Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stop Putting It Off: Deal With Procrastination Once and For All

I've been writing my Gannett workplace column for about 17 years. Rarely do I have a problem coming up with a story idea, because let's face it -- workplace issues are always on our minds, 24/7. But this week, between the snapping turtle that tried to crawl in my back door, a frozen computer and trying to figure out the last episode of "Lost," I found myself procrastinating.

Procrastinating. Hmmmm......

Here's the column...

You begin your day full of good intentions – you’re going to get that report done, tackle all your e-mails and return phone calls.

But when the end of the day rolls around, you’ve done none of those things. Yet, you feel like you’ve been busy all day. What happened?

Psychologist Timothy Pychyl says that as much as you may hate to admit it – even to yourself – you may have deliberately put off doing those tasks. You procrastinated.

“Despite the fact that it will cause you stress, you voluntarily delay doing something you don’t feel like doing,” says
Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

Most people don’t like to admit they put off tasks they need to get done. After all, no boss is going to be overjoyed to hear such news, and neither will co-workers whose own productivity can be impacted when you don’t pull your weight at work. And yet, it’s sometimes easier than ever to procrastinate, especially when you have so many more enjoyable things at your fingertips – such as the Internet.

“Technology is creating a lot more time-wasting in the workplace,” Pychl says. “You ‘Google’ something you’re thinking about, or decide you’ll only take a minute to check out Facebook. The problem for people who are easily distracted or who procrastinate, is that it’s like someone with a gambling problem moving to Las Vegas. It’s a hard temptation to resist.”

Some studies have estimated that social media use by employees can cost employers billions of dollars in lost productivity, but critics argue that such engagements – whether online or around the watercooler – are necessary to relieve stress and boost employee morale.

While Pychyl says that we all need a break from work every once in a while to recharge our batteries, surfing online at work “is a huge slippery slope” for those who have a problem staying on task or avoiding work they dislike.

He suggests one of the best ways to cure yourself of such career-damaging habits is using an “implementation intention.” That means you make a statement to yourself about what you’re going to do when you find yourself getting off track, and make it as specific as possible.

For example, you could say, “When I find myself on Facebook, I will stop and return to my work,” telling yourself you will check the site at another time.

Another strategy, he says, is to use personal willpower. “Sometimes when you’re tired you’ll just want to give in and do something that makes you feel good. But if you use self affirmation to remind yourself of your values and why you’re doing something, then it can help,” he says.

For example, if you find yourself checking out Twitter when you’re supposed to be completing a boring report, tell yourself, “I know this report isn’t fun, but by getting it done I’ll make my boss happy and that means I’ll keep my job – and my paycheck will help me take care of my family.”

If you still find yourself struggling to stay on task, you can enlist the very thing that’s tripping you up – technology.

David Chao, a national sales manager for Cisco/WebEx, says he uses tools such as to help him keep track of his Internet use, and where he’s spending his time.

“I’ve been using it for about a year-and-a-half, and I’ve discovered that while I consider myself a highly productive person, even I was not aware that when I thought I was taking just a minute to check Facebook or MySpace, much more time than I thought had passed,” he says.

RescueTime claims to recover nearly four hours of productivity a week per person. By installing the application, it will monitor which websites are being actively used and provide users a report.

Chao says that all companies are under more pressure than ever to be competitive in order to survive, and that they expect all employees to be as productive as possible.

For many workers, that may mean owning up to their own inefficiencies, such as letting themselves be distracted surfing the Internet for issues not related to their jobs.

“Even I found out that I could squeeze a bit more out of my day once I realized where I was wasting some time,” he says.

What are some ways you deal with procrastination or distraction?


Ian said...

Thanks Anita, interesting to think about.

I agree that technologies have increase the temptation of being distracted, but before the web, there were crossword puzzle & horoscopes in the newspaper.

I have seen kids just zoning out when doing their homework without any other distractions.

With informational work, time vs results produced is less co-related ... putting more control won't increase productivity. Nowadays, to improving productivity is more about Intrinsic motivation driven by management & trusting their employees.

To be honest, my biggest technological distraction at work is my e-Mail. (There are prioritization, respond or not, FYIs ...) It also disrupt my productivity because some e-Mails requires quick response, while I have to break my concentration in producing other results.
My method (that sometimes works) is to write down on the to-do list for both work & personal inquiries on pen & paper ... and be distracted later.

Anita said...

I use the same method you do: I write a "to do" list on a piece of paper. Just by writing it down I feel like I've accomplished something, and know that I will get to it later when I've completed more immediate tasks. That helps decrease distraction -- and stress -- for me. Thanks for your comments!

MH Zurish Quiros said...

Technology is definitely such a temptation. It's really important to stay on track of the things that needs to get done. Here's also a good time management article that I find just as interesting Take note on tip #2.. take note of your time-wasters.