Procrastinating at Work? 5 Tips for Ditching Overwhelm and Getting Back to Work
You’re a great employee. All performance evaluations come back with high marks, and you know that your supervisor appreciates your efforts. But, as good of an employee as you are, you find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle that most employees know all too well — procrastination.
And there’s many reasons why you might find yourself procrastinating, so don’t beat yourself up about this being a personality trait. You may be procrastinating because you’re uninterested in the task, unqualified to do the task, or unsure of where to start to get the work done. If you only had more time, more information, or more resources, you’d likely power through anything you’ve been procrastinating on.
But instead, you find yourself pushing back items on your to-do lists to different days, avoiding checking your voicemails, and anxious to even open your email inbox. Even just the slightest amount of procrastination can spiral into a big problem, and you are feeling overwhelmed.
You’re ready to get back on track, but the problem is that you don’t know where to start. Great news, we’ll explore five ways to stop procrastinating so you can go back to being that great employee and quit avoiding the tasks you previously put off.
1. Identify what needs to be done
It’s easy to continue procrastinating when you can’t see the end in sight. Feeling overwhelmed or unclear on how to proceed is fuel for stalling. Instead, take a moment to list out each and every thing you need to do on a to-do list of sorts. Don’t shy away from breaking each task into tiny steps here, either. This list should be every small thing that’s bogging you down.
When you’re working on your list, try to avoid editing while writing. Think of it as a brain purge. You don’t need to organize these tasks as you go. If you forgot an action item that goes with something you know you already wrote out, put it on the bottom of the list. Don’t read through what you’ve written so you can categorize it correctly. There’s time to sort once you’re clear on
2. Ask for help when needed
You do know you don’t have to do everything alone, right? Of course, we’re all expected to be valuable members of our organization and take responsibility for our work, but there’s a good chance you work on a team of sorts, or at least you have a supervisor responsible for your output too.
First, speak to your supervisor, who can likely help you prioritize your approach for tackling your tasks. Ask them if you can request some assistance from your coworkers.
Then, call in a colleague, and ask them if they can help you by taking over an item (or more) from your to do list. Let them know that this won’t be a regular occurrence, and you’ll return the favor when they need it. Ask them if they have any suggestions for setting up better systems so you don’t find yourself procrastinating in the future.
And, for any advice you receive, commit to trying it out, even if at face value it doesn’t seem like something that would benefit you. Remember — the old way wasn’t working, so it’s on you to try something new.
3. Take small, but strategic steps
Now it’s time to actually put the effort in. Here’s your opportunity to prove to yourself that you can make sustained progress. Procrastination doesn’t have to be your middle name any longer.
Take an item on your to-do list. Any item — but you’re best off choosing something that’s extremely simple to complete — and finish it. Don’t let anything interrupt you. How does it feel? Take that momentum and build on it. Complete, complete, complete. Create a reward system for yourself if you need external motivation. Eventually, you’ll see the task list whittling down and you can focus more on preventing procrastination, rather than digging yourself out from its pitfalls.
4. Create systems for efficiency
You’ve worked through, or at least you are working on, your to-do list. Ah, freedom! The beauty of not having a long list of priorities breathing down your neck. You might feel like you’re free and clear, but you’re not. Things won’t change until you put in place systems to avoid procrastinating. Being efficient at work doesn’t mean getting things done quickly, it means being well organized and working in a smart manner.
If systems are your weakness, call in a coach, peer, or mentor that can help you here. For example, you might want to treat emails as a one-touch method. If you click on it, you respond to or deal with it immediately. Once it’s complete, you can archive the message.
5. Analyze your responsibilities
You’ve worked through the immediate items you previously procrastinated on, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the free and clear. Procrastination can be cyclical. You might get caught up on work, but then find yourself procrastinating on new tasks. Avoid this by figuring out what’s causing the procrastination and why you’re finding yourself in this predicament.
For example, let’s say you avoid voicemails and even when you do listen to them, you might go days before responding to anyone. What’s the real reason for this? Are you anxious about talking on the phone? Are you procrastinating tasks and the calls are people checking in on your progress? Are you simply too slammed at work to give any attention to the voice messages?
Depending on the answer to those questions, you’d be able to determine how to proceed in the future. Let’s say you’re absolutely too busy to answer and return your calls — which is often an excuse people use, but could quite possibly be the case here —it may be the time to outsource your phone service to an assistant. If there’s anxiety surrounding talking on the phone, it might be helpful to update your voicemails to include a note that explains that email is the best way to contact you for quick responses as you only check your voicemail sporadically. And, when it comes to people checking up on you — just do your work! The guilt of being behind and worrying that people are calling you for status updates will be erased if you focus on eliminating procrastination now and in the future.
If you can get really clear on what motivates your procrastination, you’ll be better prepared to stop it once and for all.