifeLine JHB or LifeSkills about Self growth and Time management programmes or counselling interventions, to assist you in your management of procrastination problems.

For information contact us at: lifeskills@lifelinejhb.org.za

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