I was interviewed by The Straits Times on my opinion regarding procrastination and how best to deal with it. Here is the article and also my unedited answers.
Originally published in CareerLadder.
1. Why do workers tend to procrastinate in their jobs?
a) They don’t know how to do it.
One of the most common reason for procrastination is due to the lack of skills to complete the given tasks. If you don’t know how to do it, it is only natural to avoid starting on them altogether.
E.g. if you hate writing and you are tasked to write a new business proposal for an upcoming project, you may push it down the road as writing to you is difficult. It is easier to procrastinate instead of facing the reality that you need to improve on your writing skills.
b) The tasks do not resonate
If one is not stimulated by the tasks, the lack of interest will play a role in procrastination.
E.g. employees are usually “arrowed” to do certain things outside of their usual job scope, such as be part of the annual dinner and dance committee. If you dislike going to such event, the act of actually organising one will turn you off.
c) Just don’t feel like it.
Sometime the day just isn’t suited for work at all. For instance, today is the last day before long weekend and for many companies almost half the workforce is gone on leave or MC. The environment just isn’t conducive to begin any tasks with since the focus is for the clock to strike 6pm and for the long weekend to begin. In a way, you can point that to a short term morale dampener as your colleagues might be on holiday but you are still in the office.
2. Could procrastination hint at a larger problem at hand? (i.e. a lack of confidence, low morale, restlessness in the job)
If the occurrence of procrastination go beyond the 3 mentioned, it could point to a larger problem. E.g. one has lost heart in his/her job or boss or company. Everything that is to be done will be seen as a chore and commencement of those tasks will very often be delayed until it can possibly be.
3. If so, how can one change one’s mindset?
If it is indeed work related, know that whether you do the task or not isn’t going to change the situation. However know that the task still has to be completed. Better to finish sooner and have spare time to relax rather than rush it at the end but come up with lousy results that might have detrimental consequence
4. Do you have any quick and useful tips on how one can nip procrastination in the bud?
1. Just start doing it
Procrastination often kicks in after over-analysing the situation. You would think and think and think, only to defer the thinking process and action will naturally never be attained. Simply kicking off the process and figure out how to circumvent the roadblocks along the way would minimally provide some form of progression.
2. Don’t blow a task out of proportion.
Is the tasks really as insurmountable as you think or are you making a mountain out of a molehill. Dwelling and over-dwelling on the matter tend to expand it in our head and by the time it grew to become a huge dinosaur, it is so much easier to just put that aside and come back to it later.
Put the matter into perspective and don’t magnify the tasks beyond reality.
3. Break the task into multiple mini tasks
Any task or project seem impossible when viewed from a distance. So one will just shut off and move to other aimless stuff. If the task appear too big to handle, break it into small little chunks. They will all add up eventually to fit the main task and you will be able to see progression along the way.
4. Reward yourself
And for every (mini) tasks completed, reward yourself. So the framework for the report is done. Cool, that is one coffee break on the house. That will reinforce positivity and encourage yourself to replicate other mini tasks so as to attain the reward.
5. Start with the hardest task of your day.
As Dale Carnegie aptly pointed out, “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”
Getting the hardest job out of the way is the best way to kick procrastination in the butt. Because once you have taken care of that, the rest of the jobs seemed really easy. And you will also feel relieved and good since you will feel a lot lighter now.
6. Set a timeline
Procrastination will not mean you don’t have to do the work. Sooner or later you have to revisit it. If you do need a breather or two, set a strict time and stick to it. E.g. I will defer this until 2pm but I will work on this from 2pm sharp.
5. What are the downsides of procrastination, and its eventual impact on one’s career if the problem is not addressed?
Procrastination often means you won’t be able to deliver your work ahead of schedule, and these are the kind of things that will help to impress your boss with. Also you won’t know what other good stuffs will come along after your work is completed. It might lead to a better project or at least allow more free time for you to pursue the company pet project that you are so passionate about.
Also if you leave too little time to complete the task, you won’t have any margin to do correction if unforeseen ones arise. This will make you look unprofessional and hurt your image in the company.