How Project Managers Should Deal with Procrastination at Work


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Procrastination can sometimes get the best of us. When it happens at work, it can be paralyzing if it goes too far, and that can spell disaster for hardworking project teams. But what is procrastination, and why does it appear to happen to some people and not others?

Procrastinating: What Is It?

The typical definition of procrastination is “the action of delaying or postponing something.” This “something” refers to an important task that is not as desirable as other more interesting-at-the-moment tasks, or easy and enjoyable activities. To elaborate, procrastination is the unnecessary and deliberate act of delaying or postponing something despite understanding there will be negative consequences for doing so.

Procrastination usually happens when people fear, dislike, or have anxiety about an unavoidable task they need to complete. They fear failure, so to avoid this negative feeling, they procrastinate — for example, they take a long lunch break or surf social media instead. While it temporarily makes them feel better, eventually it catches up, and reality returns when time has run out.

Read more: Identifying and Managing Toxic Workplace Behaviors

Recognizing Signs of Procrastination Within a Project Team

Not to be confused with laziness, procrastination has the potential to ruin a project, a reputation, or even a career. Weeding out this avoidance act and addressing it up front can be a project-saver. It may be an individual or a group of people struggling with avoidance. A project manager can look for these signs to identify a procrastinator on a project team.

  • Having trouble setting, achieving, or being unclear about their goals
  • Displaying signs of being overwhelmed with their workload
  • Experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • Expressing negative beliefs or pushing back on responsibilities
  • Experiencing ongoing personal problems
  • Becoming or seeming bored
  • Not attending or participating in group discussions
  • Showing up late to or skipping meetings

How to Approach a Team Member Who Is Procrastinating

If you notice that a team member has become a procrastinator because they are exhibiting one or more of these signs, you can lessen the impact by addressing it early with the individual in a discreet and respectful manner. You can help them by further breaking down tasks, emphasizing their meaning, and checking in more frequently on work in progress.

Be clear about timing and provide any needed support to help them succeed. tasks in advance to confirm they are a good match to their interests and abilities, and celebrate achievements to help build motivation.

Tips for Project Managers Dealing with Procrastination

  • Create milestones: Break big tasks into smaller, more achievable phases or chunks to create a steady stream of accomplishment.
  • Set defined timeframes for tasks: Be clear about what is involved and what kind of support is available.
  • Check in: Have regular meetings to check on status and progress.
  • Get involved: Insert yourself into task details to understand what is being done and when.
  • Motivate: Recognize and reward accomplishments and improvements.

What to Do When You’re the One Procrastinating

Procrastination can even creep up on project managers. If you feel this happening, identify the reasons why you’re choosing to do other things over your work. Are you overwhelmed? Bored? Unsure? Burned out?

Avoiding procrastination and improving time management go hand in hand. Here are some things you can do to minimize and head off procrastination in your own work:

  • Get organized and set a plan for completing your work — you can apply this to non-work things that get in the way of work, too.
  • Prioritize and reprioritize as often as needed to get the most important items checked off first.
  • Eliminate distractions by creating a workspace and routine that is comfortable and has minimal interruptions from technology, outside noise, and people.
  • Set goals for the day, week, and month.
  • Set deadlines within those goals that are realistic.
  • Take breaks as often as needed and commit to taking a break after you have completed a specific task or subtask.
  • Reward yourself often for all your hard work.
  • Hold yourself accountable and share what you are working on with others who will ask about how it is going.

Procrastination kills personal productivity and, in turn, team productivity. Teams with too many procrastinators are at risk of failure and may eventually see a negative impact to the bottom line.

Putting off for tomorrow what can be done today is sure to cause unnecessary work and stress. Recognize the signs of procrastination in others and yourself, and then take the necessary steps to minimize these tendencies.

Read next: How to Write SMART Project Management Goals

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