Procrastination: Business Poison

“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” Victor Kiam

Procrastination is an insidious force that can compromise the procrastinationeffectiveness of highly qualified professionals, and organizations, thus poisoning the productivity and potential success of the business. What is so amazing is that procrastination is not due to what you cannot control such as market forces, strong competition, unpredictable customer demand but to what each individual can control, in what they elect to do, each day.

Procrastination is defined as postponing or delaying something. While there may be good reasons, in some cases, for delaying action on completing tasks or making decisions, it is important to understand what factors justify a delay. If the factors were beyond your control then the delay might be justified. On the other hand, if the factors were what you chose to accept to justify the delay, then you most likely were procrastinating.

Typical procrastinating excuses might include:

  • I am too busy therefore . . .
  • I can’t focus on that right now.
  • It will require more time to complete it than I have right now.
  • There is just too much going on right now.
  • This was not what I planned to do today.
  • I am just not ready to tackle that now.
  • I will wait until things are better.
  • It’s not really needed today.

We can be really creative (more so than the work or effort the project or task requires) in justifying putting something off. The result, however, is that putting something off means that you will face it again, and then will you take the effort to do it or, more likely, put it off again. I find that if I postpone something once, I can easily do it again.

I personally have experienced procrastination episodes where the time thinking or worrying about doing a task or contemplating how to delay it, turned out to be greater than what it took to actually complete it. How productive is that, and does it set a good example for others that I work with, or worse, that I work for?

From my observation of procrastinators (including myself) I group the motivating forces that result in procrastination into the following categories:

  • Distractions
  • Delegation
  • Self Esteem
  • Scope Creep

Distractions
In today’s multi-media, internet-connected, world we are very susceptible to distractions. Unplanned distractions or interruptions can definitely complicate your previously planned goals for the day. This raises two key questions:

  1. Do you freely allow yourself to be distracted versus closing off all sources of distractions that can divert your attention or time from commitments for the current day?
  2. Do you consciously look for distractions to avoid (or save you from) working on what was your task list for the day?

Do one or both of these sound familiar?

In either case, you are not managing your time and resources effectively by exposing yourself to distractions, consciously or not. Despite your best efforts, distractions can still intrude on our schedules, which then adds a challenge on how to either accommodate them or dispatch them.

Most distractions do not require immediate attention. Those distractions that argue for immediate attention should be delegated to others that are available for that purpose, or to negotiate a time when you can deal with it without diverting you from what you are working on or scheduled to complete.

In most cases “No” is a good answer to a distraction coming from a peer or subordinate who may be trying to throw a task onto your list. So often these situations are just handholding, where the “sender” knows the answer but just needs the confidence or reinforcement to go ahead.

The source of too many unplanned distractions needs to be looked at to see if that person needs more training or is in over their head. In the case of an operation, the process may be poorly documented, or out of control, and the responsible supervisor does not recognize proper corrective action procedures.

Delegation
A good leader will delegate his responsibilities among his subordinates. This frees him to deal with the key issues for their position. The key point with delegation is mentoring and developing your staff to function independently, so that unnecessary tasks do not come back to you, the senior manager.

An investment in time is needed to make sure that staff is properly functioning. Regular discussions and formal reviews with staff are part of this process.

Self-Esteem
Also related to delegation is the self-esteem of the senior manager and how it contributes to procrastination. Some executives will hold onto certain issues rather than delegate them, as engaging in them is important in how they see themselves.   Often these are tasks from a previous position where they were valued for handling these tasks in a timely manner.

However, carrying tasks that are best delegated back to the previous position burdens them or “distracts” them from working on the priority tasks of their position. They still want the old glory, but at the expense of functioning properly and timely in their current position.

Scope Creep
Tasks and projects are susceptible to changes as a due date approaches. Tasks and projects should be defined completely from the outset to limit or minimize the impact of changes in scope. A floating, poorly defined, specification can offer all kinds of opportunities to delay or postpone (procrastinate) the date of completion.

I have witnessed overt attempts to under define a project. Therefore, it was difficult to pin down the responsible manager about when the project was to be completed and what their responsibilities were.

In office environments where poorly defined projects or tasks are common, employees are less inclined to put their best effort into what they do. It is not uncommon for previous effort to be scrapped, as the project is redefined and rescheduled thus wasting previous effort, energy and emotion.

Solutions to Procrastination
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce or eliminate the impact of procrastination on your job performance. Two of my previous blog articles provide tips and techniques on how to be more effective and not be a procrastinator.

Avoiding procrastination requires intentional and decisive effort on your part. Success may also require the assistance of those around you. Dealing with the factors above is a daily battle, which you and your team need to fight back and fight to complete each day what was scheduled for that day, even if it includes a few other items that were unplanned.

A decisive organization is a successful organization.

Summary
Procrastination absorbs valuable time and energy that should be invested in strategic actions toward achieving opportunities for the business. Events or actions put off for the next day, not delivered on time, or leave people on the fence as to what and when something will happen, projects a market brand that customers will not be attracted to or value.

Look for examples of procrastination in your organization, even in your office and on your desk. Deal with it openly and help others who are aware of it in their own performance but are unsure how to deal with it. In some cases it may be ingrained in your organization and will require engaging third party resource in mounting a major effort to change “procrastination” practices, but the rewards will be significant.

Don’t let procrastination poison your business and compromise the potential success of your business.

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