From time to time, I’m sure all of us have been guilty of procrastinating. And if it is something that isn’t happening very often, then it doesn’t really do much harm.
However, in a world where remote working is continuously on the rise, being able to procrastinate is easier than ever. Resume-Now conducted a study which found that 42% of fully remote workers agreed that they got easily distracted when they were supposed to be working.
This is without the fact that, globally, an estimated 20% of adults are considered chronic procrastinators (this is defined as intentionally postponing a course of action despite knowing that this delay will have negative consequences).
This can be a cause for concern for employers, especially those with hybrid and remote working models. So how can they best respond to this and avoid a loss of productivity?
Firstly, understanding why people procrastinate is a great way of figuring out how to approach it. Neuroscientists have found that our brains battle between the limbic system (which controls our primal instincts) and the prefrontal cortex (which controls planning for the future). When strong emotions like anxiety or fear become overwhelming, our limbic systems can take charge, leading us to impulsively seek gratification in any immediate form, despite the consequences of doing so, i.e., falling behind on work or not meeting a deadline. Tim Urban simplified this idea in his popular TED talk, which described how we all have a ‘rational thinker’ that steers our thoughts, but procrastinators will also have an ‘instant gratification monkey’ which only wants to do fun things and doesn’t consider the drawbacks.
A lot of the time, chronic procrastination stems from feelings of overwhelm, stress and anxiety. If a manager notices an employee being less productive and missing deadlines consistently, this may be a sign that they are struggling and using procrastination as a short-term solution. One way to help solve this is through the introduction of microbreaks.
A microbreak is essentially a five-minute break which allows an employee to rest their brain between tasks and take a moment for themselves. In a way, this would be employers actively encouraging procrastination, but in a more controlled and mental-health focused manner. If employees are being told to take microbreaks, they won’t find themselves feeling guilty because they wouldn’t consider it procrastinating. This shift in perception can make all the difference, and this is without the fact that microbreaks have been proven to improve engagement and productivity levels.
Another way employers can help staff ignore that pesky monkey is promoting the idea of segmenting their workdays. Cassie Holmes, an expert in time and happiness and author of Happier Hour, discusses the concept of employees dividing their day between ‘happy work’ (which is the work that fuels their passion and they enjoy doing) and ‘work-y work’ (the more repetitive, admin-like tasks). Managers can encourage those who tend to procrastinate to schedule specific time to do the parts of their job they love and the parts they may enjoy a little bit less. This way, the employee is less likely to feel guilty about ‘putting off’ the work-y work, because they know they already have specific time dedicated to doing it.
There isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to responding to employee procrastination, and so it is important to consider various solutions.