We've all felt like it. You know, that time when you have that job to do and you just can't face it, so you decide to do something else instead. End result, the job you had to do doesn't get done and there are repercussions!
This is a common scenario for 99.999% of people, whether in work life or personal life and the end result can vary hugely, from no consequence, to literally devastating. Imagine: you are at home and decide that you need to empty your rubbish (garbage) bin. Well, let's say you leave it 'til tomorrow, probably the worst that will happen is that it may smell a bit or you may miss a collection by the refuse collectors. Now let's say, you are in the armed forces and about to take your turn on watch in a hostile area but, you decide to grab five more minutes rest. Possible result is a whole different scenario!
So what does this tell us?
Well, first, we all like to procrastinate, even the most driven of people have times when they just don't feel like doing their tasks.
Second, with procrastination comes consequences, so you have to ask yourself 'What happens if I don't do this now?' This is important as it helps you to put some perspective to the task and when you are coaching others is probably your key question to get them to ask themselves.
So, the effect of procrastination can be huge or insignificant yet we still do it, why?
Well, I'm not a psychologist but in my experience, it boils down to a few key factors.
1. Fear: the task is something we are scared of doing so we keep delaying e.g. you have a bad toothache but you're scared of the dentist so you don't go. I don't need to spell out the possible end result here.
2. Incompetence: We don't know how to carry out a task and we feel stupid/inadequate etc. asking for help so we just don't do it. I remember a colleague in an office where I once worked, who was found to have not done many items of work but he/she faked the office records to show they had been completed. End result was complaints, lost business and re-work by technical specialists to complete work where deadlines had passed.
This situation would probably have not come to light when it did, except the department had an 'amnesty day' where work that had not been completed on time could be turned in without fear of sackings. Why did they have this day? because complaints about work that appeared to have not been carried out were increasing.
3. Laziness: we all feel lazy at times but some people just seem to be more prone to this than others. I don't intend to try to discuss genetics and the whole nature versus nurture debate but as a coach you need to be aware that people are not all the same and some people will naturally (or are used to) work harder than others.
DON'T try to apply your own standards onto a coachee, rather, look for what the organisation expects and strive to help them achieve that. I knew a manager who was one of those 'driven' individuals that could be in the office for 12 hours every day, party every night, host dinner parties for the boss and play golf with business contacts at the weekend and STILL look like they had 8 hours sleep a night. The only problem was, they couldn't understand why the people in their department weren't all willing to stay at work until 10pm or arrive at 7.00am. Remember, the organisation will have a cultural standard and this is what you have to try to ensure is being achieved by your coachees. Fine, if they want to do more work, that's great but this blog is about procrastination, so I'm going to guess that working too hard is not the issue you're looking for information on!
4. Distractions: There you are working away and the phone rings, what do you do? Simple, 2 questions give you the answer: 1. How urgent is the work you're doing? 2. How urgent is the phone call?
Before starting your days work, have an idea of priorities and factor in phone calls, requests for help, people 'popping by' and the boss arriving with 'work that had to be done yesterday'. I always tried to take a half hour at the start of the day to do my highest priority work first and ask a team member to cover the phone for me.
Other distractions may be as simple as being hungry (simple answer to that as well), having a radio or tv in the office (tv's are fatal distractions unless you have an absolute business need for them).
A key tip here is try to never handle the same piece of paper twice, in other words, work on an item until it's completed!
As the Coach, what do I do to help avoid procrastination?
There are many actions you can take (and apply to yourself if needed) to deal with procrastination.
Set a standard by your own example that conforms with the organisations cultural norm.
Ensure that coachees have goals and understand their work priorities.
Ensure the coachee understands the consequences of their (lack of) action by asking them to describe what happens if the work is not completed.
Where a coachee is procrastinating, seek to understand their reasoning (mindset) rather than judge and condem.
Remove distractions but be aware of actions that may destroy morale.
Carry out regular performance and task reviews with procrastinators.
Ensure adequate training is in place so incompetence cannot be a factor.
Look for ways to reward improvement, even if it's only an 'Employee if the month' award or similar.
Ultimately be prepared to use your organisations disciplinary process where the coachee WILL not change. NB: This is different to CANNOT change in which case training or a realistic evaluation of what jobs they can do may be needed.
Comments and experiences as ever are welcome
I've been working in training and development for more than twenty-five years now including twenty-three coaching.