No matter how motivated you are, procrastinating at work is something we are all guilty of. You sit down to your computer, coffee in hand, with the intention of getting on with a project that has been hanging over you for days. Instead, you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter and half an hour has passed.
Procrastinating seems relatively harmless, but it can lead to wasted time and poor performance. It can also impact wellbeing. Research has shown regular procrastinators are more likely to experience stress and anxiety, particularly if you struggle under pressure.
So how can we stop ourselves from procrastinating at work?
“Procrastination happens when our goals, work, or to-do list are bigger than our energy levels, our time, and even sometimes, our courage,” according to business and life coach Kiki Stanton, founder of Kiki Kirby Coaching. “This can make us feel burnt out we can’t complete the tasks ahead.”
“We feel we have to push through the task and there doesn’t seem much energy left for the rest of the day,” Stanton said.
It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and write down long lists of what we want to get done in a day, but it’s better to focus on what needs to be done instead. You’re far more likely to get your work done if you aren’t overwhelmed by an enormous to-do list of tasks.
Ticking off what you’ve finished throughout the day is a good idea too, as it gives you an incentive to push on.
“Take a moment and pause write down what you are wanting to make happen,” Stanton said. “Slow down your day to achieve more.”
Many of us check our email every few minutes without thinking about it, which can be distracting. Setting aside time every few hours or so to clear our inboxes is a good way to keep on top of emails without them eating away at our time.
Likewise, we can lose hours of daily productivity by checking social media, as the minutes we spend scrolling Facebook add up over the day. Uninstalling social media apps from your phone can help, as can logging out of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram after every use — you’ll be less likely to bother logging in every single time.
If you find yourself wasting time on certain websites — YouTube, for example — then you can block these during work hours.
Ask why you are procrastinating
People procrastinate for different reasons and finding out why you do it can help solve the issue. Research published in the Journal of Social Psychology suggests there are two types of procrastinators — passive and active.
“Passive procrastinators are procrastinators in the traditional sense. They are paralysed by their indecision to act and fail to complete tasks on time,” the researchers found. “In contrast, active procrastinators are a ‘positive’ type of procrastinator. They prefer to work under pressure, and they make deliberate decisions to procrastinate.”
For those who don’t thrive under pressure, working out why you are procrastinating and addressing the problem is important. This might mean asking for help if you are stuck, or delegating work if you are putting things off because you’re too busy.
Procrastination is commonly a symptom of perfectionism, too. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job, seeking perfection can lead us to putting off tasks.
A 2015 study by the University of Bath found a link between perfectionism, extreme stress, and burnout. “As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high-achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait,” according to Bath professor Thomas Curran, one of the authors of the study.
Not everyone has the natural willpower to get things done, particularly if you’re working on something you don’t really enjoy. Introducing rewards into your work is a good way to push yourself to get things done.
Whether it’s allowing yourself to get a coffee after you’ve finished a stack of paperwork, or going out for lunch rather than eating a sandwich at your desk, rewards can help encourage you to stop procrastinating.
Stanton advises thinking about how you will feel when you’ve finished a piece of work, too.
“How do you want to feel once you have completed the tasks?” she said. She added it’s also important to “have regular breaks” and “renew your mind daily” or even hourly if you have big tasks ahead and are feeling under pressure.