Procrastination in the Workplace–And How to Avoid It

Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, you need to nip procrastination in the bud because it lowers productivity and decreases profits. If you’re always on your phone or goofing off, your manager and co-workers will notice–and it will be reflected on your performance review. Similarly, if you’re a leader who doesn’t keep your employees on track, your company will suffer. The tricky part is procrastination has many causes, and it also takes on many forms.

For some people, procrastination is a way to put off doing unpleasant or boring tasks until the last minute before the deadline. This inevitably results in poor quality work. If you’re a small business owner, procrastination can literally result in the failure of your business. Clients want to work with professionals who meet deadlines promptly and efficiently. Doing shoddy work can cause people to post negative online reviews; whereas performing well increases the likelihood of clients referring friends and family to your business.

 For other people, procrastination and distractions go hand-in-hand. At one company where I consulted, I noticed a woman who had a major procrastination problem. Every time I walked past her desk on my way to a meeting, I could see her playing games or online shopping instead of doing her work. Not only did this negatively impact her performance, but it also gave everyone else a negative opinion about her.

At the same company, I met another man who, as soon as he sat at his desk and started a new task, would begin chatting off topic. It soon became clear he was doing anything to pass the time instead of getting down to work.

You might not think you have anything in common with these procrastinators, but between catching up on news headlines, checking your phone for new messages, and looking at Facebook or Twitter, it’s easy to let time slip away from you. Odds are, you’re wasting valuable minutes, if not hours, of your day avoiding work instead of doing it.

Rather than allow these distractions to dominate your day, make it a rule you’ll only check them at specific intervals. For instance, you can make it a policy you’ll only look at social media on your lunch breaks and will only respond to texts once an hour. Not only will you get more work done, but you’ll leave a much better impression on your employer and you won’t create resentment among your team, who might have been feeling–right or wrong–that they were covering your load of the work.

That’s why, when I have an urgent project that needs my attention and focus, I close my email and put away my cellphone so I won’t get distracted. It’s easy to become distracted and lose focus when you hear the “ping” that announces a new email has arrived in your Inbox, so keep your eye on the big picture. Set a timer on the hour to make sure you remember to take a few minutes to decompress before throwing yourself back into your project. Even tasks that sound dull at first will pass by quickly once you get in a state of flow.