I recently had a critical situation at work. One of my colleagues – who I always felt like is very talented and promising – was struggling to deliver on his set goals. Shooting straight ahead, he hardly achieved anything. So I decided to give him a hand, talk true about my observation and to introduce him to my doer-mentality.
What happened then blew my mind. Not only did he still have the same problems as before, but they got even worse. In the end, he was even thinking about resigning. I did not see this coming at all and so I dug myself deep into the science of procrastination and the following is the essence of my voyage.
What Is Procrastination?
First of all, I had to understand what procrastination is all about. Procrastination comes from the Latin word “pro”, which means “forward, forward or in favor of” and “crastinus”, which means “of tomorrow”. As simple as this original translation might be, the definitions for procrastination are usually almost as numerous as the people exploring this topic.
In the last 20 years, the peculiar behavior of procrastination has experienced a real outburst of empirical interest. Psychological researchers nowadays realize that there is much more behind this than simply postponing a task until tomorrow. Procrastination is more of a complicated failure of self-regulation: experts define it as the voluntary delay of an important task that we intend to do, although we know we will suffer from it. A poor concept of time may exacerbate the problem, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation. Why? Emotions determine in a certain way whether we perceive a certain task as positive or negative. Let’s get into detail here!
What Causes Procrastination?
So the question is, where does our inability to deal with emotions about a particular task or project come from? Well, it all starts with the way our brain works. When we make plans for the future, we use the frontal cortex of our brain, but when it’s time to execute these plans, the limbic system becomes involved. While the frontal cortex of our brain actually deals with the long-term thinking and willpower, the limbic part of our brain is dominated by emotions. So if you don’t want to start a big project anyway, it may never get done.
So the problem is that we humans are kind of doomed to procrastinate. Whether we fulfill the task depends in particular on how our brain assesses the importance of the task, and to what extent we decide in the consequence ongoing for the “quick fix” or however for the tiresome procrastination.
Basically, our brain is trying to figure out, what the reward is for completing the task, how important it is, what negative feedback you could get if you don’t fulfill it, and how bad you want to do it. This means that in the end, everything depends on the mindset or the attitude towards the respective task.
What Are the Consequences of Procrastination?
In a nutshell: Every time we procrastinate, we miss an opportunity for personal growth. At the beginning, we may feel a little relief, but in retrospect, regret is all the greater. In the worst case, this leads to a vicious circle in which unachieved results lead to a feeling of high personal pressure, which in turn leads to an even higher degree of procrastination. Of course, everyone knows that this is a problem. So, why not do something about it! But please do me a favor and avoid my mistakes.
What Have I Done Wrong?
Strike one was to see the situation only from my own perspective: not to achieve an important goal, or to deliver poor results, simply feels horrible to me. Apparently, my frontal cortex is the dominant part of my brain. For me, it is just common sense that everyone must have the same feeling as me. Tip one: Of course this is not the case!
The second strike was that my colleague hesitated due to a lack of motivation, structure, and discipline. I thought if he simply copied my daily habits, he would be able to get out of this predicament. As I have already said, this had exactly the opposite effect. In the end, it was bad management, accompanied by bad communication on my part.
Strike 3 was the wrong focus of my empowerment approach. Instead of enabling my colleague to pursue his own way of finding solutions, I gave him a fixed set of tools resulting in even more pressure.
In summary, I was an example par excellence of how NOT to deal with a procrastinator. Good faith is one thing that really makes a difference, really making a difference another. So let’s see what could have gone better.
What to Do When Dealing with a Procrastinator?
Just like in many other scenarios sheer force and reasoning sometimes do not work. Therefore, always start by listening first. People are not just procrastinating for fun. Most of them have a reason to do it, and deep down they are maybe even ashamed to admit it.
The first thing to do when there are first signs of procrastination is to have an honest conversation with the person concerned to get to the bottom of the matter. It may be a personal problem, or something related to work and the fear associated with it, not fulfilling a task adequately. You will be surprised just how much you can achieve with a simple chat.
Supporting employees is the second step. From the management’s point of view, it is desirable to give employees some control over how they structure a project. Of course, this must include a degree of responsibility or reporting to ensure that projects are successfully executed. But if you earn the respect of your employees by treating them fairly and recognizing the good work they do, it is more likely that deadlines will actually be met, even on less exciting projects.
How Did My Story End?
With all the knowledge I was able to acquire in the course of my research on the subject of procrastination, I then had a long conversation with my colleague. I just let him speak and did not interrupt him until he was done. After he was done, I repeated what I had understood from my perspective, so that we finally had a common understanding.
From that moment on, I had his trust. So I got involved in his project and at the same time gave him the freedom to structure the work to be done so that we could meet the deadline together. I’m not saying it was an easy way, but it was definitely worth it. He still fights now and then, but he has developed the courage to talk to me about it. Together we found a foundation for personal growth that enabled him to show the potential that I always knew he had. Looking back, I am glad that I not only looked for mistakes on his side but also questioned my own understanding. For me as a part of 1789, it is of the utmost importance to make such experiences and to learn from them. Our vision to create a network of creators begins with ourselves and only together can we achieve this goal. Want to become a part of our movement? Then do it and reach out to us!
I am Florian, Partner at 1789 — Beyond Revolution, a strategic consultancy with a focus on helping organizations creating new structures and empowering teams. Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Do you want to share your story? Please leave a comment below!