How to Combat Procrastination in Your Small Business

How to Combat Procrastination in Your Small Business

Procrastination. Is it a sign of genius? A less abrasive term for laziness? Though the answer varies, there’s one thing that’s true – too much of it in the workplace can cause some serious damage. Many of us are guilty of putting off a task here and there, but when procrastination runs rampant in your organization, it can affect everything from productivity and morale to your bottom line.

The good news is that there are often steps you can take to combat procrastination in the workplace, helping your employees and your business stay on the fast-track to success.

How to Combat Procrastination

Identify the Root of Procrastination

Though we all know what it means to procrastinate, many of us fail to understand the “why” that drive this behavior. You can have a room full of employees who are at least occasionally guilty of waiting until the last minute to complete a task, but the reasons that drive their procrastination can vary.

Some people are simply habitual procrastinators who live in a world of delays and excuses until a looming deadline sparks ambition. These are likely the individuals who take pride in their ability to “perform under pressure,” even if that performance leads to poor or late work.

However, other people may procrastinate because of a lack of skill or understanding, which can lead to unnecessary delays born of anxiety and stress – they aren’t sure what to do or how to move forward, so they simply don’t.

Still, others may be well versed in the concepts and skills necessary to proceed but end up procrastinating because they’ve accepted more work than they can reasonably handle.

With that in mind, it’s important to consider the different types of procrastinators as you move to combat it in either your own habits or those of your employees. Failing to do so may mean leave you treading water instead of moving forward.

Establish Accountability

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work as part of a managed team, living up to the project expectations set by a boss or project manager; manage a group of employees, dictating due dates and overseeing task completion; and be my own boss, answering only to myself and my clients. And while the structure of each circumstance differed, there was and continues to be one common thread that breeds success: accountability. That said, my experiences aren’t unique.

Due dates and task requirements are great, but if an employee doesn’t take ownership of their work, then task completion wanes. Accountability creates an equal playing field where all employees know what’s expected, and perhaps more importantly, what’s at stake.

But don’t forget that what’s at stake extends past the employees’ immediate interests. Leaders who know how to instill accountability recognize the fact that accountability means a vested interest in the success of a project and how that relates to the client, coworkers, and the business overall. When an individual is accountable to a larger group, they’re more likely to get their work done — few want to be designated the weakest link.

To boost accountability, work closely with employees to address your expectations, and if they go unmet, be sure that poor performance is noted and addressed quickly.

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Set Clear Expectations

Accountability is a great way to help some employees avoid procrastination, but it’s only a part of a much larger picture. In order for employees to become accountable, they must understand how to get there, and that requires clear and specific expectations.

When work is assigned, whether it be necessary day-to-day minutiae or one-off client projects, the end goal will be all the more obtainable if deliverables, due dates, and resources are clearly defined. For the basic procrastinator, these things can provide a quick snapshot of the when and how. However, for new employees or those struggling with concepts or expectations, these efforts act as a lifeline, giving them a much-needed road map and the required tools for success..

Be an Active Participant

No one likes a micromanager, but if procrastination has taken seed, then you may find that your role, or that of a responsible manager, must slightly shift from one that oversees to one that actively guides. This is particularly true for employees who are poor self-motivators, lack confidence, or who take too much work on.

By being an active participant, you can offer valuable feedback when it’s requested or when you notice that projects are in jeopardy of running off the rails. However, keep in mind that there is a significant difference between being active and available and being stifling and overbearing.

Constant hand-holding or unfettered nitpicking isn’t going to solve your problem, and in many cases, they can make your relationship with employees volatile. Instead, think about ways you can work with employees in a mutually beneficial manner. Weekly team meetings to discuss progress, short-term deliverables/mid-project deliverables, and a well-chosen task management app or tool can all help you become actively involved without hindering productivity or pride.

Incentivize Completion

If you’re already offering clear expectations, actively participating in processes, and attempting to increase accountability, then you may find that incentives for completion help drive employees who need that extra boost to get the job done on time.

Most of us are inherently driven by rewards, be they intrinsic, like the feeling of accomplishment, or extrinsic, like free lunch or a bonus check. If you’re struggling to motivate your employees, offering an incentive for consistent and timely work can help get you, and them, over the dreaded procrastination hurdle.

Like deadlines and deliverables, incentives should be well structured and clearly communicated. Additionally, an incentive system only works if you can follow through, so while it may be nice to promise everyone bonus pay if the team hits specific goals, if it’s not consistent, you may face lackluster results at best – at worst, you can sabotage your efforts. Make your incentives manageable.

Additionally, incentives don’t necessarily have to be directly tied to output. If you’re struggling to motivate employees and you feel procrastination may be rooted in a lack of knowledge or experience, then incentives can also be tied to employee education and growth milestones.

Even the best employees and companies can fall victim to procrastination, and in small doses, it may not make much of an impact on your bottom line, but over time, procrastination can take root, changing the work dynamic, wreaking havoc on productivity and straining employee relationships. If “last minute” has become a habitual state of being in your business, then it’s time to identify the potential reasons and implement strategies that can combat procrastination and jump-start ambition.

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