Do you get derailed at work by putting the work off?
While some employees occasionally engage in procrastination, others make it a way of life. "Everybody procrastinates, but not everyone's a procrastinator," says Joseph Ferrari, a DePaul University psychology professor and author of "Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done."
Chronic procrastinators comprise 20 percent to 25 percent of the workforce, according to Ferrari, who says procrastinators would rather be perceived as lazy than incapable. But being viewed as lazy, not to mention undependable, is hardly a boost for your professional reputation. Moreover, you could be putting your job security at risk if a boss feels you aren't maximizing your time.
Through a combination of managerial assistance and self-imposed guidelines, you can overcome your wait-until-the-last-minute ways.
1. Lower the managerial hammer. If you oversee a procrastinator, bring to his or her attention the damage caused by the behavior.
"You've got to make the person realize that they have failed, that there's a consequence for their act ... You want them to realize that they've made a mistake, that this is not a good thing, this is not productive. So you have to be forward and honest with the person," Ferrari says.
2. Stress reward over punishment. Managers should emphasize the benefits of finishing a project before a deadline, as opposed to the consequences of completing it after. "As a culture, we don't reward people for doing things early," Ferrari says.
Employees who are ahead of due dates may benefit by getting off work early or receiving a thank-you lunch, courtesy of the company credit card.
3. Emulate the non-procrastinators. Stick close to co-workers who routinely finish their work well in advance of deadlines. Their work habits may rub off on you. "Surround yourself with people who are doers," Ferrari suggests.
4. Break down the monumental task. If the depth and length of a project is driving you to languish, take a piecemeal approach to complete it, suggests Julie Morgenstern, a productivity consultant and author of "Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule and Your Life."
"You've got to break it down," Morgenstern says. She recommends a three-step process that includes defining a goal, consulting with your boss or a knowledgeable colleague and then putting together a rough draft of your strategy. Completing tasks one step at a time "gets you on the road" and provides a sense of accomplishment, she says.
[Read: How to Stop Procrastinating at Work.]
5. Subscribe to the Premack principle. Named after psychologist David Premack, who's known for his work on behavioral reinforcement, the principal is based on the notion that individuals are more willing to complete a burdensome task if it means doing a more enjoyable one afterward.
"Something you like to do can be used to reward something you don't," Ferrari explains. While the principle can be self-imposed, he says, it works better if a superior implements it.
6. Put yourself under pressure. You may be the employee who thrives under the tightest of deadlines, but during the period between being assigned the project and completing it, you wasted a great deal of time.
If convinced you're at your best under pressure, Morgenstern suggests working under the same time frame - only weeks in advance. "If you just get the darn thing done, in the same limited window of time, [in] your next few weeks you can focus on productive, useful activities and not the kind of activities we gravitate toward when we're procrastinating," she says.
7. Limit your social media fix. Don't let Twitter and Facebook get in the way of a project. Ferrari acknowledges that untamed social networking visits and Internet browsing habits can make procrastination habits worse.
Morgenstern suggests using your smartphone as a timekeeper and capping social media visits to a span of five to 30 minutes. "That limits [usage] from going on and on," she says.
For a more stringent course of action, give yourself a day off from the websites, she says, or an entire morning, afternoon or evening.
You may realize you didn't miss much.
As Morgenstern says, "There was nothing on there that couldn't wait a day."
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