Overcoming Procrastination In the Workplace

Procrastination is a learned behavior—essentially, a fault—and any of a number of elements can contribute to it.  Most often, we point to laziness or negligence, but often it is stress, inadequate time-management, or the lack of skill or proper motivation.  It could result from being undisciplined or simply being overwhelmed by the work; and even perfectionism can play a role when it won’t let someone finish the job.

Man with feet on desk

Whatever the cause, it’s an inconvenience to all members of the team when one isn’t performing up to their potential.  If everyone is working toward a common goal, there is an expectation that all the participants are going to complete their portion of the task at the assigned time.

Ready…  Set…  Wait…

It is actually the bane of project management when a task is incomplete upon which a subsequent task depends.  Everything is carefully scheduled so when “Pierre” is done, “Cheryl” can begin processing Pierre’s results.  Cheryl has very specific time designated for her portion of the project.

When he’s late she has to reschedule her work so that she can be doing something useful in that designated time while Pierre drags his feet.  In addition she has the unnecessary hardship of rushing to complete her portion on time, failing which the next person downstream will also be delayed.   Similar to series of falling dominos, the project is now late.

If Pierre is incompetent, the fault lies with the project manager for assigning him to the task; if Pierre is competent but a known procrastinator, part of the blame still falls on the project manager for not staying on top of the situation.  Simply stated, procrastination is the enemy of opportunity and success.


Managing Procrastination

Fortunately, dealing with procrastination is not that difficult.  There are plenty of strategies to inspire people to stay on track.  Here, we will discuss a few simple guidelines to help you get a handle on procrastination before it takes a toll on your organizational agenda.


First and foremost, if you have a known procrastinator on your staff, break their project down into smaller parts.  Set up their milestones so that they are constantly reporting their progress, or at the very least, updating their progress on a regular basis.  If they always have another task to accomplish, they won’t have time to procrastinate.

It’s not JiT, but it should be

“Just in Time” (JiT) is an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) principle, but there is absolutely no harm in translating this concept into something useful for your assignment schedule.  Ideally everyone should finish their assignment on time, but if they happen to finish it ahead of time, reward them.

Reward and Conquer

Rewarding, however, does not equate to a company car, or a steak dinner, for example.  In fact, it doesn’t require a financial expenditure of any kind.  All it takes is an enthusiastic “Fantastic, Pierre!  I knew I could rely on you.  Thanks very much for getting this done early.”  This is where positive reinforcement is a key factor.

You can completely undermine an employee’s enthusiasm when they bring you a project that they’ve worked diligently to complete, and you barely look up from what you’re doing, and respond simply with “Just drop it on my desk”, “I’ll look at it later”.   Ten or fifteen seconds of your time to be civil could have saved the day, no matter what you’re doing at the moment.

When someone carries through on something noteworthy, don’t be afraid to give them something tangible.  A rarely handed out gold (colored) coffee cup that says “Member of the A-TEAM” can be a huge psychological boost, especially for someone who has had difficulties.

A paid dinner for the team is a great idea if they’ve done a remarkable job.  People are not always all about the salary; they’re also about being appreciated for their accomplishments and contributions.


Employees need to know the depth of their impact on a project when they are late with an assignment.  You need to give them solid realistic numbers about the cost of delays and how it perpetuates down the line when deliverables are late.

If someone is habitually behind, feel free to ask them to state a specific delivery date aloud at the meetings, which makes it more “real” to them.  Assigning a second person to the same aspect where both must perform to succeed also helps direct attention where it is needed, keeping potentially procrastinating employees grounded.

Coworker Team

The Takeaway

Of course, it never hurts to remind people that, along with any rewards for exceptional work, the results of their efforts will also be considered during reviews.  Better success equals better reviews; a lesser quality of work naturally equates to poorer reviews.  Providing you’re clear in your explanations of what is expected and what qualifies as a “job well-done”, life should be smooth sailing.

Appreciate good work; steer employees back on course when they veer off-target.  Communicate regularly and never “let it slide”.

Remember, putting off dealing with procrastination among your staff is actually procrastination on your part as well.  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can take care of today; and everyone will benefit.

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200