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Procrastination can be cured. Here are 7 ways to beat it

Posted by Kanika Sinha

May 17, 2022    |     5-minute read (934 words)

While businesses increasingly expect their employees to be innovative — and at the same to maintain efficiency – many employees are squandering time and money through procrastination. 

A study conducted by Darius Foroux on 2,219 people found that nearly 88% of the workforce tends to procrastinate at least one hour a day. Further, a person earning $40,000 a year wastes a whopping $15,000 dollars if they procrastinate three hours per day, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic spawned a global mental health crisis that in all probability led to more procrastination. Remote and hybrid work, with their inevitable interruptions and endless distractions, further feed the tendency to procrastinate. In fact, distraction was found to be the most common reason for procrastination in Study Mode’s Student Psyche Report.

The good news is that this procrastination problem can be dealt with.

Dig deeper

What is procrastination? Experts who study procrastination define it as the voluntary delay of an important, intended act, despite knowing that you’ll be probably worse off in the long run by putting it off. While sometimes we’re unable to manage negative moods around a task and let our emotions get the best of us, the task itself doesn’t go away. We end up berating ourselves and inconveniencing others.

Why is it bad for businesses? The habit of putting off the task can lead to serious issues both for employees who procrastinate and their employers. For example:

It triggers mental health issues and impacts well-being. Putting off tasks is a risk factor for poor mental and physical health. For example, research by psychology professor Fuschia Sirois found that procrastinators show higher levels of stress and consequently a greater number of acute health problems than nonprocrastinators. 

Separately, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people suffering from heart disease were more likely to self-identify as procrastinators. Other research finds procrastination to be associated with sleep problems, such as shorter sleep duration, increased risk of insomnia symptoms and daytime sleepiness, among adolescents and young adults.

It impairs productivity. A 2018 study that analyzed self-reports from 380 Dutch office employees found a negative relationship between work performance and procrastination. It seems logical to assume that spending excess time on non-work activities while on the job could impair performance, either by depleting the quality or the quantity of work (or both), in turn reducing employee productivity.

Clearly, procrastination in the workplace has costs and needs to be addressed.

Effective ways to combat procrastination

Here are seven tactics aimed at overcoming the tendency to put off important tasks:

Start small. Procrastinators are often so overwhelmed by the size of a project that they’re paralyzed into inactivity. Splitting up tasks into smaller manageable parts can help you get started. Completing those smaller tasks can give you momentum to counter inertia and stop procrastinating. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll keep going.

Set mini deadlines. When breaking your daunting task into smaller bite-sized tasks, consider setting separate deadlines for each of them, spread out over days or weeks. The idea here is to not only eliminate the risk of becoming overwhelmed, but also to encourage steady and constant chipping away at your workload so it doesn’t pile up. 

Attach meaning to the task. This is one of the best ways to stop procrastinating. Professor Sirois says that finding meaning in the task makes you feel more connected to the work at hand and reduces your tendency to procrastinate. Jotting down the importance of the task and figuring out how completing the work will be valuable to your personal growth or happiness can give you a major push to get your work done on time.

Situate yourself in an interruption-free spot. Once you are interrupted while working, it’s much harder to resume the task you finally started. And in the new work from home setup, you are likely to be interrupted by the phone, family, pets and other distractions, which is likely to make you lose focus and concentration. Try finding a place in your home where you can work peacefully without interruption. If that’s not possible, take steps to cut down on intrusions by setting strict timetables and sticking to them.

Practice self-compassion. Research reveals that the habit of procrastination is associated with lower levels of self-compassion. Procrastinators are often found to be hard on themselves — they feel guilty about letting others down and are appalled by their slowness, so much so that they may end up beating themselves up about it. To counter that tendency, learn to treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Practicing self-compassion will not only help curb procrastination but in turn will also boost your motivation to improve

Shun multitasking. Indulging in multitasking can be mentally exhausting and dampens productivity. The human brain is wired to concentrate on one task at a time, and switching from one task to another puts added pressure on the brain, requiring more time for it to function and thereby reducing its efficiency. Try to avoid doing two things at a time and focus entirely on the task at hand until completion. 

Reward yourself. Consistently rewarding yourself can keep you from getting trapped in the procrastination quagmire. Once you complete a task, mark it on your calendar and reward yourself. This reward could be anything that you enjoy and does not have to be something big or expensive. For instance, making a healthy sandwich/salad, going for a short walk, watching an episode of your favorite TV series could be the reward you need.

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