6 Ways to Overcome Chronic Procrastination at Work

man sitting in front of laptop and staring out window

There are several common misconceptions around chronic procrastinators: they simply don’t care about their work; they are lazy or distracted; they are selfish and don’t value other people’s times or deadlines. But, all too often, people who procrastinate tend to care the most about their performance and can often place unrealistic goals or expectations of perfection on themselves that lead to anxiety and fear of failure when it comes to their tasks. Hence the procrastination. For many procrastinators (who are also often perfectionists), the mindset is, if you haven’t started yet, you haven’t failed.

Sadly, chronic procrastination typically turns into a self-fulfilling crisis where the procrastinator gets stuck in a vicious cycle of putting things off for fear of failure, rushing at the end to meet a deadline, and then the resulting failure or poor performance because of a hurried job.

If you’ve found yourself getting stuck in this procrastination rut at work, here are a few things you can do to better understand your self-defeating behavior and break the cycle once and for all:

  1. Get to the root of the problem: In order to first break this bad workplace habit, you have to understand why you’ve started procrastinating in the first place. Becoming self-aware here is the most important key to unlocking the solution to your bad habit and solving it for good. Again, for most chronic procrastinators, it’s less a matter of laziness or irresponsible behavior and more to do with an avoidance of something difficult or, simply put, fear of failing. Try to pinpoint exactly why you’re avoiding a particular task. Are you feeling too much pressure? Are you unsure about your own ability to execute or maybe even in a little over your head? Do you fear the negative feedback you might get from your boss or colleagues? Or, perhaps you care so much about the outcome that you’re terrified to even get started? Be honest with yourself most of all; this will make finding a solution to your bad habit easier and more likely to succeed in the long run.
  2. Take the first step: For most chronic procrastinators, getting started is the most difficult part of the entire project. Once they have a little momentum going, the rest of the work comes more easily. If you know you display this tendency, force yourself to get started early on your tasks -- especially the unpleasant or difficult ones that you dread the most. You may not accomplish much at the beginning, but even accomplishing a small amount ahead of time can build your confidence and make the rest of the task seem more manageable.
  3. Set mini-deadlines: No matter how small the task or project might be, consider breaking it up into smaller “bite-sized” tasks, each with their own deadlines spread out over days or weeks. The idea here is to eliminate the risk of being overwhelmed and also to encourage steady and constant chipping away at the overall workload so it doesn’t all pile up the night before your due date. The most important thing here is to write your deadlines down or set calendar reminders for yourself each day to accomplish these mini-tasks. This will keep you moving forward and also help you to focus on the task in front of you rather than getting overwhelmed by trying to put together the entire finished product.
  4. Loop someone in for accountability: Especially when you’re getting used to this new way of working, share your mini-task calendar with someone you trust and have a good, healthy rapport with. Knowing that someone else is aware of your deadlines and might give you a little nudge or a few words of encouragement if they know you’re starting to get behind is a great way to set up a sense of accountability.
  5. Get organized: For many, chronic procrastination also goes hand-in-hand with chronic disorganization or messiness. In order to work more efficiently and to stay on task, you’ll want to create an organized workspace that lends itself to productivity and positivity. As you’re trying to re-order and redirect your mind to kick some bad habits, your workplace should likewise reflect these positive changes and align with the goals you’re trying to accomplish.
  6. Resist temptation: Chronic procrastinators are very adept at finding other things, anything, to work on other than the task at hand. Consider what your own crutch is. Do you spend too much time on social media or browsing the internet? Even legitimate outlets can become tools for procrastination. Maybe you spend too much time in your email inbox or getting those excel spreadsheets just right. Whatever your main distractions are, work on finding ways to eliminate them throughout the day by setting aside a very specific allotment of time for these other tasks. Maybe you only allow yourself 30 minutes of social media time while you’re on your lunch break, or you only check your email at designated times during the day. Find what works best for you, and then stick to it.

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