Procrastination - What does it look like?

Procrastination: What Does It Look Like?

I started this year with a discussion on New Year’s Resolutions, using that to lead into the topic of goal setting and, more recently, personal development. Something that often comes up when discussing any of these topics with friends, family, or my coaching clients is procrastination.

A lot of people seem to have a singular idea of what procrastination is, but that idea never really seems to match up with reality. When we think of procrastination, we imagine someone simply sitting around and doing nothing when they really should be doing something specific. While this is sometimes the case, there are many other ways to procrastinate.

You may recognise some of the traits of procrastination:

  • Delaying the Task
    Procrastinators will often put off starting on a task, even when they have everything they need to complete the task ready and waiting. A procrastinator will often put it off by engaging in smaller, less important activities in order to postpone getting started on the task at hand.
  • Frequent Task-Switching
    Procrastinators are often known to be multi-taskers, as they will rapidly jump from one task to another, never focusing on any one thing for particularly long. This is a way of avoiding focusing on a given task for longer than is comfortable, but it leads to fragmented attention and harms productivity.
  • Last-Minute Rush
    Procrastinators may leave tasks until the last minute. The resulting stress forces the individual to focus on the task, rushing through it to get it done on time. This stress-induced rush will often see the task through to completion, but it leads to lower quality output.
  • Leaving Tasks Incomplete
    Between ‘Frequent Task-Switching’ and the ‘Last-Minute Rush’, procrastinators may simply leave work unfinished – often because they did not give themselves the time and focus required to complete it.
  • Excuses and Rationalisations
    Procrastinators will come up with all manner of reasons to justify the delay in task completion or initiation. This takes the form of blaming external factors, making themselves the victims of a larger system, regardless of how much control they may have actually had over the situation.
  • Avoidance of Difficult Tasks
    Procrastinators will often avoid large, complex, or difficult tasks by prioritising smaller tasks which they may perceive as easier, ‘more fun’ or more engaging.
  • Overplanning or Overpreparation
    Procrastinators will, sometimes unintentionally, spend excessive amounts of time planning and preparing to complete a task. This process can grant the individual a deep understanding of what it is they need to do and how to do it, but it keeps them from ever actually moving from the ‘planning phase’ to the ‘action phase’.
  • Seeking Distractions
    Procrastinators may deliberately seek out distractions to delay work. Working in busy or noisy environments, keeping their phones nearby and connected to the internet, spending time on social media, etc, are often meant as ways to avoid the anxiety that comes with having to complete a given task.
  • Difficulty in Meeting Deadlines
    Procrastinators may struggle to meet deadlines because of their constant delays in initiating and completing tasks, and they may ask for extensions to their deadlines as a result.
  • Guilt and Regret
    When all is said and done, procrastinators experience a lot of guilt and regret – no matter how much their constant delays and excuses might annoy you, their procrastination annoys them even more because they are the ones doing it to themselves. This leads to negative self-talk, which adds to their anxieties and leads them back into procrastination, creating a feedback loop.

All these behaviours can add up to an ever-growing problem. Next week I will dig into the factors that cause procrastination, and after that, I will look at how you can help your team members manage their bad habit.

For more on this series, also read Procrastination: The Contributing Factors, or visit our channel on YouTube.