How to overcome procrastination at work and get jobs done

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 9 November 2022

Published 10 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Procrastination can sometimes result in unnecessary stress when you continually put off a task you're not confident enough to complete. Procrastinating is a common habit that everyone indulges in throughout their lives, but it can have negative consequences. These may include missed deadlines, loss of revenue for your employer and poor working relationships with your colleagues. In this article, we offer 10 tips on how to overcome procrastination, define what procrastination means and list some of the benefits of tackling it.

How to overcome procrastination

As stalling for time is a habit based on unhealthy thought patterns, it's possible to break it so long as you understand how to overcome procrastination. Stopping procrastination requires active efforts, including the planning and managing of your time to prevent it from reoccurring. Here are some tips to consider to help break your procrastination habit:

1. Face your fears

Fear is a powerful emotion, but it's not as powerful as your drive to overcome difficulties. Your procrastination habit likely derives from negative thought patterns or self-beliefs. Examine what it is you're afraid of. Perhaps it's not meeting your own high standards or the fear of receiving negative feedback. Once you understand your fears, you may find they aren't as intimidating as you thought, or you may be able to develop better plans to overcome them, meaning that you can avoid procrastination and begin tasks more easily.

2. Stay organised

Once you identify the issue, you can spot when you're slipping into procrastination and help yourself by staying organised. There are many tools that can help you stay on track. These tools can be calendars, apps or methods to help you stay focused, even for short bursts, such as the Pomodoro Technique. This involves setting a timer for 25 minutes to focus on a task, then taking a short break. You can also try tidying your workspace to manage and separate your tasks.

Related: 12 strategies to help you overcome procrastination

3. Set deadlines and keep them clear

Making sure that you're aware of your deadlines and actively working towards them is a great way to stop procrastinating. You can make your deadlines visible by noting them on a calendar or placing a sticky note on your computer screen. Keeping them visible makes them harder to ignore, reducing the likelihood that you put the work off.

4. Scale down your tasks

Divide bigger tasks or projects into smaller sub-tasks to make them easier to manage. Devote a set period of time to completing each one. Working in this way enables you to steadily complete your work without feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

5. Remove distractions

Actively avoid distractions to stop procrastination. If you're tempted to check social media or your working environment is too distracting, remove yourself from this situation or switch your computer to aeroplane mode. Make sure to keep your phone away from you, and if possible, consider moving to a different room to enable focus.

6. Visualise your success as motivation

Visualisation is a powerful activity in helping you achieve your goals and meet your deadlines. Take a few moments to close your eyes and meditate on the feeling of successfully completing your work. Ask yourself what looks like, feels like and sounds like. With a strong visual and sensory connection to the potential rewards, you can begin again with renewed focus.

7. Work backwards

Sometimes, starting with the hardest task you're most likely to avoid is the best way to combat procrastination. Once you've done this, all of your other tasks can appear much simpler, easier and more enjoyable. Try working backwards with a new task and getting the harder aspects out of the way first to prevent procrastination.

8. Take regular work breaks

Taking regular breaks, say every two hours, helps prevent procrastination by ensuring that you don't make yourself exhausted, which may encourage you to put things off. Taking a break can include going for a short walk, chatting with a colleague or simply relaxing for a few minutes. Doing this ensures that you maintain your motivation to complete your tasks.

9. Hold yourself accountable for your actions

Hold yourself accountable to avoid procrastination. Set alarms to make sure you get back to work on time and ask colleagues or friends to check in on you every so often. Being responsible for your actions is a good way to prevent procrastination from happening, and you can feel good about yourself for powering through and not wasting time.

10. Reward yourself for avoiding procrastination

Procrastination is a difficult habit to break, which is why it helps to reward yourself for avoiding it. Reward yourself with something small for making it through a working day without procrastinating. For the completion of larger tasks and goals, reward yourself with something bigger when you've successfully completed them on time.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the process of purposefully delaying something until another time. Procrastination occurs for a number of reasons, some more valid than others. For example, if you continue to put off asking for that promotion that you know you're qualified for and deserve, you're simply procrastinating out of fear that you may encounter rejection. While fear is one of the most common contributors to procrastination, it's not the only one. The four most common reasons for procrastination are:

Avoiding tasks to have fun instead

Fun things are a huge distraction from work tasks that you're dreading, resulting in procrastination. By choosing to have fun rather than apply yourself to a job that needs doing, the task falls further to the bottom of your priorities to the point that it becomes urgent and more stressful. The longer you avoid this task, the closer the deadline looms. This can result in you missing out on fun things to do in your free time.

Avoiding tasks when you have too much time

It's easy to procrastinate if you have a long time to finish a task. The amount of time you have misleads you to think that it's not urgent, but this time runs down quickly, and suddenly the deadline is pressing. Procrastinating until the last minute can result in your work not being of good quality and the experience being intensely stressful and tiring. Procrastinating can become even more dangerous when there's no precise due date, as tasks then become at risk of being indefinitely pushed back.

Avoiding tasks because of anxiety

Procrastination can occur when you're feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety can grow if you struggle to manage your time well and complete tasks. This anxiety leads to further procrastination by making it difficult to decide where and how to start, which is why it's easy to not start work at all. This results in a procrastination cycle.

Related: How to manage feeling overwhelmed at work (with steps)

Avoiding tasks because of perfectionism

Perfectionism results in procrastination out of fear that your work cannot meet your own perfect standards. The fear of producing work that isn't as good as you like frequently results in procrastination cycles, moving between perfectionism and anxiety and resulting in overwhelming self-criticism. Dealing with perfectionism is subjective, and it's important to find the best way to manage your perfectionism at work to avoid procrastination.

Benefits of tackling your procrastination

Everybody procrastinates. Whether it occurs through anxiety, perfectionism, time constraints or the perceived difficulty of a task, procrastination is a universal experience. Here are some ways that overcoming procrastination can benefit you:

Helps you meet deadlines

Procrastinating on tasks runs the risk of missing deadlines, which may impact your personal reputation and that of the company you work for. You're more likely to experience less stress if you can work with your deadlines rather than against them. Preventing procrastination helps you manage your time, reducing stress and its knock-on effects.

Helps position you for opportunities

Meeting targets and completing work to the expectations of your line manager can put you in a better position for future rewards. This could be a promotion or the chance to head a project. When you focus on your work, you help the company succeed, which stands a better chance of being recognised.

Helps you reach your goals

Reaching your goals requires active work and focus. These goals are great motivators to boost your outlook on life. To achieve your potential, try to spot and eliminate procrastination before it takes hold.

Related: How to be successful and achieve your personal goals

Helps keep you healthy and well

The best defence against anxiety and stress-related issues is to confront obstacles as they arise. When you organise your duties according to priority, with confidence and purpose, you're more likely to feel a sense of satisfaction and be able to better plan future workloads. This promotes your well-being and improves your work-life balance.

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