Procrastination is one of the greatest enemies of productivity. As a result, it’s profoundly tempting to fall victim to the temptation of watching just one more YouTube video rather than working. Despite our best efforts, we all too often find ourselves dodging important work, and wasting time on quick and easy distractions instead. But what if it’s not you who’s procrastinating, but someone on your team? How do you as a manager help a co-worker overcome their procrastination?
“As a manager, if you have an employee who procrastinates, you have to make it known that you’re not upset with them, you’re upset with their behavior,” Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at DePaul University, says. “You have to focus on the task and have them look at the impact.”
But there are also ways to address procrastination before it rears its head. Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project and Hyperfocus, says that there are seven principal reasons why people put off work. These, he says hinge on whether the task at hand is boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, lacks personal meaning, or lacks intrinsic reward. Chances are that if someone on your team is chronically procrastinating, they may be feeling one of these things.
Emphasize the meaning behind each task
The best way to combat procrastination ahead of time is to try to make work engaging and exciting for whoever is doing it. “We procrastinate when we find our work isn’t meaningful,” Bailey says. A good way to show one of your direct reports that their work is meaningful, he says, is to connect it to the work of their team and the overall work of the organization. This way, they can better understand where their contribution is going. Having that larger sense of purpose can be enough to override the procrastination instinct.
Be clear about timelines
Another reason why employees often struggle with procrastination is a lack of clarity surrounding timeframe, Bailey says. “One of the biggest mistakes that managers make is that they don’t provide their employees with enough structure. Employees need that.” A practical way to implement it, he says, is to give clear and present deadlines — and avoid setting them so far in the future that people then forget about them.
Bailey also suggests connecting any of your struggling employees with others who have done similar projects. Urge that pair to engage with each other — that additional person can provide necessary social support. And if you need to, set weekly check-ins, either with you or their new buddy, to provide additional structure alongside deadlines.
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