By Sharine Sample, Regional Workforce Development Manager 

Do you often procrastinate at work? Trick question, because at some point we’ve all been guilty of putting off a task until the last minute.

Procrastination on the job can lead to a lower quality of work because you’re in a rush. Or worse, it can make you miss deadlines or forget a key a component of your project. It puts unnecessary stress on you and your team. Many people believe that they work better under pressure… but realistically, it doesn’t work like that for most of us.

Like any habit, you can overcome procrastination with effort and changing your mindset. First, think about why you’re procrastinating. Understanding the cause will help you zero in on the steps you need to take to overcome it. Some common reasons for procrastination are:

  • Anxiety – The task stresses you out just thinking about it… What if no one reviews your work and gives feedback? What’s going to happen with the project next?
  • Perfectionism – Before you even get started, you’re already changing the plan to get it just right. There’s no such thing as perfect. But make time to do your best work, you can be close.
  • Not interested – There’s nothing about this project, task, or assignment that interests you, so you can’t get motivated to start.
  • Time commitment – The job is going to take far more time than you care to spend on it, so much longer that you don’t even want to start.

Now that you’ve identified the root cause of your procrastination, let’s look at some strategies to help you jumpstart overcoming it. Regardless of what’s behind your procrastination, these steps can help you break the habit:

  • Simplify your to-do list. Jot down everything you need to accomplish with your project. Once you’ve made your overall list, go through and break it down again. What tasks can you combine? Do tasks need to be done in a certain order? For time-consuming tasks, block off some time on your calendar to knock it out. Stay on top of the deadlines you’ve given yourself so you don’t fall behind. Checking items off your to-do list will help you stay motivated.
  • Set a timeframe. Start with your ultimate deadline and work backwards based on how long the various steps in the project will take. Then set aside time each day or week (depending on the size of the project) to work on each step. Setting this timeframe before you start the project will play a trick on your mind: the task will feel less demanding when you know that you’ll only need to focus on it for the allotted amount of time. Be sure to account for breaks, especially if the project requires a lot of concentration.
  • Pick a starting point. Look over the list you created, be aware of your timeframe, minimize distractions and get started. No one can do this part for you.
  • Be intentional and productive. Once you start your task, focus on that task. Be prepared with whatever tools or information you need to get the task done. Remove anything that makes you lose your focus or diverts your attention from the task at hand. Sometimes if we lose our train of thought, we’re back to where we started and it might be another day or two before we pick up the task again.
  • Reward yourself. This is the best part! Once you’ve completed a task, take a break for a snack, cup of coffee, or a quick walk. When you wrap a larger project, treat yourself to an even bigger reward. Take time to give yourself some kudos and grace. You’ve done the hard part, and you should be proud of yourself!

Remember, when it comes to procrastination, the hardest part is just getting started.  Identifying why you are procrastinating is a good first step. Laying out a strategy to help you achieve your goal will come next. Procrastination is completely normal and something we all have done. Overcoming the procrastination habit at work will make you a more productive and less stressed employee. You’ve got this!

Sharine Sample is the Regional Workforce Development Manager at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. Learn more about Goodwill’s employment services here


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