Article Overview

Procrastinating is different from just being lazy. To do something about it, you should first find the reasons why you’re choosing other things over your work. Avoiding procrastination and improving time management go hand in hand.

Table of Contents 

  1. The Problem 
  2. The Solutions
    1. 1.Identify the Reasons Why You or Your Team Procrastinate
    2. 2.Come Up with a Plan
  3. Stop Procrastinating and Get Back to Work

The Problem

Is procrastination the same as laziness? They couldn’t be more different. Studies show that procrastination is an active avoidance process—you choose other activities to the detriment of work. Laziness is more about being unwilling to do anything.

Many possible reasons can hide behind your procrastination. It could be feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps you’re unhappy with your work environment or workplace.

For some people, the fear of success is as powerful as the fear of failure. You may fear that success will lead to even more tasks and even more of the sense of being overworked and overwhelmed.

A surprising fact is that perfectionists are usually procrastinators. Instead of doing a less-than-perfect-job, you avoid tasks you feel you don’t have the proper skills to complete.

What is time management’s role in all this? First of all, it helps you approach a task with greater ease; you’ll feel less overwhelmed. Knowing how to manage your time well can help you and your team be more productive overall.

The Solutions

1. Identify the Reasons Why You or Your Team Procrastinate

Sit down with your team and address the problem. In order for things to get better, you need to understand why you’re procrastinating.

Find out what’s on your team’s mind. It could be poor organization, or perhaps fear. They could be overworked or aiming for perfection all the time. Or maybe you have a case of poor decision making. It’s important to care about how your team feels and find the appropriate solutions.

2. Come Up with a Plan

If procrastination is already a habit for your team, don’t worry. There are a few things you can do to improve the situation. However, as with most things, you shouldn’t expect overnight results.

a. Accept the Current Situation

Don’t get stuck feeling bad about tasks never getting done. Research shows that procrastinators usually experience guilt and anxiety over not doing their work.

So, instead, you should focus on finding solutions. Motivate yourself by finding ways to improve your time management skills.

b. Commit

Focus on doing, instead of avoiding. At the beginning of the day, take some time and write down everything you and your team need to do. Try to specify a time for them as well.

By doing this, both you and your team will feel responsible for those tasks. This will motivate you to get them done. The simple act of checking something off a list can do a lot for team morale.

c. Set Up a Reward System

If a teammate manages to complete a difficult task or is ahead of schedule, it could be a good idea to offer some kind of small reward. It could be counterproductive if this was to become an expectation, but it’s helpful when offered as an occasional acknowledgment.  

You can think of something symbolic, as their favorite type of coffee or a longer lunch break. This can also motivate others to work harder. However, be careful not to make other teammates too competitive.

d. Peer Pressure

You can ask the members of your team to check up on each other. Or, if that’s not a possibility, you can use a time management tool for this. The point here is that everyone knows that time is monitored.

While this can put a little bit of pressure on people, it’s a tried and tested method of keeping people on track. Still, you should check the pulse of your team from time to time to see if it’s worth doing or not.

e. Act As You Go

You can’t procrastinate if you don’t get the opportunity, right? So, if it isn’t necessary, don’t schedule your tasks. Try to tackle them as soon as they arise.

If you try this method, you should be aware that some tasks are more important than others. So make sure that you don’t spend too much time on things that could have been postponed.

f. Be Aware of the Way You Talk

The way you communicate with your team sets the way they feel about their assigned tasks. If you use a lot of “need to”, “have to”, or similar language, you’re sabotaging both yourself and your team.

People need to feel like they have some control over their workload--even if they technically don’t. Nobody should feel like they’re forced to do something they don’t want to do, or else they’ll procrastinate.

g. Minimize Distractions

If possible, try to create a distraction-free zone in your workplace. This will help your team focus on their work and get things done quickly. Thus, avoiding the need to procrastinate.

However, you should make sure that there is an appropriate place for taking a break. If there isn’t, you can end up overworking and exhausting your team. 

Do you procrastinate because you’re disorganized? Here are a few things that you can do about that:

a. Keep a To-Do List

Create a to-do list at the beginning of your workday. This will help you know exactly what you need to focus on and what you have to do. If you have the opportunity to pick what tasks to work on, you also get the chance to procrastinate.

Keep in mind that it’s easy to overdo this method. Try to assess what is humanly possible to do in a day and add just that to your list. If you bite off more than you can chew, you’ll end up feeling guilty at the end of the day.

b. Prioritize

Sometimes, just making a list isn’t enough to improve your time management. In order to be actually productive, you need to prioritize. This means establishing which tasks are urgent and which ones can be postponed.

By doing this, you will have a clear view of the workload ahead of you. But, most importantly, you can’t just do the easier tasks first if they’re not a priority. This makes you commit to a certain workflow and doesn’t give you much space to procrastinate.

c. Find Your Peak Time

Everybody works differently. Some of us are more productive in the morning, others in the evening. But what is common for everybody is that we have a peak time during the day when we’re most productive.

Identifying the time you’re most active is great for time management. You can deal with the most difficult tasks in that interval. This way, when you’re in a low-energy mode, you can work on something easier.

d. Deadlines

Research shows that some people use procrastination actively; delaying their tasks until the deadline comes up. Some people work better under pressure. So, at the end of the day, even if their actual work hours don’t show it, the amount of completed work will end up equal to that of their co-workers.

A study on how students approach their work in relation to their deadlines.

Source: Penn State University. A study on how students approach their work in relation to their deadlines.

However, not all people are the same. So by setting clear deadlines, you give your team two options: either use the pressure or divide the work over a longer period of time. The important thing is to get the job done.

e. Set Boundaries

As a team leader, you need to take care of the people you work with. One of the most common problems in the workplace is allowing people to become overworked. You need to take into consideration people’s levels of stress, their needs, and their obligations.

With this information, you can assign tasks to your team accordingly. This way you make sure that they can work uninterrupted and that they can deliver their work on time.

f. Keep an Eye on the Prize

Even if a task is unappealing, make sure that both you and your team keep in mind the bigger picture. Why is it important that this work gets done? What is the bigger goal?

Having a motivated team is important. If everyone is aware of their importance, they will be drawn to finish those tasks, even if they are difficult. So make sure that your team works together towards a common goal.

g. Settle for Less than Perfect

You don’t need to paint a Mona Lisa every time. Some tasks don’t require perfection, so you shouldn’t ask that from your team. Always asking for excellence puts a lot of pressure on everybody.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should be okay with sloppy work. Just make sure to communicate with your team and establish some guidelines and standards from the start.

Stop Procrastinating and Get Back to Work

As with all deep-seated issues, you need to find the root cause of procrastination before you attempt to fix it. Your team could be overworked, fearing failure, or unmotivated. Or perhaps organizational skills are lacking. Whatever the reason, there are steps you can take to make the situation better.

One thing you need to remember is not to put too much pressure on yourself or your team. The problem won’t go away overnight. Try to find the best strategies to improve time management, together with your team.

Test a couple of actions, like prioritization or setting stricter deadlines, and see if that can work for your team. Just try to take it easy, think about how your team will work best, and accept your struggles; or else you’ll be back to square one—feeling guilty about procrastinating.


Research sources:

•    Ariely D, Wertenbroch K. Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommitment. Psychological Science. 2002;13(3):219-224. 
•    Frank Wieber & Peter M. Gollwitzer, Overcoming Procrastination through Planning
•    Angela Hsin Chun Chu, Jin Nam Choi, Rethinking Procrastination: Positive Effects of "Active" Procrastination Behavior on Attitudes and Performance
•    Penn State University, Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy