4 Tips To Overcome Workplace Procrastination


One of my recent blog posts, “are you committing career suicide” apparently hit a nerve, in a positive sense. It illuminated some truths about how we act at work when we are faced with a less than optimal situation. These situations are never easy to manage and can be detrimental especially if we aid in our own undoing.

I received some feedback asking for more depth and elucidation regarding this topic. Over the next few months, I will take a deeper look at these starting today with procrastination.

There is plenty of advice available on how to deal with procrastination. While the advice may be sound, they can be difficult to put into action if you haven’t uncovered the root cause of your procrastination. Let’s take a look at four common workplace examples:

1) Boredom with my role

2) Overwhelmed by my assignment

3) Faultfinding by my boss

4) Perfecting my work

1) Boredom with my role

Simply put there is a lack of interest in your current role. The work you are doing is not challenging or energizing. Case in point, Lauren. Her role has evolved and she is being tasked primarily with operational responsibilities. This is a departure from the client-facing work she used to do and enjoy. She thought this new role would be good for her career, make her well rounded and more valuable within the organization. In the beginning she was accepting of the work, but over time realized that her new work persona was draining her enthusiasm. Although Lauren’s newly assigned tasks are necessary, she feels a lack of challenge in her new duties, and, more importantly she misses the work she used to do. It is difficult for her to stay motivated when her role and responsibilities are not leveraging her strengths.

Remedy:  Take a thoughtful look at your current role to clarify what elements of your job intrigue, motivate and enrich you, and what tasks are boring, lack challenge or simply disinterest you. This may be the time to begin having honest discussions with your boss in order to redesign your role to better fit your strengths and needs of the organization.

2) Overwhelmed by my assignment

Feeling overwhelmed can manifest itself in several ways. If might involve being given excessive tasks and having multiple responsibilities assigned with no prioritization or conversely an ill-defined assignment with a long lead-time. Bill has been assigned the task of leading the development and implementation of a new process to streamline the workflow within his department. His boss handed him the assignment with nothing more than a, “I’d like to you take this on”. This assignment was in addition to his current role. Bill was given no clear objective, timeline or set of expectations. Inaction paralyzed Bill as he did not know where to begin. Further, he maintained his usual workload and respected responsibilities. His ultimate response was to become plagued with self-doubt. Why me? How will my coworkers respond? What does my boss expect? How can I possibly get it all of the work done? If I do not succeed, will it damage my reputation? It was beginning to feel like a recipe for disaster.

Remedy:  The best place to begin is to draft a plan. It should include an objective, set of expectations, discreet action steps and timeline. Share the plan with your boss, team members and anyone else involved in the project to get input and consensus. This will help share the responsibility for the assignment and enlist support for its success. Additionally, you can align your approach with that of your boss. If you are off base, it is far better to know that as early as possible.

3) Faultfinding by my boss

Nothing will zap your initiative as quickly as a boss who consistently finds fault with your performance and is inherently critical. Philip’s boss can easily be described as brutal. Everything that comes out of his mouth is laced with negativity. Nothing is ever done right or is deemed good enough. Philip dreads each assignment. He knows that any work he presents for review will be ripped to shreds. In order to protect his ego, he waits until the last minute to share his work even resorting to sending it to his boss after hours or dropping it on his desk in his absence. The negative communication between Philip and his boss is beginning to affect Philip’s work, his attitude and the relationship with his superior.

Remedy:  I acknowledge that constant faultfinding from a boss creates an almost impossible situation, and the only thing you can control is how you respond. Try listening for content and not tone. In many situations, the way feedback is presented is more off putting than the feedback itself. Whenever I’m working with a faultfinding person I visualize their face in a sun like the character on the Raisin Bran box. By doing that it changes my perspective of them and how I respond. It is hard to get angry with someone when you see his or her face in a cartoon sun.

4) Perfecting my work

This typically comes from within and can become particularly debilitating. Mary is a tireless workaholic who likes control. She will fuss and labor over every aspect of an assignment until she deems its execution perfect. She retains control of the plans, and she does not share much with others until the very last minute. Mary is overly concerned about her reputation and also with being judged. This causes her an undue amount of stress. However, in her quest for perfection, it is not unusual for her to miss deadlines, lose sight of the bigger goal and alienate herself from her colleagues. There is no point to crafting perfect work if it does not get executed or if it fails to be embraced by your team.

Remedy: Accept reality, and acknowledge your human limitations. There is no way to harness perfection especially in business. Very few assignments are individual performances but more often collaborative efforts. The best thing you can do is to let others be part of your process. I have found a healthy way to do this is to inform and elicit help from others early on in a project. An effective way to achieve this is to establish where you are in the process, bring your colleagues up to speed, and let them know what type of feedback you are looking for. Ask them to answer three questions. What do you like? What if? Have you thought about? This provides input in a positive, constructive manner.

Getting clear on why you procrastination will help you find the right remedy for your situation.


  1. Catherine Coykendall

    Re: faultfinding – I don’t think visualizing someone’s face in the sun on a Raisin Bran box would work for me, however when forced to deal with someone I dislike I imagine a human scenario, ie: they were bullied, their parents were abusive, they’ve never had a significant other…the reality is that most people’s work issues manifest from their personal history. We will probably never know what kind of childhood someone had or what’s someone’s home life was or is like and while there’s never an excuse for treating others badly, when dealing with a difficult work associate I find creating an imaginary narrative about their life can go a long way.

    And most likely there’s an unknown story responsible for that nasty exterior.

    1. admin

      Catherine, thanks for your comment. Your approach shows great compassion and empathy. Peter