Stop Procrastinating at Work

No matter if the task is big or small, everyone procrastinates at work sometimes. Whatever the reason for your procrastination, you know that you must overcome the issue or risk negatively impacting your work performance and reputation. Stop procrastination at work by using helpful strategies such as visualization and rewards. Then, seek out accountability to help you stay on track. Finally, you might prevent procrastination in the future by getting to the heart of your procrastination habit.


Making the Task Doable

  1. Visualize the completed task. Visualization is a powerful tool to help you reach your goals. You may have trouble getting started on a task because you are disconnected with the outcome. Envision your desired outcome to get your mojo back.[1]
    • Let’s say you are trying to coordinating a charity event for your office. You might envision, using all of your senses, the event night. Notice the decorations, smell the food, admire the attire of the attendees. Take pride in having put it together. Spend several minutes imagining the finished product. Then, get to work.
  2. Break large tasks down. If you’re staring down a gigantic task at work, the size and scale may overwhelm you and lead to procrastination. When this happens, devise a plan to tear down the project into manageable chunks. Determine how much time each chunk will require. Then, complete the large project bite-by-bite.[2]
    • For instance, if you have to do a presentation, you might first do research. Then, outline the bones of what you’ll say, write a draft, revise it, practice, and polish your final draft.
  3. Create a personal deadline. Even if your boss or team leader gave you a deadline, you might need to motivate yourself with a stricter one. Review the task at hand and decide how much time is needed to complete it. Then, set a firm deadline for yourself. Place the deadline on a sticky note above your desk to keep you focused.[3]
  4. Set up rewards. Sometimes, you have to make completing a task more attractive by placing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Whether you are sitting down to type out emails or needing a boost for a tedious report, set up a reward that complements the task at hand.[4]
    • For instance, if you finish a batch of emails, you might reward yourself with 10 minutes of chatting with a coworker. If you complete a huge report, you might treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  5. Take action in the next three minutes. In general, you probably already know what you need to be doing. The problem is getting started. Build momentum by identifying something you can do towards your task in the next three minutes. Take the slightest action and you’ll likely be on a roll from there.[5]
  6. Delegate some tasks. If your project is too much for you to handle on your own, then you might consider delegating some tasks to other people. Identify what tasks you have to complete that could be delegated to your coworkers or subordinate employees.

Seeking Accountability

  1. Ask a work buddy to hold you accountable. If you have a partner in the project, or if you’re on friendly terms with a coworker, ask them for help. Knowing that you have to answer to someone else might be just the kick-in-the-pants you need to get some work done.[6]
    • You might ask, “Hey, Rick, do you mind stopping by at 3pm to give me a nudge? That way, I can use the remainder of the afternoon being productive rather than just counting down the time to leave.”
  2. Work with someone who inspires you. If your workday is filled with delaying, it might help to get out of your current environment and join forces with more productive colleagues. Use the common area in your office to work in the midst of people who tend to get things done. Their energy will likely rub off on you.[3]
  3. Download an app to decrease distractions. If distractions hinder your productivity at work, you can build in accountability by using technology. There are tons of applications for both your smartphone and your computer that measure the time you spend on certain websites (e.g. Facebook), block your access to such websites, or prevent you from visiting the internet altogether.[7]
    • Browse your app store to find the application that best suits your particular needs.

Managing Your Emotions

  1. Label your emotions. Oftentimes, at the core of procrastination is an emotional regulation issue. You feel overwhelmed, bored, or anxious, so you choose to put off the work for something else. Overcome your procrastination habit by learning to label the emotions that are holding you back.[8]
    • For example, you have a big project to complete, but it's not very exciting. Therefore, you may delay doing it in favor of surfing the web.[2]
    • You might go ahead and label the project you're working on as "boring." You can then prevent boredom by turning on some music or adding a reward to make it more exciting.
  2. Do not allow perfectionism to drive you. One of the main emotions driving your procrastination habit is fear. You worry about making a mistake. You fear how much your life will change if you are successful. You make up a ton of excuses to disguise the fact that you are afraid. So, you delay. Instead of worrying, take the next imperfect action.[9]
    • Don’t get so caught up in the details or the full picture. Focus on what you can do in your immediate future to improve your progress towards a goal. Identify the very next step and take it. Then, the next step and so on.
  3. Reconnect with your purpose. Procrastination often means you have become detached from your long-term goals. You procrastinate to avoid some sort of discomfort in the near future, whether it’s doing a difficult task or skipping out on something more interesting. Reconnect with your “why” and remember why the work needs doing in the first place.[4]
    • For example, if you are getting bogged down in developing activities for a kid’s summer camp, remember the importance of the camp in the long-term rather than dwelling on the short-term discomfort. Look on the bright side: the camp may teach kids social skills, help them overcome confidence issues, and nurture a love for nature.
  4. Change locations. Sometimes working in the same space day after day can result in poor productivity. Changing locations for a day may help you to feel more productive. For example, you could work from a coffee shop for the day or occupy a conference room in your office to get a change of scenery. Try doing this once per week for a little variety.
  5. Remove your distractions. Being distracted by your phone, social media websites, and other things may hamper your productivity as well. Try turning off your phone for a few hours to help you focus. You can also log off of your social media accounts to help remove the temptation to check them every few minutes.
  6. Seek professional help. Overcoming chronic procrastination may prove challenging. Don’t allow your procrastination habit to tank your work performance and ruin future opportunities. If you are having trouble stopping procrastination on your own, seek out help.[10]
    • You might talk to someone in your HR department for helpful resources. Or, you might hire a business success coach or see a therapist for poor self-esteem or perfectionism issues.

Sources and Citations

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