"I'll take care of that later."
"That's a problem for 'future me.'"
"Let me just do this one thing first."
We all put things off from time to time. Most of us are no strangers to avoiding work-related tasks on some level. For some, procrastination is an occasional dalliance that doesn't affect their lives or livelihoods.
However, researchers estimate that 20% of adult men and women around the world are chronic procrastinators. This means that they consistently avoid or postpone completing important tasks. Frequently putting off your work tasks can harm your productivity level and damage your overall job performance.
What causes chronic procrastination at work, and why is it so much easier to begin procrastinating in a remote or hybrid work environment? Let's examine the psychology of not completing tasks, including common factors that cause procrastination, and look at some ways to overcome procrastination while working from home.
Why Do People Procrastinate When Working Remotely?
A 2023 Israeli study into the relationship between anxiety and procrastination found that more anxiety correlates with higher levels of procrastination. What does this mean? It indicates that fear and procrastination are related and can feed into the other.
But anxiety isn't the only cause of procrastination. Several other situational factors can also affect your ability — or your motivation — to complete your work on time. Some often-cited reasons people put off their work tasks include:
- Prioritizing their short-term mood, even if their task buildup will cause more anxiety later
- Thinking the task is boring or unpleasant in some way
- Feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks
- Lack of faith in their ability to complete the task well
- Viewing their future self as a different person
- Time management issues
- Mental health issues
- Lack of motivation
- Not feeling engaged with their job
- A distracting environment
When working from home, distractions abound, and these can exacerbate an already entrenched procrastination habit.
Common Online Distractions
Online entertainment can have a powerful pull. This is often an issue for office employees, but working from home makes these distractions even less avoidable. Many remote workers find it hard to resist the temptation to:
- Play video games
- Engage with social media
- Check email
- Send and receive texts and instant messages
- Watch streaming videos
- Scroll through the news
Common Offline Distractions
The internet is not the only source of diversions that can worsen a developing procrastination habit. Some common offline distractions include:
- Interruptions from family members, children, or pets
- A lack of clear boundaries regarding your workspace or working hours
- Visitors or deliveries
- Outside noises and activities
- Housework, yard work, and other chores
6 Ways To Overcome Procrastination in Remote Environments
If you haven't experienced the negative effects of procrastination, you may be wondering why you should try to stop doing it in the first place. If it isn't broken, why fix it?
Consider this: in a 2023 Swedish study, researchers found an association between procrastination and subsequent mental health issues, physical pain, psychosocial health factors, and unhealthy behaviors. If decreased work performance isn't enough of a motivator, those potential issues should be reason enough to make a habitual procrastinator change their ways.
But how can you overcome the habit of putting off important tasks? Here are several suggestions that can help you break the cycle of procrastination and improve your productivity.
1. Create a Dedicated and Distraction-Free Workspace
Your work-from-home environment can profoundly impact your ability to focus and engage with your work responsibilities. Whether it's an entire room, a closet, or just a designated corner, it's crucial to create a space for work that is both comfortable and free from unnecessary distractions. Some tips for carving out your ideal workspace include:
- Set your mobile devices to "do not disturb" during working hours.
- Turn off social media notifications.
- Keep your workspace free from clutter.
- Use natural lighting if possible, and at the very least, use adequate lighting.
- Close the door if possible, or use a room divider.
- Communicate your working hours and boundaries and insist your household members respect them.
- Equip yourself with the technology you need to work effectively from home.
- Consider using ergonomic equipment, including your keyboard, mouse, chair, and so on.
You may also want to incorporate elements into your workspace that inspire and motivate you, such as:
- Uplifting quotes or images
- Photos of family, friends, and pets
- An accent wall
Creating an environment that allows you to focus on work sets the stage for better productivity and efficiency. Such a workspace will make it easier to resist the allure of distractions and immerse yourself in the task at hand.
2. Avoid Setting Unrealistic Goals That Decrease Motivation
Ambition is commendable. However, overly lofty objectives can lead to feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated. Break down your larger goals into manageable tasks instead of setting yourself up for potential disappointment. Creating a realistic roadmap with concrete goals and achievable milestones can boost your motivation. It can also instill a sense of accomplishment as you knock items off your list.
Don't forget to celebrate small victories along the way. Each task you complete is another step on the path to completing your bigger objectives. By making your milestones achievable, you're creating a positive feedback loop that will sustain your motivation and propel you toward reaching your goals.
3. Take One Simple Task at a Time To Get Started
Sometimes, all it takes to defeat procrastination is as simple as tackling one task at a time. Rather than letting a daunting project or an intimidating to-do list paralyze you into avoidance, pick out the smallest, most manageable task and start there. Once you finish that, move on to the next task.
This approach will help you build momentum as each task you complete contributes to a sense of achievement, boosting your confidence to take on the next challenge. When you break down your workload into bite-sized pieces, you transform an imposing mountain of work into a series of conquerable hills. This can make the journey seem less overwhelming and more achievable.
4. Define a Schedule With Blocks of Time for Specific Tasks
Chronic procrastination and time management issues go hand in hand. Schedule your workday by carving out dedicated blocks of time to complete specific tasks — even personal activities. By creating a clear structure for your day, you can prioritize critical tasks and maintain focus throughout each task.
Craft a realistic timetable that considers your energy levels at different times of the day and allocates sufficient time for each activity. This mindful approach will not only enhance your productivity but will also instill a sense of order into your day, making it easier for you to transition between tasks without succumbing to the siren song of procrastination.
5. Plan to Take Timed Breaks to Avoid Burnout and Improve Focus
Maintaining optimal focus and mental health can seem as challenging as walking on a tightrope. Just like tightrope walking, balance is key here, as well. Planning timed breaks within your schedule is a strategic approach to achieving this balance.
Working continuously without a break can lead to diminished concentration, exhaustion, and burnout. Implement strategies like the Pomodoro Technique, which is a simple but effective time-management method that centers around a simple principle: work for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. After four of these intervals, take a longer break for about 15 to 30 minutes.
Whether you pause your work to grab a snack, perform a non-work-related activity, or just stare into space, incorporating intentional breaks allows you to recharge your mental and physical energy levels. This can help prevent burnout and revitalize your focus.
6. Get an Accountability Partner Who Shares Your Goals
It can be hard to maintain your self-regulation efforts on your own. That's why harnessing the power of accountability through a partner with similar aspirations can be a huge motivation booster. Once you choose an accountability partner, openly communicate your objectives and commit to supporting each other in your pursuits. The mutual accountability you establish with this partnership will create a sense of responsibility, which will make it much more challenging to procrastinate without consequences.
Regular check-ins and progress updates keep both of you on track and add an extra layer of commitment. Sharing a journey towards your goals with an accountability partner can transform procrastination into an opportunity for teamwork and shared success.
How to Improve Your Performance Over Time
There's no single, easy way to overcome procrastination at work, especially if you're a chronic procrastinator with a habit of avoiding important tasks. By taking the methods we've discussed to heart, you can internalize some invaluable time management strategies, increase your productivity, and improve your job performance. And remember: Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today to overcome your procrastination habit.