By nature, humans have always gone down the path of least resistance. We’ve all felt the looming cloud around us saying “stop procrastinating“, and yet, we give into its will so easily, thinking to ourselves ‘’I have time to do that another day’’ Nowadays distractions are louder, and easier to access than ever.
Procrastination is something we all want to avoid in our personal lives, but it plays an even bigger role in the workplace. Procrastination can come from anywhere really. Say for example you have a team member who thinks his tasks are less of a priority and can do them at a later date, so much that tasks are being completed a the last possible moment. On the other side of that same coin, when skilled professionals are faced with difficult tasks, they are going to want to do them correctly. Squandering so much time thinking of what angles to attack from, how the task should be completed, if it should be completed, should other people be involved. More often than not, these professionals spend more time procrastinating finishing the task, than the task actually takes.
As managers it’s necessary for you to know how to get through to employees to help them stop procrastinating, and understand its effects on general productivity, projects, and the overall actual cost of empty labor.
Understanding the causes and effects of procrastination.
The effects of procrastination at work.
Letting procrastination run rampant in your workplace will only bring about some pretty harmful effects that many managers don’t actively pay attention to, health problems linked to stress can cause for some unnecessary risks for team members; as well as empty labor, the hole in the pocket of all project budgets that almost never gets mended.
- Employee Stress
Stress is that signal in our body that tells us we have to get something done. Normally, it’s a good motivator, it reminds us to stay productive, alert, and to produce high quality work to avoid more stress by getting fired. Although, procrastination adds another layer of stress on our minds. As tasks fall behind the normal stress we feel about having to get a task done in 1 day is amplified by the fact that now you have considerably less time, and often, more work to do. All the while, your boss is asking you to produce the same results. All of this negative stress over time has some very heavy health risks on our body. Stephanie adds in her post from medical daily
“When procrastinators do get around to those tasks, they’re now subjected to increased, unnecessary stress. While stress can be positive and motivate people to perform well, it can also be (and one might argue is mainly) negative. Stress alone has been shown to increase risk of coronary heart disease, as well as chronic headaches, depression, and promote overeating and smoking.”
Understanding the health effects that procrastination has on the body is a good tool in helping prevent added stress and possible breakdowns due to falling behind. These stressors may also lead to dissatisfaction with work, which only snowballs into other things. Using proper management techniques can help more than to just stop procrastinating.
- Empty Labor
“Empty Labor” a term that Roland Paulsen of Lund University coined in his book Empty Labor is the time that employees spend at work doing anything that is not what is needed in their job, mainly, procrastination. Procrastination at work regularly causes companies, and projects to lose money if left unchecked by managers; it can go from bad, to worse.
According to a study published by the International Journal of Selection and Assessment “Procrastination comprises over a quarter of most people’s working days, costing employers about $10,000 per employee per year” (D’Abate & Eddy, 2007; Steel,2011)
To put this better into perspective, let’s say you have a team of ten employees who all earn $16 per hour more or less. If all of them procrastinate 25% of their weekly shifts that’s $1600 down the drain. If we take that figure, and put it into a year that’s $83,200! It’s an insane amount, left unchecked it can spin out of control. Money is going to get lost on procrastination, its only human nature. Though, it’s important for managers to keep this in mind when planning out time and cost sensitive projects.
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Getting inside the procrastinator’s head
Why would anyone avoid completing a task by instead doing something that is not important at all? The answers to this question are as endless as the ways that people differ. But, the answer can be broken down into a few specific problems. Let’s take a moment to study a few of these and some of their possible remedies.
Problem 1. I really, really, don’t want to do this today…
Probably the most common reason that people can’t stop procrastinating would be the fact that they just don’t want to do that task. Maybe going from task to task finishing simpler ones while that one job just sits there, looking at them all day. Telling themselves, “Okay I’m going to listen to this song to get myself motivated, then, I am going do dive right into this task!”. Shortly after one song turns into a cat video and they are no more motivated than before. This all too often leads to poor work, late deliveries, and can cause projects to delay if the task is a prerequisite to another task in a project.
Solution: Plan it, and start it. Though it may seem easier said than done, it’s quite the contrary. If you take the time to think about not waiting to do the task, and instead put that same energy into planning for the task, it makes it much easier to start the task. Once you start the motivation comes naturally, even when you stop, you are still mentally thinking about the task and things you can add to it.
Personally, this happened to me so much when writing papers in college, I would just leave that paper there all day for weeks, not having written a letter. However, once I had started, the words just flowed onto the page, and before I knew it I was finishing up a nicely researched rough draft.
Problem 2. It has to be done just right!
Many times employees will find themselves wanting to do tasks perfectly, and in doing so will be so overly worried about getting the results just right. What’s strange about this point of view is that it isn’t procrastination to start, rather, its procrastination to finish. What takes a normal employee six hours to do ends up taking 12, double the time just to fine tune the work.
Leslie Zaikis from Forbes.com writes “A perfectionist will commit 15 hours to writing the paper, using the extra time to (over) analyze and (over) edit the report, so much that it may take away from the quality of her work.”
While having a perfectionist may seem like a great addition to the team, it can actually be counterproductive. Going back into Levos example, an employee using 15 hours of time on a 6 hour task just tweaking and perfecting can be counted as 9 hours of empty labor, even though the team member was working, the time spent could have better been spent elsewhere.
Solution: Reassure employees that they can relax, and mistakes are expected. Nobody is expecting them to recreate Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor on every single task. Turning in tasks with minor errors may require managers to request that something be modified but in the end, much less time spent on tasks than originally.
Problem 3. I have so much to do!
One of the other problems employees face is having a list of tasks so full they feel overwhelmed. Mountains of long and thought draining tasks that could all be priorities. Naturally one would want to do as much as possible to at least reduce the damage if not all could be completed. Then comes along a task that doesn’t require much time, and that doesn’t require much thought power. Even though it is a task, it goes all the way into the back of Eisenhower’s Matrix, It’s not urgent, nor is it important. So in an attempt to feel productive, they distract them self with work that is not pressing and continue putting off work that is. Leading to more stress the closer the deadline becomes.
Frances Booth writes in her article “When there is too much going on, it can be difficult to prioritize effectively. If we’re caught in a spiral of distractions, we often make poor decisions about how we spend our time, and find it difficult to see clearly.”
For example, let’s say you have a rather large project to deliver by the end of the week, and on top of that you need to generate the monthly reports and such. Time is of the essence and thinking about getting underway is difficult because you keep thinking that you won’t finish. Suddenly a co-worker comes across your desk asking for some advice on an issue and you opt to help, even if their problem isn’t pressing. Putting time and efforts where they are not necessary instead of where they are.
Solution: One of the key solutions here is will power. Assess your tasks list, and break down the tasks to make them seem less daunting. After that, dive into the work, as long as you are working your hardest, the amount of work will go down. Stressing about deadlines isn’t going to do any good and can just lead to more procrastination.
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Incorporate Anti-Procrastination Strategies
Even though, it seems as if these problems should be dealt with by the team-member themselves. It is ultimately you as the manager who is held responsible for missed deadlines and motivating your team. As managers, there are quite a few things that can be done to help reduce empty labor and procrastination as a whole. Let’s take a look at some of the most powerful tips and tools for increasing productivity, and that help team members stop procrastinating.
Make employees feel connected to the work
Nowadays there is a large problem that employees feel with the companies they work at. They feel more like a number than they do a contributor. All too often are seemingly irreplaceable employees being replaced within days, and upper management having to make tough decisions to cut employees. Overtime it creates a certain disconnection of the employee and their work, and this can be a leading problem with procrastination in the workplace.
As managers, it is important to show subordinates that their work isn’t just a 9 to 5 but rather, a part of a sometime very large web of contribution. This does not just increase productivity, but it also increases employee relations with customers and management. John from the Harvard Business Review writes “Improving employee engagement is not simply about improving productivity — although organizations with a high level of engagement do report 22% higher productivity…In addition, strong employee engagement promotes a variety of outcomes that are good for employees and customers. For instance, highly engaged organizations have double the rate of success of lower engaged organizations.”
When employees clearly know their role in a company they are connected with their work, they know what part of the company they help in. And in turn, that daunting task doesn’t seem so full of doom and gloom anymore. Rather an opportunity to show off their skills.
Get tasks in order
One of the best ways to stop procrastinating is to take a deep look at your business processes. More often than not, the fact that tasks are cluttered around the office improperly delegated can be the cause of a lot of workplace procrastination. Are your deadlines too lose? Do employees know when tasks need to be done? These are all questions that managers need to know the answers to, when taking a deeper look at controlling procrastination.
How do you delegate? Are you a manager who still delegates by email? One of the biggest problems with procrastination is that many tasks are not delegated properly, or they are just simply thrown into a pool of tasks waiting to be picked up by someone on a team. Lets take a look at a few simple steps for proper and thorough delegation.
⇒ Pick a specific person
If a task is going to be delegated, managers should pick a specific person to do each task, this reduces the bystander effect, and the manager normally knows who is competent enough on each team to do each task.
⇒ Define the task
A simple e-mail quickly and sloppily writing out what you expect in the task won’t do. The task needs to be set up and spelt out in detail for there not to be many mistakes. I am sure every manager who reads this has heard the age old “I didn’t think you meant that in your e-mail” Well this is a great way to get tasks into the hands of employees without any questions. And on top of that, they feel much more relaxed knowing exactly what is expected of them.
⇒ Keep up frequent communication
Following up with steps of the task can keep employees engaged in work, knowing that their boss is going to ask questions about their progress. Offering advice or positive feedback along the way goes a long way with not only procrastination, but cohesion as well.
- Concrete deadlines
One problem many procrastinators face, is that they feel as if they have a lot of time to keep putting off tasks, after all, many of these people have the freedom to set their own due dates (within reason). But that is the exact problem. With all of this free time, many believe that its possible to keep putting off all tasks until the very end. Managers need to step in here putting deadlines on when tasks need to be done. As a manager, you may think instilling so many strict deadlines on subordinates could be very stressful for them, being counterproductive.
“But isn’t constantly working to a deadline stressful, you ask? Well, no. Being late is stressful; scrabbling to finish a piece of work due yesterday is stressful. Deadlines are motivational. You know exactly where you stand with them, and that sense of order is good for your well-being.” Says Sophie Ellis from the Telegraph
Putting deadlines on work for team members makes building business processes much easier. Having a time-frame displaying what tasks will be done at what time, also helps risk managers stay ahead of risk management.
Another great way to get employees to stop procrastinating is to prioritize tasks. These days, there are more tasks than ever needing to be done. What holds the most importance and what can be done later sometimes is a very blurry line. One of the biggest problems that can cause procrastination is when employees really don’t know what holds the most importance. Sorting out for each employee (or manager for each team) what is most important sets the precedence. This helps most with problem 3 listed above, literally showing subordinates what the completion order of tasks are will help increase focus on work, and ultimately, lessen procrastination.
- Use Runrun.it
This sounds like a lot of work I know, but what if I told you there was a way to incorporate all of these useful tips into the daily work of all employees in your company automatically?
Well, there is. Runrun.it is a task manager that allows managers to delegate with great detail what is expected from employees, as well as a format set up to communicate inside of each task. Setting concrete deadlines is a simple as picking a date and time, all the while seeing how much time was placed into each and every task by the team member. And finally, in each task list of each employee, managers can rearrange the priority of tasks, leaving out any confusion of what needs to be worked on next.
Runrun.it, the best way to stop procrastinating
Check out Runrun.it – the software that dispenses email for internal communication because it centralizes the tasks of all teams and reduces the number of follow-up meetings and the friction between leaders and teams by producing automatic activity reports. Try it free here.