How do I avoid procrastinating at work?
Updated: Apr 30
While you are at work, do you find yourself continually putting off tasks, especially when they are top-priority or boring to do? If you find yourself postponing tasks that should be done then and there, we call that procrastinating. Edward young, an English poet from the 1700’s once said that procrastination is the thief of time and for good reason. Procrastinating in your job steals time away from actually getting work done.
It may be a report that your supervisor has asked to be placed on his desk once completed, an invoice to be done, a message/call to follow up on or even an email to reply to. Whatever it may be, there are always going to be laborious and boring job activities that you have to do at work. So what do you do? Well you delay it. But how do you really know whether to delay it or act upon it then? You should ask yourself the question – what will happen if I don’t do what I’m postponing now? What will the outcome/consequence be?
There is an interesting article about how to keep a job that you may find useful to read.
It is good to remember that if you can and should take action, then you would be wise to do so since delaying important tasks could result in problems later on. For example, not returning a customer’s call could result in the customer going elsewhere or feeling unimportant. Postponing a report may result in a meeting to be held up.
There are a number of reasons why we procrastinate. These come down to our desire, attitude and worries.
“If my boss genuinely wants it done, he’ll ask me more than once”
“This can wait. I have other urgent matters which require my attention.”
“I’ll do it before I leave work then I’ll have more motivation to get it done.”
“I can’t be bothered getting it done”
“I’m not self-disciplined”
“I’d prefer doing something else”
“I’ll do it when I feel like it”
“It’s too much for me to handle”
“What if I make a mistake?”
“I’m not the right person to handle it”
“I’m not going to get it done in time”
In reading the above reasons as to why we procrastinate, have you had the same line of thinking in the past? Take a moment to reflect on why you reasoned as you did. Was it worth it? Was the outcome better or worse for you?
Now each of us may procrastinate at different stages. Sometimes before starting a project or half-way as we become less passionate about finishing it off. The reasons as to why we don’t start an activity or finish it off vary. We will now look at some of these reasons.
One reason may be is that we feel weighed down. When we are busy at work and we have a number of things to do, or we start a report and it gets complicated, things start to become all too much for us and we procrastinate.
Another reason may be is that we worry that a project will go wrong or we will make a mistake. We start to assume the worst before even starting something at work or finishing it. We may assume that our boss won’t like it, or if it isn’t done properly it will appear to our colleagues and supervisor that we don’t know what we’re doing. I call that the incompetence assumption – the assumption that you are incompetent to do something so you don’t do it at all.
If you really can’t figure out why you’re procrastinating at work, start noting down activities you do each half-hour for a week. Look at what you’re spending time on. Are you spending time on productive activities in between tasks or not? Below is a format that you can use to record your findings.
ACTIVITY IN BETWEEN TASKS
So how can you avoid procrastinating at work? Below is a list of helpful suggestions that you can use at work.
Write a list
Before you finish work, spend 10 minutes putting on paper all the things you want completed the next day and how long you estimate it will take to complete a task. By doing this, you won’t forget what to do or procrastinate in the morning about what needs done. As you tick off each task on your list, you’ll be able to measure your progress and how efficient you are.
It is also good to use a calendar to prioritise assignments and appointments as they come. While you’re going over the jobs you need to do for the next day, prioritise each item on your calendar by placing 1, 2, 3, etc next to each task to be completed. Now you may be a morning person or an afternoon person, if so, schedule your most important tasks to do during your most productive time in the day and place least enjoyable activities before the enjoyable ones. This way, you’ll be motivated to complete the boring tasks as quickly as possible because you’ll be looking forward to the most enjoyable tasks.
Watch the time
Do you find yourself not just running late all the time, but actually rushing around and stressing out because you’re late? If so, you need to understand how to tell time. Being able to tell time involves knowing how long you’ll need to do a task. It is wise to take into account any interruptions by adding extra minutes for a task to be completed. Also if you are on the road for appointments, take into account travel time in between meetings.
Do you find yourself trying to do everything although you don’t necessarily have to? If so, you need to learn to delegate. This involves handing over tasks to your colleagues to help you complete them.
However you may feel at times that you can’t delegate, because it won’t be done the way you want it done. If that’s the case, remember that you can’t do everything, and delegating requires trust on your part. If you really can’t trust a co-worker to do a task properly, then you need to discuss it with the co-worker and tell him/her the way you would like it done.
Split the task
At times we may not even start a project because it’s too much for us to handle. Why not cut the large activity into small activities. That way, you’ll be able to see your progress as you complete each of the small activities.
Take into account inconveniences
We can’t escape interruptions at work. There’s always going to be visitors, issues to address, mail, phone calls and sick days. It is up to you to take into account these possible interruptions when planning your daily, weekly and monthly activities.
Generally, our concentration level starts to wane off slowly after about 30 minutes. So when you are doing your scheduling, plan for concentrated performance for 45 - 60 minutes plus 10 minutes preparation time. It’s good then to schedule a 10 minute break to pause, grab a coffee and reflect. If you’re working outside, grab some refreshment. If you reward your body for your hard work, your body will reward you with greater performance and motivation.
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