Updated by Hays UAE, March 2017 

Author: Alex Shteingardt, MD, Hays Russia

We’re all human and most of us do it to varying degrees and in various situations, but what exactly is procrastination and is it always a bad thing?

Procrastination is to delay taking action, to put something off until later; habitual procrastinators do it all the time and while leaving the washing-up for the morning isn’t the end of the world, continuously putting tasks off at work and leaving things until the last minute can have serious consequences. In many ways, procrastinating is the polar opposite of being productive; the problem is, you may not always be aware you’re even doing it.

Signs you are procrastinating

Taking lots of coffee breaks at work, spending time away from your desk, and chatting non-stop with colleagues throughout the day could be seen as simply slacking off, or it might suggest you’re finding ways to put off a task until later, perhaps because you’ve been dreading doing something that needs to be done.

Another sign of procrastinating is going through the motions – filling your time with low level, even mundane tasks, that require minimal thinking and deliver limited value in return. Leaving an item on your ‘to do’ list for a long time or spending time writing lists of the things you need to do instead of actually doing them – these are all signs of procrastinating. Other symptoms include finding it hard to get started on a task, or being easily distracted when you’re working on high priority tasks. Constant clock watching can be another indication that you’re procrastinating, especially if you’re looking for an excuse – “it’s far too late to start now” – to put off a task until tomorrow.

So why is it bad?

One sure way of making a demanding task even harder is to put off getting started in the first place. But it’s not just the thought of the task that’s unpleasant; it’s the anxiety that not doing it causes you, and the more things you put off, the greater the workload becomes, causing stress levels to go on rising.

Procrastinating all the time can also erode your self-confidence because as more and more things are put off, there’s a sense of nothing being achieved and this can soon make you start doubting your own abilities. Of course, this is unlikely to affect only you as tasks you avoid doing may have to be taken on by other staff instead, a situation that can cause stress as well as resentment. Even if you are solely responsible for the work being completed, putting it off means you’ll probably have to stay later in the office each day to get through the work.

Top tips to stop procrastinating

If any of the above sounds familiar, you may have developed a habit of procrastinating. But don’t worry, by trying a few of the following tips you can soon start to be more productive at work again.

  • Use the first half hour at work to actually get started and do real work without spending time chatting to co-workers, checking through your emails (unless you absolutely have to), browsing online, or doing anything that isn’t focusing on your tasks. This can set the tone for the rest of the day.
  • Try and identify why you are procrastinating by writing down your reasons for putting off a task. Spelling it out can often help to see the issue more clearly, and give you the impetus to tackle it head on.
  • Get more organised by structuring your time, breaking up your tasks into manageable segments. This is a great way to sustain your productivity over the course of a working day – and ticking things off that ‘to do’ list always feels good!
  • Try and set a goal for each day, and even each part of the day. By planning what you aim to achieve, you’ll have more focus and a greater sense of purpose. But remember to set achievable goals rather than create a wish list of things that you’re unlikely to get through as this can be self-defeating.
  • Commit to stepping out of your comfort zone at least once every day. One reason for procrastinating is fear of the untried or avoiding a task that tests us beyond what we feel comfortable with; but by pushing yourself, you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve – and your self-esteem will bloom.
  • Try and be more self-aware and understand how you work. If you’re easily distracted, find ways to block out whatever it is. Remember to reward yourself in some way once you have completed a difficult or challenging task, especially if it’s one you have previously put off doing. Just taking a moment to acknowledge your achievement is good for morale.
  • Keep your energy levels up by eating well, doing some exercise and getting a good night’s sleep so that you arrive at work feeling more positive and primed for action.

Is procrastinating always bad?

No, is the simple answer, because sometimes it’s not only OK to procrastinate, it can be better than simply ploughing ahead. Putting off a task while you think about a more creative approach, for instance, is allowing a pause and time to generate new ideas. Another way procrastination can be a good thing is if it helps you to let go of some tasks that don’t realistically add any value. And finally, if you realise that you are regularly procrastinating, it could be a clear indication that your career is off-track and that perhaps it is time you re-assessed what you’re doing. Being attuned to your reasons for putting things off can be the first step to a brighter future.

I hope you have found the above advice useful. For more insights and advice about the world of work, visit our dedicated blog page here or click on one of the links below.