“I’ll start this in just a few minutes”
“Ok, let’s have a coffee break and get to work”
“I’ll just do that tomorrow”
“Oh, this can wait a bit”
“I simply don’t have this much time”
If you have ever tried to get teenagers to listen to their parents, teach cats how to behave as you want them to, or get a procrastinator to work timely, you have probably heard these kind of statements more times that your actual name.
Procrastination in the workplace has been around forever. Even when people didn’t have properly developed languages and communicated with hand gestures and strange noises, there were always those who did almost no work, and those who did a lot more than their fair share.
In a recent survey, it was discovered that 64% of employees waste time on non-work related activities every day. The average time wasted per person was around two hours a day, which, when translated into numbers, means around a 20% additional cost to the employer and around 40 hours of wasted monthly time for project tasks.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we are all people and simply can’t work full eight hours every day like cyborgs, and it’d be very naïve to expect that kind of (close to) impossible commitment from each team member. However, while having an employee focused culture and approach in your management style is a must, it’s important not to let employees procrastinate up to a point that will hurt your projects on a high level.
Procrastination is contagious and if you’re not careful, you might find yourself in a whole lot of trouble that originated out of nowhere, and suddenly became extremely hard to get rid of.
What NOT to do when dealing with a procrastinator
Traditional methods of dealing with procrastinators don’t work well. Different psychologists explain that it’s more of a mindset problem, rather than the procrastinator’s unwillingness to work altogether. Here are a few tactics that you shouldn’t even consider trying:
Having strict deadlines – Many managers (wrongly) assume that putting huge amounts of pressure on procrastinators will help get the job done. In reality though, a sentence like “you have to do this in two hours and get back to me with a report” voiced in a tone signaling “or else” isn’t going to accomplish much. In fact it will do the opposite – procrastinators will try (and succeed) to find even more reasons to delay their work.
Negative and forceful behavior – Trying to show “who is the boss” to a procrastinator won’t work either, it will have the same effect as a strict deadline. That’s a wrong route to follow.
Logical reasoning – As much as I hate to admit, logic won’t help you out here either. Trying to reason with a procrastinator explaining all the bad consequences of delays without actually “accusing” the person of procrastination will be just a waste of time. The procrastinator will listen calmly, nod in acceptance, and get back to trying to find reasons how to delay the work and start the process close to the deadline.
What to do when dealing with a procrastinator
Just like in many other scenarios, when brute force and reasoning don’t work, you turn to cunning. You will need to lure the procrastinator into actually doing the work. While this may sound fairly difficult (especially if you don’t consider yourself a cunning person), the following tips are very easy to implement.
Here we go:
Find out the cause of procrastination
People don’t procrastinate just for the fun of it. Most of them have a definite cause for doing it and, deep inside, they most certainly feel ashamed for letting their manager down. The first thing you want to do when you notice any definitive signs of procrastination is to get into an honest, non-aggressive conversation with the procrastinator and try to find out the reason behind it.
Don’t try to dance around the matter – get straight to the point with something like “Ben, why do you spend so much time on non-work related activities every day? Is anything wrong”? It might be a personal issue, or something work-related, or fear of getting something done wrong, or anything similar that you can help sort out. You will be surprised just how much you can accomplish with a simple chat.
As proven by this study, there is a great deal of wasted time between starting a task and the actual deadline. In other words, procrastinators tend to postpone their work until there is little to no time left before the deadline, and then get down to doing it. Well, since that’s their point of view, a really simple solution will be to have a fake deadline, which is set before the actual one. This way, you can cheat procrastinators into actually finishing their job on time, without them knowing about it.
Hold employees accountable
One of the main reasons why procrastinators “get away with it” most of the times is that they aren’t held accountable for their work. There is always a person (the manager – a.k.a. you) who is responsible for the whole project and nobody goes into details like why some deadlines were overdue, what caused it, etc.
To counter this, you can develop an approach that will hold each person responsible for their work and when something goes wrong, it won’t be just your problem – it will be theirs as well. This is a good way to make procrastinators actually get their job done, without putting more pressure on other team members, who are always responsible and meet their deadlines.
Get involved in tasks/projects personally
Another thing you can do is to get personally involved in tasks/projects that you know procrastinating employees are working on. Having their manager around 24/7 is a damn good reason to stop thinking about procrastinating and focus on getting some work done. Also, if you are a good team leader, you will be able to engage and motivate those people and hopefully, get them eager to do their work, instead of trying to find ways to postpone it as much as they can. If anything, the fear of getting yelled at ( or fired) by their manager will do the trick most of the times.
Note that you need to be able to show a strong/strict personality, which will non-verbally communicate authority to people around you with this tactic, or it might not work.
Workplace procrastination is, has and, sadly, will always be present for as long as the world lasts. However, there are numerous ways that you, as a manager, can fight against, minimize, and, hopefully, eliminate it from your team. The tactics above are pretty simple to execute and will work well enough if you are just starting the war against procrastination, but you will need to develop more tactics to tackle this problem as time goes by.
Do you have any experience of fighting procrastination in the workplace? Share your ideas with us in the comment section below!
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