What Causes Our Procrastination at Work and How to Overcome it

Now that procrastination is no longer a strange word to us. We’ve all experienced it more or less in daily life or at work: there’re still lots of things on our to-do list, but we just don’t want to start until we run out of time. As a result, the quality of the work done in a hurry rarely meets the initial expectations. And in the time before we start working, we are likely to feel guilty and anxious about our procrastination, even though we haven’t done anything, we don’t really feel relaxed.

How did this happen?

There is a behavioral economics effect called “hyperbolic discounting”. Simply put, if given a choice between taking 100 dollars today and 110 dollars tomorrow, most people will take the former. But if they were told that they can get 100 in one month, or 110 in one month and one day, most people prefer the latter, although this choice is essentially the same as the previous one.

Hyperbolic discounting is also known as irrational discounting. Most people can make wise long-term decisions when considering the future, but in the current, the short-term benefits can easily outweigh long-term goals.

In an experiment conducted by behavioural economists Daniel Read, George Loewenstein and Shobana Kalyanaraman, participants were asked to choose a movie they would watch immediately and another one they would watch the next day. For the former, participants tended to choose lighthearted comedy, but for the next day’s film, they were more likely to choose movies with serious and profound subjects.

The common case is: when considering long-term options, people tend to be ambitious and far-sighted; but in practice, they tend to do the opposite at the last minute.

Therefore, we can find that most people have a tendency to avoid engaging in some activities that need to pay the cost in the short term but take a long time to gain benefits, such as physical exercise and learning skills. On the other hand, we all like the satisfaction that right in front of us, like eating delicious junk food, watching soap opera over night, etc. People are always fond of instant gratification.

And in real life, there may be more specific reasons for procrastination at work, such as:

1. Don’t know where to start

If you are assigned to a task that is a little beyond your ability, or requires a lot of preparation, you may feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to get started. The thought of getting down to it, at this moment, means a series of troubles and a long period of hardwork. No wonder you want to escape from it.

2. Arranging time badly without a clear plan

Some people are actually working hard. You can see them occupied all the time, even at lunch break, weekend time, but in the end they did not create more beautiful results than others, and sometimes even can’t complete tasks on time.

These people don’t necessarily have no plans at all. On the contrary, they may be planning too many things, doing everything and not getting everything right.

3. Having fluke mind because of the conceit on work ability

“It’s not a problem, I can handle it easily. I just need a few minutes…”

People who constantly give themselves this mental hints tend to put the task they should do at the back burner and slow down the whole process. It might have been just one or two simple things at the beginning, but every little makes a mickle, overtime they may find there are too many tasks pilled up that they can’t accomplish in time.

4. Being distracted

Let’s face it, there are very few people who are born to enjoy working or love their careers from the bottom of their heart. Compared with other hobbies and amusements, work may be exhausting, but necessary for making living and realizing your social value. In this case, it’s very normal to get distracted when there are other interesting things or events around.

You might just want to glance over the messages, view daily news, take a look at the social media in the beginning, but end up with finding yourself inadvertently spending a lot of time surfing the Internet without doing a little bit of your job.

5. Striving for perfect processes and results

It’s the nature of a perfectionist to pursue perfection at every stage of work. However, if you spend too much time on collecting information and materials before starting each task, slow down the progress just because you fail to reach the ideal state, or even choose to start over, it is very likely that you’ll invest all your time and energy but getting very few progress on the work.

6. Passive procrastination

There’s nothing wrong wanting to get along well with everyone. But if you are too afraid of offending others and don’t dare to refuse unreasonable requests from them, you are actually giving up your own opinions and rights. Over time, you’ll be more likely to get assigned extra work, and as always, you don’t know how to say no even when your own work can hardly be done on time.

7. Having resistance feelings to co-workers or the work itself

Some people who are prejudiced against their supervisor, co-workers or the whole department may intentionally delay the process to drag down the project. But what are the benefits except for the satisfaction of revenge? Their work result will also be affected, and as a result, their situations in the company only gets worse, not better.

How to overcome procrastination at work?

Before thinking about how to deal with the procrastinating state, you should first ask yourself “why am I doing this”, finding out the most real cause of your procrastination, and have a comprehensive understanding of your own state, so as to overcome the procrastination at work.

Of course, there are some specific and effective measures for almost everyone, you can try to stick to it for a week or two, and if it works, keep it up.

1. Break down your long-term goals into short-term tasks

Procrastination comes largely from self-conscious avoidance.To alleviate this emotion, you can try to break down a big, distant goal into smaller tasks that can be accomplished in a short period of time.

First of all, draw up a schedule according to your own circumstance, and don’t make the time span too big –  a week at most, then break it down into daily tasks. List the tasks you need to do each day and prioritize them. Do the main work first, then the secondary work.

When arranging a long term job, you should act according to your capability, don’t push yourself too hard. But it’s also best not to give yourself or other colleagues too much time to procrastinate. Only in this way can the execution of the whole project be more rhythmical, and the work efficiency and sense of achievement can be significantly improved.

You can plan your work before going to bed, listing the tasks that must be done the next day. By doing this, you can clear your mind to sleep in peace, and quickly get into the state of work the next day.

2. Control the pace of work and rest

You may have heard this proverb: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

Efficiency is important, but continuous work without rest is not unscientific. Only by insisting on the combination of work and rest, can it be sustained and efficient.

For example, after working for an hour, force yourself to take a ten-minute break. Then, work another hour and take a ten-minute break. Eat when it’s time to eat, and take a half-hour nap during your lunch break.

But be aware that when you schedule your time, it’s best to make a complete separation between work and rest. Focus on your work while you’re at it, and completely relax when you’re at rest. If you confuse the two, you may find yourself working in a half-hearted, unproductive way, and not resting thoroughly as well.

Find a rhythm that works for you and stick to it, you’ll find that you have more energy, more mental agility, and less fatigue.

3. Prioritize difficult tasks

To be more precise, you should focus on the hard stuff when you’re fully energized. Some people are more energetic in the morning, some in the afternoon, so you need to do the hardest and most mentally taxing things at this period. If you do the easy work first instead, you’ll have less energy to do the hard work, which is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination.

People with procrastination usually use the difficulty as an excuse to avoid doing something, not because it is difficult, but because they do not want to do it. But when you’ve done something difficult, even if you’re tired, you’ll be in the mood to take care of other chores. So, do the hard things first, and all your problems will be solved.

4. Rewards and punishments

People’s behaviors will eventually lead to corresponding consequences, and through the good or bad results, people will really learn what to do in the future.

At work, however, some results are not immediately reflected, so it is easy to give people an illusion: “whether I do well or not, the salary is the same”, “It’s not necessary to be productive. I just need to step on the time limit”. These thoughts will become an excuse to slack off in the future and eliminate your guilt about procrastination.

To avoid this situation, you can increase the difference between different results on your own initiative. Reward yourself for completing tasks as planned, such as giving yourself a gift, or eating a big meal. If not, punish yourself by cutting back on expenses, not eating your favorite foods for a certain period of time, etc.

Punishment is not an end in itself, but a means of helping to form a habit. Over time, a reflex is formed that serves as a warning when you want to slack off or delay your work.

5. Focus on your current job

In order to save time, you may already be accustomed to multi-tasking, such as chatting online, writing reports, surfing the Internet, looking for information, checking emails and responding to clients at the same time. That way, you’ll never be able to really focus on one thing and be productive.

Concentration, which means devoting yourself to only one thing at a time, is one of the most valuable qualities of our time. With so many distractions and temptations in this era, it’s difficult to abandon all the invalid informationwith and devote all your heart into just one thing. But don’t forget what defines a person’s social value is always his output. Doing one thing to the score of 100 is far better than doing a bunch of things to 80. In business, there’s a world of difference between “perfect” and “qualified”.

However, spending too much time on one thing tends to produce two psychological states: uncertainty about the outcome and expectations, and the emptiness of a lack of feedback over a long period of time.

Both of these forces us to seek shorter and more immediate feedback which can give our brains fresh stimulation. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re stuck in this pattern, you may lose your ability to focus and the original desire of starting the business. So, the ideal situation is to find a balance between these two. Focus on what you can do right now, without being too hard on yourself, and learn to adjust your direction and pace in good time.

6. Eliminate distractions

Few people find work more glamorous than various entertainment, especially when you’ve been busy for a while, any chance to empty your head is valuable. So it’s hard for almost everyone to resist the temptation of “five minutes on the phone,” “ten minutes on social media”, “chat for a little while” even when faced with a heavy workload and have no free time.

As mentioned above, a proper break from work is necessary. But it’s also important to make it clear that when and how long should you rest. And don’t let these things distract you from serious tasks during working time, of course.

If you’ve expected that you can’t resist these temtations, then eliminate these factors from the beginning. Turn off your phone, put away dinky toys, shut down news pages, stop idle talking…keep it for a period of time, you’ll find your self-control increases, and youself less susceptible to these distractions.

7. Get away from grumblers

Are there people around you who are full of negative emotions and always like to complain? They are usually not very capable at work, and tend to find the reasons of failure on others or the environment, rarely reflecting on their own. In their words, the world is dark, the work is meaningless, no one around is friendly…

You may not agree with them at first and stick to your own judgment, but after a long time together, you are very likely to be influenced more or less by their emotion and begin to doubt what you originally believed, deny the value of hard work, and even feel resentful about your position and the company.

It’s an undeniable truth that negative emotions are much more contagious than positive emotions. If you don’t want your work status to be affected, you should identify this type of person from all the colleagues and friends around you. We all know it’s hard to change a grow-up, but to be free from his or her influence, you just need to walk away from the beginning.

8. Make progress with your friends

Many people think they can’t lie to themselves, but that in itself is a lie. Think about how often you change your mind on the spur of the moment and make excuses for your behavior; think about whether there is really nothing isn’t true in your diary.

When faced with something you should do but deep down don’t want to do, the best thing could happen is that you overcome your inertia and get started. More often than not, you may be overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, choose the exact opposite option, and try to rationalize it with some plausible reasons.

The same is true when it comes to sticking to something or developing a habit. You are no longer a student under the supervision of a teacher. Your actions and choices will only be reflected in the results. You can fool yourself over and over again and make excuses for holding back and procrastinating as long as you want to.

That’s why you can find one or several partners to overcome procrastination together. People are social animals and have concerns about what other people will think or say about them. If you set a goal with your friends, making a commitment to achieve it together and sharing your accomplishments on daily basis, you must rack your brain to convince them all when making excuses; and if you are caught lying, you have to afford the consequence that others lower the evaluation to you.

In other words, when it comes to other people, the cost of making excuses and putting things off will significantly increase. You’ll be motivated by them as well, and grow a sense of competition instinctively that want to do better than others.

Procrastination is a widespread problem that varies from person to person. If you just want to goof off once in a while, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. But if you find the procrastination is completely out of your control, affecting even your important work and making you feel anxious about it, please be alert and try to take actions.

However, if your condition is so severe that you feel depressed and hopeless, you should get professional help instead of taking it on yourself.

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