Prescription for procrastination
By Michael J. Berens

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Everyone has parts of their job they don’t like, and it’s only human nature that we tend to put off those tasks that annoy or bore us. One of the principles of good time management is to modulate your work schedule so that you parcel out the tasks you don’t like into tolerable chunks rather than let them pile up throughout your work day or week. The idea is to suck it up and do the things you don’t like as quickly as possible and then move on to something more challenging, engaging or, dare I say, fun. Most disciplined workers respond well to this approach, but what do you do with the employee who consistently neglects part of their duties?

INDUSTRY PULSE

Do you procrastinate often?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Assuming that the undesirable tasks are indeed necessary and purposeful, neglecting them will, over time, put pressure on other parts of the organization. Someone else needs that information, response, decision, feedback or report in order to carry out his or her job. As a manager or leader, that may be obvious to you, but it might not be to a procrastinating employee. It is easy to fall into the trap of putting all the things we like to do into the priority pile and all the things we don’t like to do into the “I’ll get around to it later” pile. Of course, if the things we like to do are also the things that reap us the greatest rewards in terms of compensation, recognition, organizational status, promotion and/or self-esteem, then that’s all the more reason to focus our energies there. Thus, it is quite possible that while the employee’s job description or work plan may say, “you will do this and that,” the organization is sending them a different message, “keep doing what you’re doing.”

In such cases, a bit of coaching is in order. Because these individuals are often very successful, this can require some tact. You don’t want to discourage the employee from performing at a high level, if that is the case. Begin by reviewing the employee’s performance, praising them for their contributions but being clear and specific about how their procrastination is affecting other parts of the organization. Your objective is not to punish or chastise them, or to elicit an explanation or rationalization for their behavior. Rather, you want to help broaden their perspective and reshape their image of their role, so that it expands to include those areas that currently are being underserved. Since most likely the employee is already feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities they are carrying out, it may be necessary to discuss in detail their current work habits and together develop a new schedule or rhythm that will work better for them. You may also need to adjust goals and objectives as well as compensation or other rewards in order to reinforce the importance of the desired change in behavior.

During this discussion, be open to feedback from the employee. Jobs and organizations change over time, and position descriptions may reflect an idealized organizational “wish list” that bears only partial resemblance to the employee’s actual responsibilities and, more importantly, accountability. It may be that some duties should be reassigned to another employee or eliminated altogether, or that organizational priorities have shifted.

No amount of coaching, coaxing or chiding will make an employee want to do what they don’t like to do. But employees can be motivated to do even the tasks they don’t like to do if they see them as part of a bigger picture of performance and success, and if they get the proper reinforcement from the organization.

Michael J. Berens is a freelance researcher and writer with more than 30 years of experience in association communication and management.