Procrastination the time leech of best intention, and in the work environment it’s a silent but pervasive menace that infiltrates most, if not all of us at one time or another, undermining productivity and even obstructing career growth.

The term “procrastination” itself derives from the Latin word “procrastinare,” meaning “to defer” or “to delay. But what are its manifestations, root causes, prevalence and the true impact on both employees and organisations? Are there strategies to overcome procrastination? Let’s find out!

I’ve been writing this blog for 15 minutes, yet already I have spent at least 3 minutes procrastinating! The irony of this is comical! I know what I want to say, I have a plan, a framework and time set aside to pull it together. Yet, despite all this my brain still says “sorry, our lines are currently busy, please hold!”

Having given my brain a good telling off, in which I heard no argument, I am ready to go again. So, what actually is procrastination?

Procrastination itself can be defined as the act of delaying or postponing tasks, often despite knowing the negative consequences of such delays. At work, it manifests in lots ways. Let’s see how many of these you mentally tick off?

Putting off important projects or tasks? Avoiding challenging assignments, emails or conversations? Or even succumbing to mindless distractions? Things such as YouTube worms (the process of watching one video that then leads to another and another and another, then before you know it, an hour has passed and you’re watching a video of something far from where you started! Or becoming engrossed in some random on TikTok bouncing ping pong balls down the stairs off of various kitchen pots and pans – you know exactly what I’m talking about!

Based on this then, is procrastination a biproduct of the immergence of social media?

The link between procrastination and the rise of social media is complex. The evidence of a connecting comes from several studies. For instance, a study by Steel in 2007 found that around 20% of the global population identifies as chronic procrastinators, that’s 1.32 billion people at the time! Another study by Junco and Cotten in 2012 discovered that college students using Facebook reported spending more time on the platform than intended, potentially affecting academic performance. This highlights the addictive nature of social media and its potential to lead individuals to underestimate the time spent on these platforms – some completely oblivious to how much time they actually spend on it.

Why are we so addicted to social media? One theory is “Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)”. This is a psychological phenomenon associated with social media. It’s the anxiety we feel when we think others are experiencing rewarding events and we’re not. This concept gained prominence with the rise of social media, where constant updates can create a sense of inadequacy or the fear of missing out on enjoyable experiences.

Understanding FOMO is crucial in grasping how social media contributes to procrastination. The constant stream of idealised portrayals and achievements on social media can trigger FOMO, prompting us to seek solace or distraction on these platforms instead of focusing on our work.

Yet, while I’ve not been able to find any evidence of a direct study linking social media to procrastination, the broader research on procrastination, along with studies on social media’s impact on behaviour provides a foundation for understanding the connection.

So, we know what procrastination is, where it’s meaning comes from, and how the emergence of social media may increase the potential of distraction. But how does procrastination commonly manifest itself in a work environment? Here’s a few common signs that you may recognise:

Task-switching: Constant task switching to avoid tackling a challenging project, leading to a fragmented workflow and reduced efficiency.

Excessive planning: Procrastinators often over-plan tasks, unconsciously using planning as a stalling tactic instead of taking meaningful action.

Endless perfectionism: Some people delay starting a task due to an unrealistic pursuit of perfection, leading to missed deadlines and increased stress.

Why Does Procrastination Happen?

The root causes of procrastination are multifaceted and may include fear of failure, lack of motivation, poor time management skills, lack of understanding or complexity of a task or even a cocktail of these factors and more. Additionally, the prevalence of procrastination may be exacerbated by workplace culture, unrealistic expectations or inadequate resources. I know for sure that these three scenarios have played a big part in my procrastination in the past.

Procrastination’s impact extends beyond missed deadlines and incomplete projects. It can lead to increased stress, diminished job satisfaction, lack of engagement with colleagues and strained interpersonal relationships. From an organisational perspective, procrastination can contribute to a decline in overall productivity, hinder innovation, performance and adversely affect metric performance.

Over the years I’ve become mindful of the signs of procrastination in myself and in my teams. I can’t say that I’m 100% on it, but I believe that I have developed an awareness that has allowed me to implement some strategies to reduce the frequency and impact. Let me share my Top 5 with you:

  1. Break tasks into smaller steps: Divide large projects or tasks into manageable steps to make them less overwhelming and more achievable. Celebrate mini milestones with a coffee and a biscuit or something else that releases positive emotions.
  2. Set realistic deadlines: Establishing clear, achievable deadlines helps create a sense of urgency and minimises the temptation to procrastinate.
  3. Prioritise tasks: Identify and tackle high-priority tasks first, ensuring that critical assignments receive the attention they deserve. Make a “To Do” list and actively tick things off. The “tick” element is important, the subconscious impact of a “tick” is positive, correct, a “well done” in our minds. I don’t know this for sure, but this may come from our school days and how we were conditioned that a tick was good and a cross was bad. Remember the dreaded teachers red pen? Still gives me shudders now!
  4. Create a conducive work environment: Minimise distractions and create a focused work environment to enhance concentration and minimise procrastination triggers. Hard I know, but putting your phone onto silent mode and closing any windows on your computer that are needed for the task in hand can be helpful. I even close my email so I have no alerts or temptation to check it.
  5. Utilise the “Pomodoro” Technique: The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s when he was a university student and wanted to boost his productivity. He named it “Pomodoro”, which is the Italian word for “tomato”, because he initially used a tomato shaped kitchen timer for tracking work intervals – I guess we’re lucky it wasn’t an egg timer or else it would have been known as the “uovo” technique, which doesn’t quite have the same twang about it! Basically, it’s a simple time management method aimed at improving efficiency. It involves breaking work into intervals, normally about 25-minutes long, called “pomodoros,” separated by short breaks. After completing four pomodoros, a longer break of 15–30 minutes is taken.

 

Heed my advice or not, procrastination is and continues to be a formidable adversary in the workplace, affecting individuals and organisations alike. Recognising its manifestations, understanding its root causes and implementing effective strategies like the ones I’ve suggested from my personal approach above, can empower people to break free from the shackles of procrastination, fostering a culture of productivity and success. By acknowledging the problem and implementing practical solutions, individuals and organisations can pave the way for sustained professional growth and achievement.

To hear more of my ramblings, follow me on LinkedIn – Matt Sims, or check out my Blogs at Blog – Ever-So-Lean (eversolean.com)

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