A team isn’t as productive as it should be? The list of tasks is getting ever longer and time is getting tighter? There are plenty of obstacles that can slow a team down: multi-tasking, constantly answering emails, unclear priorities and procrastination. The latter is a common phenomenon: many people leave unpopular tasks to the last minute, and statistically around 20 percent of Germans are prone to this. Last minute syndrome, or the mañana principle: the habitual delaying of work, tasks and other obligations has many names. Scientists from the USA talk of “procrastination”, which is being used more and more commonly in German as well. This habit isn’t new: after all, language has plenty of sayings about putting off tiresome tasks such as “better late than never”.
We put things off because they’re boring or tiresome, but also because we’re scared of them. It might feel better in the short term, but it has negative consequences in the long term - at work as well as at home. Young people are more prone to procrastination: they feel like they have more time than older people, which encourages putting things off. The younger generation is also constantly online and considerably more media savvy than their parents and grandparents: the internet offers countless possibilities to distract yourself from bothersome jobs. Procrastination has never been as easy as it is today. With their 24/7 updates, social networks promote the fear of missing out.
Are you a chronic procrastinator? The University of Munster has come up with a test you can take.
Approaching tasks in an organized manner in plenty of time is a must to make sure you do a good job at work. These 7 tips will help you get a handle on your procrastination.
To master your procrastination, you need a plan. In the evening, write down what you want to achieve on the following day. To-do lists and mid maps are good tools to get an overview of upcoming tasks and visualize what you need to do. You’re more likely to remember if you’ve seen it written down. When planning, remember: be specific. Work with time slots and keep to them. This means less room for excuses and a clear structure that you can follow. The aim is to develop routines from this structure. The more regulated your day is, the less energy you have to waste on active decisions like the consistent no! to procrastination and the fewer gaps you’ll have for distractions.
When planning, it is always important to keep priorities in mind. Which tasks are important, which are urgent, and which are both? The squares in the Eisenhower method can help you allocate tasks.
Start each morning with the least enjoyable task - as long as your priority plan isn’t affected - and tick it off. This won’t just give you that great feeling of having accomplished something big. Being active is a must. Psychologically, it is important to start a task within 72 hours of accepting it, otherwise the probability of finishing it decreases dramatically. If tasks seem too much, split them up into smaller parts using the salami tactic and complete them one after another. Sometimes, it can also help to “only” dedicate ten minutes to a task to cheat procrastination. As soon as you sit down and begin working, ten minutes will quickly turn into more.
Distraction is procrastination’s best friend. It grabs our attention online and in everyday office work. That’s why it’s all the more important to be one step ahead.
First, make sure your desk is in order. Old coffee cups and unorganized papers cause mental chaos and disrupt the eye. The emptier your desk, the less distracted you will be. Turn your smartphone to silent and don’t check your emails every five minutes - set aside two slots each day. Close your internet browser and be disciplined in your surfing. The internet will eat up your time - and all these interruptions damage productivity, as you will lose your train of thought and have to find your place anew each time. Consciously manage your distractions. Also important: complete one task after another, and don’t work on three at the same time: multi-tasking does not make us more productive: it scatters our focus, disrupts our concentration, increases the number of errors made and causes stress.
Work tends to expand to fill how much time we have set: that’s Parkison’s law, as coined by publicist Cyril Northcote Parkinson. We can avoid wasting time by setting clear time limits for certain tasks. Pressure will also help you get finished in time, as you know the negative consequences that being late would result in: think about your boss’s and coworkers’ reactions. Talk about your aims: this will spark expectations in others and create social pressure - you are now obligated, which makes it harder to put tasks off.
Even with all this pressure and discipline, don’t forget to stay realistic. A to-do list that’s just too long will cause more frustration than motivation. It encourages procrastination, which makes you feel like you can’t get anything done anyway. Let go of your perfectionism: often, 80 percent of work is completed with 20 percent of your time and effort - according to the Pareto principle, it’s the last 20 percent that takes up 80 percent of your time and your nerves! Perfectionism will hold you back because you lose yourself in the detail and can’t see the bigger picture.
All the clever anti-procrastination tips in the world won’t do a thing if you have no praise or motivation. A good working atmosphere, interesting tasks and a boss that is able to motivate the team are the best antidotes to procrastination. Positive feedback makes you feel valued. This increases productivity and the motivation to set higher targets.
So, reward yourself when you successfully complete another task. Even just ticking a task off on your to do list will give you a good feeling and motivate you.
Don’t forget your successes - remember them when things aren’t going quite so well. This way, you can reward your brain with the satisfaction of a job well done, rather than the short-term pleasure gained by putting something off.
Think about taking breaks. Working hard is tiring and grueling. Treat yourself to time-outs, get some fresh air and move around to re-energize your body.
Software and tools that aren’t user-friendly, that have improperly designed user interfaces and whose functions don’t properly support your workflow encourage procrastination. Who wants to do a job when you have to deal with non-functional software without intuitive interfaces every day? It can help to delete unnecessary tools and work with one single tool that combines all the significant parts of your daily work in one manageable place. Virtual Workrooms combine people, files and tasks. All communication can take place on one single platform, which not only minimizes administration but also delivers two important things: motivated employees and faster results!