In the previous post, we discussed an essential soft skill for project managers - recognizing and beating productivity killers within your team. We started with ways to deal with unproductive interruptions, which almost 41% people see as the no.1 enemy for their work performance. Now, let’s move on to the productivity battle against procrastination, the second most dangerous efficiency killer according to our recent survey.

Any habit, be it a good or a bad one, largely depends on the personality of the individual. For example, some people are naturally less organized than others and it's harder for them to stay on track. According to Dr. Piers Steel, who can be referenced as a procrastination researcher, 95% of people admit that they procrastinate occasionally, and for as many as 20% this is a chronic problem. Let's take a look at several common reasons why people procrastinate, regardless of differences in work styles, and how to deal with this problem within your team.

A task looks too big and complex
Even if an employee is very experienced and organized, a huge task might get him overwhelmed and prevent him to start on it immediately. Granular work breakdown is an efficient tactic that both managers and their team members can benefit from. Mark Twain phrased it very nicely: “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” If you split an assignment into smaller tasks, they’re easier to understand for your team, quicker to tackle, and there’s a pleasant productivity feeling to mark a task completed. Some productivity methodologies, namely GTD, even go further and focus solely on the next action item.

There is an incorrect sense of priority
If a team member’s task list is relatively long, he might make an incorrect choice of where to get started. For example, he might pick something that looks easier, but a more difficult and also more important task will get postponed. Setting accurate priorities and communicating them to your team is the most efficient cure to this problem. Your guidance will help employees to act on first things first instead of procrastinating.

A task doesn't feel important
Many people say that they tend to put a task off when they don’t see much sense in it. So your goal as a manager is not just to prioritize things in your head, but also to convey the importance of the tasks to your team. Many tasks may seem mundane or insignificant, but are important steps to achieve the larger goal. Communicating this in a positive way helps your team understand that their work is meaningful and it makes them feel valued. Referring once again to our survey on productivity habits – a sense of responsibility was named as the most powerful productivity motivator. When people are aware that their work really matters, they feel inspired to achieve more!

Interruptions get you off track
The worst thing about getting interrupted is that it’s hard to get back on track afterwards, once the focus is lost. In this productivity battle, the weapon could be described as Prioritize-Filter-Plan. For more detailed recommendations on fighting interruptions, check out my previous post of this series that was dedicated specifically to this problem.

Fatigue slows down work drive
After all, we’re all human, and sometimes we don’t feel enough energy to tackle a task. But what if it just can’t wait? Recommend to your team to take short breaks. Typically, if you're in the flow, you won't need it. But when you naturally lose focus and feel distracted, it might be helpful to disconnect for five minutes and tackle the task later with your "second breath". Numerous studies show that switching your mind off of the task for a couple of minutes can help to lower tension and revive productivity. For example, a quick snack, a stretch, or a walk around the office – all these might help your employees make a fresh start.

As a bonus tip - in the comments to our survey, one respondent said he feels extremely demotivated when he notices that someone on the team isn’t really focused on their tasks. So, to some extent, someone’s procrastination might be a “contagious” productivity threat that might affect other employees as well. This is why it's extremely important to "put out" this dangerous spark as soon as you can before it spreads wider.

What’s your secret weapon against procrastination?

Stay tuned for Productivity battle 3 (Inaccurate plans)!