Many people associate procrastination with laziness. There’s a misconception that procrastinators are inherently less driven or ambitious than others, because they can’t seem to sit down and get done what they need to get done. The truth is procrastination has many causes that far exceed laziness. One of the greatest time management tips for work is understanding the reasons why we procrastinate, so we can overcome them.
What we’re trying to say here is: stop beating yourself up. Procrastination is a natural and all-too-common tendency, and while research shows its roots are numerous and complex, the consensus is that it has more to do with stress than lack of willpower. If you’ve ever wondered why you’re avoiding the tasks you need to get done, you may want to consider the following reasons why we procrastinate.
Why we procrastinate, according to research
1. Unclear goals
This is one of the primary reasons why we procrastinate. Without clear-cut goals, it’s very easy to get sidetracked.
For example, if your goal is to “exercise more” or “get in shape,” there’s a good chance you’re going to put it off. But if your goal is more clearly defined, such as, “I’m going to join the nearby fitness studio and take three classes a week,” or, “I’m going to go run 10 miles a week,” you have more to hang on to.
In terms of time management tips for work, this might mean the difference between, “I need to manage my time better” vs. “I’m going to devote the first 30 minutes after lunch to emails, so they don’t get in the way of the rest of my day.” Active goals lead to action. Vague goals lead to procrastination.
2. Unrealistic goals
If you can’t see yourself achieving your goals, guess what? You’re probably not going to go after them. When your goals are so far-fetched, they start to feel abstract.
This often rears its ugly head in the form of poor management. When a CEO or mid-level manager makes demands that are beyond the team’s capacity, staff tends to get demotivated or burned out. This is a common cause of turnover in startup companies.
3. Negative emotions
According to psychologists, procrastination can be “an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” In other words, we put off things that will make us feel bad. Tasks that are unpleasant, boring, stressful, or in some way trigger negative emotions are the very tasks we tend to avoid doing.
If you’re routinely procrastinating at work, you might want to take a deeper dive into the issue. Procrastination can often be a sign of “being in a rut,” or it can become a habit with tasks that make you feel insecure or stressed about your career.
If your procrastination is due to disinterest, try to find ways to reinvigorate your career by seeking a promotion, continuing your education, or making a career move. If you’re putting off tasks that trigger stress or self-doubt, you might need to address those feelings both inside and outside of work. Mindfulness techniques and a healthy work-life balance can be a good start.
How many times have you put something off because you were torn between two options? Maybe you didn’t start a diet because you didn’t know which one to follow. Or you didn’t write a research paper because you couldn’t settle on a topic.
Indecision in the workplace can show up as poor prioritization. When you have a lot of projects of equal importance, you’re likely to waste time deciding which to get started on and waffling between them. One of our favorite time management tips for project managers is to make prioritization decisions quickly, so you can stop procrastinating and get things done.
Of course, one of the best things you can do for procrastination is to stop blaming yourself. That kind of negative thinking can lead to a vicious cycle of further procrastination. As a project manager, it’s up to you to keep things in motion, so be sure to avoid these all too common reasons why we procrastinate.
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