When it comes to managing projects large and small, one of the biggest obstacles businesses can find themselves facing is procrastination.

Occurring for a wealth of reasons, an astonishing 84 per cent of the population has issues with delaying their responsibilities or delaying their workload.

So, how do you deal with it and what can help when it comes to dealing with procrastination?

What is procrastination?

If there ever were a time to joke about putting off an explanation about procrastination, it would go here. Coming from the Latin ‘procrastinare’, the literal definition is ‘putting off today what can be done tomorrow’. This involves delaying work for any number of deliberate, subconscious, or inadvertent reasons. For individuals, this ‘thief of time’ can lead to frustrations and stress, resulting in any number of issues such as-

Stress: Operating in a closed loop, many procrastinators put off tasks in order to avoid them…resulting in yet more personal and professional stress. Before long, individuals can burn out due to the cumulative strain of producing inadequate work and creating more problems for themselves. The thought of work piling up can trigger feelings of stress and force the individual to work outside of hours without being paid – consolidating unstainable practice for your business and unequitable treatment for the employee.

Missed Deadlines: By definition, procrastination will result in missed deadlines. While personal deadlines can be frustrating and cause personal issues, procrastinating on professional work can have serious ramifications. If delivered at all, work will often be sub-par and not accurately reflect the individual’s capacity or that of your organisation. This can result in lost opportunities, reputational damage, and the passing of work to other employees to pick up the slack.

Snowballing: If deadlines are missed continuously, this can result in a logjam at multiple levels of your business. While this can be resolved with additional work effort, this can be crippling for departments that are interdependent on each other – with teams left sitting on completed work while another individual struggles to keep up. On an individual level, this can result in a caseload that becomes paralysing, eventually resulting in disciplinary action or even rethinking their place in the company.

Resource loss: No matter the scale of the issue, procrastination will require additional ‘resource’ of time, effort, or manpower to resolve the problem, often going beyond the budget allocated to the original project. This can be inconvenient for businesses and highly damaging for smaller companies operating on slender margins, with additional effort required to fix the issue often incurring expense that negates the value of the project in the first place.

This makes understanding and actively addressing procrastination essential. And once appreciated, putting in place key steps can help optimise your approach and prevent issues from occurring in the future.

Why does procrastination happen?

While there are a number of theories about the specificities of the habit, procrastination is first and foremost a stress avoidance strategy. By delaying work, the individual affected can put the event into the future and avoid addressing it here and now. This involves an element of ‘giving in’ and passively accepting the future rather than standing up and trying to take steps to course correct it.

Often, an oncoming deadline or tasks can appear intimidating and individuals prefer to undertake a short-term ‘pleasurable’ activity to avoid the task – such as opening YouTube, turning on their Play Station, or putting on the TV in order to forget about their worries.

Unfortunately, these issues are not going away any time soon.

Once the deadline draws near, the individual has diminished time to resolve their issues and the cycle repeats. And then does so again. And again. And again – to the point where the stress of the completing the activity is more than the emotional and professional pain of letting it slide entirely.

The process is a self-defeating, vicious cycle. And there are a number of ways people approach it.

What types of procrastinator are there?

While there are multiple theories about the origins of procrastination, there are four established types that most individuals conform to. These include-

1. Fearful: The most common type for many individuals, fearful procrastinators are primarily scared about the task they are expected to accomplish. Through being fearful, they are reluctant to take the first step on the road to failure and put off making a genuine start as long as possible. After all, the only way to never fail is to avoid trying in the first place.

In this way fearful procrastinators are self-comforting by avoiding the real or imagined stresses that accompany failure. Failure is often seen as the most effective path to growth and learning. This means by locking themselves off from completing a task, they prevent themselves from accomplishing personal growth and can stunt their emotional and professional development.

2. Perfectionist: The flip side of being fearful, perfectionism is putting off tasks or spending so much time noodling away at them that they never end up completed or are tweaked beyond recognition. Perfectionism will often come hand-in-hand with a need for control and if a project or task does not turn out ‘just right’ or as envisioned, it can result in repetition or delays until it is completed to – what can often be – unattainable standards.

However, each task does not need to be absolutely perfect. Spending two days working on a report that should have been completed in two hours does not add value to your work and can often accompany delaying other tasks that the individual is not comfortable with. And, if you can’t accomplish things as you like, it’s better to just stay in your comfort zone or do nothing at all.

3. Sapped: For many individuals, possessing a lack of energy can make completing a task seem daunting in the extreme. While the will may be strong, being overworked, overtired, or burnt out can make even the simplest task seem insurmountable – making the most and least self-conscious people push it into the future when they think they will feel more ready to tackle it.

Unfortunately, those struggling with their workload often have issues with their daily responsibilities and – all too often – the cycle will continue to repeat, leading to further tiredness and almost continuous delays. And when it comes to making positive change to your life, that can easily be put off too…

4. Unfocused: Put simply, this is when people feel it’s impossible to find the will to focus on a project. This can be due to the lack of detailed brief, a daunting topic, or any other number of issues. Your attention can drift, mind wander, and  – before long – the allotted time to complete the work has sailed by before you’ve even recognised it.

This can result in a project taking much longer to complete, straying from your original brief, or failing to close out the task successfully. And even with the will, desire, and need present – many can find themselves grappling with a task that could take other colleagues a fraction of the time.

How do I overcome procrastination?

While it is important to contextualise any support to an individual, the approaches for each of the four types include-

1. Puncturing fear: For those afraid of failure, it’s important to realise that fear is nothing to be scared of. Realising that many mistakes can be fixed is an essential part of building confidence and taking action to correct issues can be a massive part of building good personal habits.

A good rule of thumb is to think about the question “will this matter a year from now?” and attempt to recognise the source of your stress is the ‘desire’ to accomplish the task as you envision. Remember that failing to complete a task is infinitely worse that failing to start – as, even with an abject failure, you have material or personal learning to build on.

2. Understanding Perfectionism: When it comes to managing perfectionism, it is important to understand what you are doing and adjusting your sights. Working on something that needs to be ‘good enough’ does not require additional effort and work on your part. And if you are worried about receiving feedback – learning to take it onboard and build it into your practice is essential.

Ultimately, perfectionism can be the hardest approach to address as it involves a degree of communication and internalising what is expected of a person. While it may be possible for a boss to provide the scope of a project and outline a project, it is ultimately up to the individual to understand that there is no such thing as perfection. And that the process, rather then the end result, is often what truly matters.

3. Tackling tiredness: When it comes to managing your energy levels, it is essential to take a look at your own life and examine how healthy it is. Taking time to switch up elements of your day-to-day activities can help make a profound change, from getting more exercise, securing a good night’s sleep, or even just trying to get more variety in your diet.

If this persists, it is worth getting in touch with a doctor and seeing if you can secure a diagnosis or at least rule out any number of issues that could be affecting you. And don’t’ forget to take a detailed look at your work-life balance and see if there are any elements that can be amended.

4. Retaining focus: If you’re struggling to focus on completing your work, the key is setting clear, attainable goals. This can involve ‘chunking’ work down into smaller segments that require less time and energy to complete. and by engaging with the project, this can increase your understanding, engagement, and investment with it.

And, as with tiredness, it is worth taking every step possible to diagnose the solution. Taking some time to talk to your doctor can rule out physiological factors such as attention deficit disorder and help better understand your situation to find the care and guidance you need to get your life back on track.

How do you stop it dead?

While there are a number of ways to tackle the issues directly, there are also a number of supplementary approaches that can help your work. These include but are not limited to-

Open Communication: If an individual is struggling with completing a task, it is important o communicate with them and understand what is causing issues. Often this can be something as simple as a poor quality brief or even an incorrectly applied approach or unorthodox task that is derailing a project. Understanding employee issues can help them feel supported and ensure that your teams are able to enjoy the sustainable, long term care they need.

Budgeting Approach: When it comes to procrastination, it is important to set goals and workloads that are not only attainable but include gaps to allow for unavoidable delays. This can help ensure that delayed projects or deliverables do not cause issues for clients and that your team members have enough time to complete the task; while still checking in to make sure everything is still on track to be accomplished.

Digital Resources: Thankfully, modern technology can help take much of the effort out of completing a project successfully. Working with a properly managed task on a software platform can help you add automation to facilitate key steps, improve collaboration between individuals, provide insights that can help with scheduling, and a wealth of other targeted solutions that address problems unique to you and your teams.

What next?

If you want to learn more about fine-tuning your approach and incentivising your employees, our team at Practical Software is here to help. With many years’ experience, we work with you to understand your unique needs and provide a solution that resolves key issues that you need to address. You can view our full list of services here. Or, if you want to raise any specific questions or queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch directly and let our team know exactly what you need to optimise your approach.