Overcoming procrastination is not easy, and it’s something many of us will struggle with during our careers, whether we’re leading people or working in a team.
We’ve all been there. We have a task list a mile long, but can’t bring ourselves to tackle certain items. They just sit there, while we look at them.
In this article I’m going to cover some of the common reasons for procrastination, and of course, some ideas to help you tackle them.
Not only will this hopefully help you in overcoming procrastination, it can also be useful for helping your team members who are going through the same challenges.
Why Overcoming Procrastination is Important For Leaders
Overcoming procrastination is something many people strive for, not just leaders.
However, for leaders, beating procrastination is doubly important because of the role they play. If left unchecked, procrastination can cause many problems, including:
- Reputation damage. It never looks good when you aren’t completing important work.
- Role modelling. Leaders are role models, and people will watch you struggling with procrastination. If you can’t beat it, others may feel that they can’t or don’t need to either.
- Stagnation. Leaders exist to champion change, take action, forge a path and improve things. Overcoming procrastination is critical to do these things consistently.
- Stress. Procrastination can make you feel drained and worthless. It can also cause stress when those tasks on your list are suddenly urgent because you’ve been sitting on them for so long.
- Blockers. Leaders rarely work in isolation. If your procrastination is stopping others from doing their own work, then you’ll be letting the team down.
Overcoming procrastination is important for the reasons above, and you can probably think of a few more too! So next, let’s look at some of the common causes.
Learn More: The Cult of Busyness: How Leaders Can Kill It.
Overcoming Procrastination Starts With “Why”?
The reasons for procrastination are many and varied. There is no one single reason for everyone, and it will often depend on your motivations and personality.
In my experience, it’s a good idea to first understand why you are procrastinating. Then you can decide what to do about it.
Some people will say “you just need to get on with it” and this can work temporarily. But if procrastination is a recurring problem for you, you’ll want to think a little harder about what’s behind it.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the common reasons for procrastination and what you can do about them.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #153: Why Knowing Yourself Equals Better Leadership.
Procrastinating Because the Task is Not Valuable
Sometimes, we feel that we *should* perform a task because we have been directed to do it, or because someone has said it’s important.
But deep down, we don’t really feel like it’s a valuable use of our time. Otherwise, we’d have started it by now.
For example, I’ve sometimes struggled in my career when I’m told to write a huge report on a special fancy template, when I know that a one page summary would do just fine.
If you’re battling this type of challenge, there are a few things to try. First, you could find out what’s so important about this task, by speaking to the people who care about it.
You could also try negotiating to cut down the effort, or complete the task in a way that is not so time-consuming. Could you potentially achieve a similar outcome, without spending so much time?
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #80: What to Do When You Have Too Many Priorities.
Procrastinating Because You Don’t Have Enough Information
Some people like to have comprehensive information before they take action or make a decision. Others are happier to “go with their gut”.
If you’re the former, then you might procrastinate because you don’t feel like you have enough information to move forward. Instead, you might be stuck in analysis paralysis … going over the options again and again.
To move forward, you need to either make peace with the fact that you don’t have all the information, or clarify what information you do need, so you can get it.
You might also need to set expectations about what information you need with other people around you, and get a second opinion from a trusted colleague if you’re really spinning your wheels.
Procrastinating Because You’re Afraid of the Consequences
Sometimes we don’t take action because we’re afraid of what’s on the other side. It might be a difficult performance conversation, or a challenging announcement about an upcoming restructure.
It might even be that you’re afraid of succeeding too!
Questions like “What’s the worst that can happen?”, “What are the consequences?” or “What am I really afraid of?” can be useful in this situation to clarify our thinking.
However, even when you *do* know what you’re scared of, that doesn’t make it any less scary. So there are a few things you can do:
- Work out what support you need to help you handle the situation, and ask for it
- Develop a plan to reduce the impact of taking action. What could you do to limit the damage?
- Understand the consequences of doing nothing. We fear what happens from taking action – but what about when we continue to do nothing? Sometimes taking action is the lesser of two evils.
- Focus on the learning. When you take difficult actions, you learn a lot about yourself and what you could do better. Keep you eyes wide open for the lessons.
Procrastination of this type is related to a concept called “resistance”. It’s a topic dealt with extensively in the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, so check it out if this is a big challenge for you!
Procrastinating Because the Work Doesn’t Align With Your Goals
For the goal-driven and focused leaders out there, we may see procrastination for a completely different reason. That the task on your list simply doesn’t align with the direction you’re heading.
Some leaders will ignore these tasks because they don’t move them toward their goals. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the work go away.
When overcoming procrastination for this reason, you might try finding a new owner for the task, who is more motivated to complete it.
It may also help to understand more about the work, and look for a link with your own objectives. If you can find why this might matter for you, you may be more likely to jump on board.
Or, you might push back or negotiate the task, to make a change that brings it more in line with your objectives.
Without trying something, you’re likely to avoid it until it becomes an issue.
Learn More: The Power of Setting a Direction For Your Team.
Procrastinating Because the Work Is Boring
Boring work is out there. I’ve seen it and experienced it.
If you find yourself ignoring boring tasks, you need to find a way to make them more interesting. You could try working on them with a colleague or as a team, or breaking them down into smaller chunks that can be done in-between other more interesting tasks.
You may also try using new methods or tools to complete the boring work. This can help you learn new skills and keep things interesting, even if the work itself is not stimulating.
Overcoming procrastination for boring work can be challenging, but if you can think differently about how you might accomplish it, you may just make it interesting enough to tackle.
Learn More: 5 Questions to Ask An Unmotivated Team Member.
Procrastinating Because You Don’t Have the Skills or Confidence
Trying to work on tasks that you’re under-qualified for is not pleasant. It might be that you don’t feel you have the skills, confidence or experience to succeed, which is stopping you from taking action.
If you notice yourself shying away from tasks for this reason, you’ll need to do something, or risk the task being completed poorly, or never completed at all!
To overcome procrastination in this case, try:
- Finding support. If this task is something you really should be able to tackle, then you need to ask for and find support to help you complete it. Someone more experienced or skilled could assist you until you grow your own skills.
- Delegating. Leaders aren’t necessarily the best at everything. Delegating to a skilled team member or colleague can help to get the job done better than you could.
- Dedicating time to learn. You won’t get better without practice. Put aside time to learn the skills you’d need to successfully complete the task.
Overcoming procrastination when you’re low on skills or confidence can be a challenge because you’ll likely feel vulnerable admitting you don’t know what to do, or how to do it.
However, without making a change, you’ll continue to avoid difficult tasks, which could hold you back over the longer term.
Learn More: Are You Holding Yourself Back? Spot the Signs.
Start Overcoming Procrastination by Making a Commitment
If you’re struggling to make progress and keep spinning your wheels, another powerful way of overcoming procrastination can be to make a commitment to a deadline.
Instead of staying silent and avoiding the task, tell people when you’ll have it done. Tell your boss, tell your team and your colleagues.
Write it in an email. Say it out loud. Write it up on a whiteboard so people can see it.
Sometimes if we can’t find the drive to complete the task for ourselves, we can find it by committing to others because we don’t want to let them down.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #71: A Simple Model for Team Motivation.
Find Your Reason and Take Action
There are a diverse range of reasons why people may procrastinate at work. Not all of them will be applicable to everybody, but you might find that some of these resonate with you.
The key to overcoming procrastination is to find the reason behind your hesitation, so you can start to take action to address it.
Without understanding the true cause, it’s likely that you’ll continue to follow the same unproductive pattern of behaviour and also reinforce it in your team.
It might seem like you need to just “get on with it”, but usually there is much more to the situation than that.
Find out what’s behind it, and you’ll be on your way.
How do you go about overcoming procrastination in your leadership role? Are there any common reasons I’ve missed? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!
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