Procrastination and How To Overcome It With Your Team

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We all face procrastination at some points in our lives, but we often view it as something to be solved individually. However, using the power of your team and looking critically at its structures together can offer a potentially transformative route to overcoming this issue. In the following post, we show you how.

Procrastination is the dreaded issue that most of us come face-to-face during certain moments of our lives. It can last for a while or recur repeatedly. Some of us may be good at handling it and overcoming it, while for others it may be a constant challenge.

But while procrastination is a common problem, and one that is much-discussed in articles and blog posts, there’s still a lot of stigma attached to it, and some fear in openly discussing it. That’s because procrastination is often associated with laziness, or being incapable of self-managing one’s time. 

Implicit in this assumption is the notion that procrastination is a problem for individuals to deal with. This sense gets multiplied by the advice that is usually given to deal with it: getting more organized, discovering new scheduling and time-management techniques, getting rid of distractions, etc. 

However, when it comes to procrastinating at work or on team projects, procrastination is not just an individual issue. First of all, it affects other team members and coworkers and how they work as well. Secondly, rather than being just a private issue to be handled individually, teams can actually help each other overcome procrastination. Not only that, but sometimes issues with team structures and communication contribute to procrastination.

So in the following post, we’ll look more closely at the connections between procrastination and how teams function, and how you can use your team to overcome this widespread issue.

One thing to keep in mind as you read through this post is that, while we focus on teams in the working-world, many of these ideas and solutions can also be applied in our private lives as well. Sure, we can procrastinate on personal issues like major life choices, or even going to the doctor, that may seem like our own issues to deal with. But even in these private cases, reaching out to others in your life, like your family or friends, might be a better way to deal with procrastination than just trying to manage it on your own. 

What is procrastination?

First, let’s discuss what procrastination actually is, and what it is not. Procrastination is not the same as laziness, which can be defined as a lack of desire to work. When we procrastinate, however, we do have that desire, we just put off the work or ignore it until later (for a variety of reasons which we will get into in a little bit).

In fact, most procrastinators do eventually finish the work. It just doesn’t happen in the most timely manner. Instead of finishing something over a period of time, someone who procrastinates will wait until the last minute, or when the deadline is up. There is a desire to avoid an “unpleasant” task or a job that they don’t feel entirely confident about.  

This creates a sense of guilt and shame, which over time can lead to demotivation and even depression. There may also be a sense of frustration with oneself, especially if the reasons why they procrastinate are unclear. 

How procrastination is related to teams

Of course, procrastination affects the rest of the team as well, in multiple ways. Not only does putting off a task result in the rest of the team being forced to work around that schedule. The frustration and demotivation that the procrastinator feels may also result in less productive output, and could eventually bring down the rest of the team as well.

So teams have an incentive to help their team members out of whatever procrastination  hole they’ve fallen into. Furthermore, as we mentioned briefly before, it behooves teams to look inwardly when they encounter someone who procrastinates, rather than blaming it all on the individual. This is because there may be underlying issues on the team that are leading to procrastination. 

Remember, you should constantly work to create an environment where everyone feels productive and psychologically safe, and where they feel that they can be honest and open about their thoughts and opinions. If one or more team members are struggling with something (and procrastination is definitely a struggle), the best thing teams can do is to try to help them and look for solutions together.

That being said, here are the major areas of teams and their structure that can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to addressing procrastination.  

1. Communication

Issues with communication on teams can lead to issues with procrastination. Team members who don’t feel as listened to may feel more isolated and demotivated in their work. Furthermore, not being able to share their feelings about frustration when it comes to procrastinating may exacerbate the issue. The foundation of any team is communication, and creating spaces for open and honest communication will help your team deal with any problem, including procrastination.

2. Collaboration

A lack of collaboration on teams can cause team members to feel alienated from each other, and unsure about their work and place within the team. When team members collaborate, they raise each other up, give each critical feedback and inspire each other. 

All of this enables team members to focus and work together to move forward. A lack of collaboration, on the hand, often leads to directionless team members, and potentially more procrastinators. Effective collaboration also means using the right tools and processes. Things like multitasking or not having the right spaces to collaborate can create more confusion and overwhelm team members.

3. Clear roles and goals

Along with effective structures that enable teamwork to flourish, team members also need to find meaning in what they are doing, and find value in their roles on the team. When their roles or the goals of the team are unclear, team members may become frustrated and unmotivated. This in turn can lead to procrastination, since they are unsure about what they are doing, or even why it’s necessary in the first place. 

4. Creative distractions

It might seem counterintuitive to create distractions in order to solve issues with procrastination. But as we explained in an earlier post, creative distractions are healthy outlets that get people to focus on something else for a little bit to give their minds a chance to breather. Unlike disruptive distractions like social media or TV, they uplift team members and leave them feeling more energized. This includes things like team building or social activities that give teams a chance to let loose and have fun, while at the same time help them build valuable relationships. 

Giving team members the opportunity to let their minds wander healthily, through activities like short walks or pursuing creative hobbies, can also help team members to focus more in the long run, and give them ways to manage their procrastination when it strikes (especially when that procrastination is due to getting “blocked” creatively). But again, this requires teams to have trust in each other, and to work together to create environments that are conducive to creativity and exploration.

Common causes of procrastination and to solve them with your team

Now let’s try to put these ideas into practice. Procrastination has a lot of different causes, and these causes may be different in each person. Obviously, procrastination is also dependent on what’s going on in people’s personal lives, their mental and physical health, goals, etc. However, there are a few common causes of procrastination that appear over and over again. 

So in the following, we’ll go through each of them and talk about ways that teams can go about solving them together, by referring back to the areas from the preceding section that are relevant.

Cause1: Feeling overwhelmed with work

 Solution: Communicate with team members, look at collaboration structures

One of the most common causes of procrastination is simply feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do. You may have felt this before: You have so much to do that you don’t know where to start, so much so that you almost feel pralyzed and unable to do anything. Or you may get up the willpower to get rid of smaller tasks, while putting off larger projects because they are too intimidating, thus compiling the problem. 

This is ultimately a problem with your team’s workflow. A smooth team workflow shouldn’t make team members feel overwhelmed (at least, not most of the time). And usually workflow problems are a result of collaboration structures. Your team might be multitasking too much, which leads to team members feeling more overwhelmed. Or there could be an unequal division of work tasks. 

How your team collaborates through meetings and email might also be contributing to the problem. Over-relying on email can create more small tasks that team members complete, while scheduling too many unnecessary meetings can suck away time from completing tasks. 

The way to solve these issues though is through communication. Other team members may feel the same, and managers might not know what is going on. By communicating, you can properly address underlying collaboration structures that are overwhelming you and preventing you from doing what’s most important.

Cause 2: Inability to focus/feeling “blocked”

Solution: Find creative distractions, collaborate more

We’re putting an inability to focus and feeling blocked (mentally or creatively) together, because they are essentially two sides of the same coin. When you can’t focus, you have an inability to think clearly about the task in front of you. And when you are blocked, you also are unable to think clearly, even though you are trying to force yourself to focus as much as possible. 

With both of these issues, the result is usually procrastination. But both of them also have the same solution, too, which is to get yourself out of your current mindset. In other words, you have to give your mind sme room to breathe and get a fresh perspective. This can be achieved through creative distractions, which help you to focus by getting to focus on something else that is creative or mentally stimulating for a little bit. 

Puzzles, writing, drawing, karaoke or even doing the dishes can all be creative distractions when used in the right way. There are also collective creative distractions, like team building activities, or just simply having a chat with coworkers, which can give your mind a fun break from over-focusing on one thing, as well as naturally give a fresher outlook.

This brings us to another method for getting out of your head, which is collaboration. If you get stuck, either because you can’t think of new ideas, or because you feel too distracted, working with others can help focus you back into your work and give you someone to bounce ideas off of.

Cause 3: Boredom/lack of motivation

Solution: Clarify roles and goals, reach out

When we feel bored at work or in what we are doing, we are feeling a lack of motivation. This in turn leads us to put off doing our work because it doesn’t make us feel excited. Or we may not see the point of doing it anymore, either because we’ve lost sight of the goals of our team, or because we ourselves don’t feel valued.  

This is a dangerous place for team members to be in, because it could mean that they aren’t giving their full potential, and could be a sign that they are ready to leave. The obvious way to address this is by working with that team member, as well as the rest of the team, to clarify your central goals and the roles of each member.

Including the procrastinating individual in this process could lead them to reconnect with the message of the team and the work you are doing. And reevaluating their role could address the issues they are having with not feeling seen or valued. For example, you could find out that they want to expand their role, or try out something new.

But the most important part is the reaching out itself. All team members should feel able to reach out and communicate with each other when they are having issues. At the same time, other team members should notice when their fellow team members are seeming a bit unmotivated and try to communicate with them and find out what ‘s wrong. This helps to ensure that everyone feels valued on the team, which is the first line of defense against demotivation and procrastination.

Cause 4: Lack of self-confidence/ feeling alienated or isolated from the rest of the team

Solution: Collaborate and communicate more regularly

Slightly similar to having a lack of motivation is not having self-confidence about your work, or feeling isolated. This is actually a growing problem on teams as a result of the normalization of remote and hybrid work. With more of us working alone, many of us are feeling more unsure of ourselves since we don’t have that regular feedback mechanism of office culture to support us.

When we lack self-confidence though, we begin to doubt ourselves, which makes it harder to get started on new tasks or projects. We may not think we’re doing a good job, which leads to more anxiety and stress.

To break this cycle, teams need to make sure that they are collaborating and communicating with each other regularly. This is doubly true for remote and hybrid teams. Make sure your team is interacting and enjoying each other’s company, as well as brainstorming and coming up with new ideas together. 

Furthermore, even teams that are fully in the office often struggle with providing adequate feedback to team members. But this is so crucial. Team members need feedback to know what to improve and which direction to go in. They also need to feel valued, which as we said, is the most basic thing you can do to ensure that you limit procrastination and ensure and effectively working team. 

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