Disclaimer: No procrastination was involved in the making of this article (… maybe just a little).
Remember that friend in college who would keep putting off tasks, and ultimately do a week’s worth of work at the 11th minute of the 11th hour? I was that friend. And chances are, if you’re reading this article, you were that friend too.
Being a serial procrastinator when you’re younger, as long as the assignments are hastily submitted and the examinations passed, isn’t really harmful – a “quintessential college experience” even.
Carrying those “fun college student” habits with you into the workforce however, is the opposite of fun. It can be harmful not only to your career in the long run, but also to your self-worth, mental and physical health.
What It Means To Be A Serial Procrastinator
There are many reasons people tend to chronically put off tasks on their to-do list (or making a to-do list in the first place).
You really are just lazy
You know you should do the thing, but doing it would just involve so much effort. Your motivation to do what you know is right is often trumped by the motivation to spare yourself effort. When the time to choose between fight or flight comes, you would much rather just choose neither, and let what has to happen, happen.
You are easily distracted
Another common reason that results in you being labelled a “serial procrastinator” is because you find it hard to spend more than a few minutes on any given task. You’re either easily distracted by the simplest interruptions, or feel the need to shift between tasks to maintain focus, thereby prolonging reaching the finish line for any of them.
You care too much
The truth is, more often than being lazy or distracted, most procrastinators are actually closeted perfectionists – hear me out! Their behaviour can seem lackadaisical, selfish, and uncaring.
However, a lot of procrastinators tend to care too much about their performance and perception – setting unrealistic expectations or burdening themselves with goals of perfection. This leads to anxiety and fear of failure. The toxic mindset for a lot of procrastinators is – if you haven’t started yet, you haven’t failed yet.
Whatever the reason for you treating your pending tasks like they’re John Cena and you can’t see them, they can be detrimental to your credibility and career. However, understanding the root cause behind you avoiding your work, can help when you’re trying to weed that habit out.
What It Means To Be A Serial Procrastinator At Work
I entered the workforce during the lockdown – with all my “chill” habits still in place, and no one around to really pull me out of their tempting hold.
The first few weeks of working from home involved a lot of ungodly phone screen-time numbers, Netflix tabs open next to work tabs, anxiety over deadlines, working late into the night, and my mom’s disapproving head shakes. Needless to say, I was exhausted before my mother could say “I told you so(much procrastinating and disorganised working will catch up with you.)”
I was determined to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy that my fear of performing badly was sure to bring about. I knew I needed to weed out the “lazy” habits and procrastination altogether.
I’m happy to report that after some effort (that was admittedly put in after some procrastination in putting in the effort), I’ve managed to overcome my mother-disapproved, wayward ways, and work in a manner that involves minimal procrastination and optimal productivity.
Here are a few tips for all my fellow “lazy” workers out there.
1. Call in human reinforcement – get an accountability partner
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The first tip that every online self-help site will give you if you’re a procrastinator is to have someone hold you accountable – and it works! Loop someone into your tasks for the day. Ask them outright to hold you accountable. For me, this was my colleagues during a quick daily stand up in the mornings, and since I was staying at home, also a family member.
I would make my workload for the day known, ask them to check in on me and call me out if they saw me taking unnecessarily long breaks. It may sound annoying, but it helps and is the most assertive push you can ensure for yourself.
2. Have non-human reinforcements that hold you accountable as well
The most effective reinforcement is always a to-do list that ensures you have a blueprint to follow for the day. If you’re not big on to-do lists, ensure you have some sort of plan in place in advance. This could be having alarm reminders on your phone, alarms set for fixed breaks, creating task events on your calendar, downloading a productivity app, or even simply a goal to end the work day at a given time.
3. Understand why you’re waiting
As mentioned earlier, figuring out what is making you stall or be delayed, is important. Are there too many distractions around you? Are you afraid to fail? Does the task require more effort than you can put in at the moment? Does the task not align with your values or interests? Answering these questions will provide you with information, rather than judgements about yourself, that can help you make better decisions.
4. Start big
A common advice for procrastinators is to start small. Getting done with the smaller tasks is supposed to help “spark productivity”. On the contrary, I’ve often found that spending all that energy and enthusiasm at the start of the day on smaller tasks leaves me spent, and unable to perform the bigger tasks well.
What works best, according to me, is starting with the bigger task, and dividing it into smaller chunks of work. Make yourself get through the task one chunk at a time, with quick breaks in between. Chances are, with all the fresh energy and focus you have, the task will end up not feeling as big, and take up much lesser time as well.
Once you’re done with the big task, the smaller tasks will feel more accessible even if you’re tired. As a procrastinator, you’re more likely to start a smaller task later in the day, than a bigger task.
5. Allow yourself a lower frequency of productivity if that’s what you need
Something that helped me break my proclivity for procrastination is to allow myself to take some time on tasks. Sometimes what you need as a procrastinator, is to simply tie yourself to the work for a bit. Instead of stalling or putting off things out of anxiety or fear, allow yourself to take some time while consciously focusing on the task. If you need some time to muse on things, for ideas to gestate, or even just a minute’s break every now and then to feel up to focusing again, give it to yourself. Make yourself intentionally stay on the task for longer periods, instead of allowing yourself constant negative procrastination that is filled with anxiety over you not doing the task.
6. Don’t feel guilty
Before this, I had often caught myself in a cycle of self-berating, which would lead to reduced self-worth, greater fear of failure, and ultimately more procrastination. Rory Vaden, author of ‘Procrastinate on Purpose’, says, “The No. 1 cause of procrastination is self-criticism.” If you catch yourself unintentionally being idle or putting off work, instead of spiralling into guilt, focus on how you can move on, through all the above-mentioned points.
Stick with these tips in your everyday work day, to unlearn, relearn, and eventually break through the negative cycle of procrastination. And you will – if not completely break the cycle, at least transform it into something that impacts your work, and you, more positively than negatively.
And the final tip from a reformed procrastinator to a soon-to-be reformed one – do not procrastinate implementing these tips into your work day. Your career and I will see you on the other side of this battle very soon.
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