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The secret to stop procrastinating at work

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia Martins
February 5th, 2024
7 min read
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If you’ve landed on this page, you’re probably looking for a way to stop procrastinating. But quick gimmicks to force motivation won’t work. That’s because your problem with procrastination isn’t actually a problem with motivation—it’s a problem with clarity. 

Clarity is something we think about a lot at Asana—because achieving clarity is the key to getting good results. The problem is, clarity isn’t always guaranteed. You need a dedicated tool and a good framework for visibility in order to prevent silos and unblock high-impact, meaningful work. In this article, we’ll show you how lack of clarity about why your work matters is leading to procrastination and what to do to stop that. 

Why we procrastinate at work

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the habit of delaying or postponing the work you need to get done, either by doing other, less important things or by distracting yourself with non-work activities, like checking social media or watching a tv show. 

Procrastination is a form of time-inconsistency—the unconscious preference for immediate gratification over potential future rewards. Even if you know you shouldn’t procrastinate because you need to get something done, it’s more appealing to do something now—and experience the immediate gratification—than to work towards a longer-term goal. 

Part of solving this is bringing immediate gratification into longer-term projects. As a team lead, you can do this by implementing appreciation and feedback into your daily work. With Asana, we’ve taken this a step further and added celebrations right into the product itself. After all, everyone could use a unicorn flying across their screen every now and again.

Celebration creatures flying across an Asana project screen in List View (a spreadsheet-style grid view) after completing a project milestone
Create an Eisenhower matrix template

Procrastination doesn’t mean laziness

Depending on who you talk to, people cite many different reasons as to why they procrastinate at work. Reasons typically include: 

  • Laziness

  • Lack of self-control

  • Fear of failure

  • Built-up bad habit

  • Perfectionism 

  • Feeling like work isn’t urgent

  • Confusion about requirements 

  • Negative self-talk 

  • Fear of complex or overwhelming projects

  • Multitasking

Nearly all of these reasons stem from one, central blocker that leads to procrastination at work: lack of clarity. If you’ve developed a procrastination habit, chances are, you don’t have a clear connection to why your work matters. That isn’t laziness talking—it’s a fixable issue. 

The problem with procrastination

Time-inconsistency plays a huge role in procrastination at work. Oftentimes, the work you’re doing is contributing to a larger project or organizational purpose. But, depending on your role, that goal can seem far from your day-to-day work. Without insight into why your work matters, it’s hard to motivate yourself to get that work done. 

What’s missing is clarity. When you clearly understand—and can draw a direct line between—the work you’re doing and how it impacts your team or organization, you’re more motivated. But this is hard to achieve. In fact, according to our research, only 26% of employees have a very clear understanding of how their work relates to company goals. 

Understanding how your work is laddering up to company goals leads to more clarity about how you’re making an impact at your team and company. This simplifies decision making. You can mindfully prioritize important tasks based on the initiatives that make the most impact on  your company goals. Make sure these goals aren’t too far off or amorphous, though. To combat procrastination, you need a clear line of sight from your work to company goals. 

Read: How to create a pyramid of clarity with Goals in Asana

Solving the clarity problem

To solve the clarity problem, you can do one of two things: 

  1. Create team or department goals. If you or your team members have a hard time seeing how your individual work connects to broad company goals, consider creating department or team goals. That way, it’s easier to draw a line between your work and your team’s goals, and understand the impact you have. 

  2. Clearly connect your personal work to company goals. Even if you can’t create team or company goals, look for a way to visualize how your work is directly connected to broader company goals. For example, understanding how your work impacts a project that’s driving towards a larger company objective can help you better understand the impact your work has. You can do this with a goal management platform, like Asana.

7 tips to stop procrastinating

To combat procrastination at work, create shorter-term team and department goals, or draw a line between your personal work and broader company goals. Try these seven tips to get started: 

1. Connect work to goals

The best way to stop procrastinating is to clearly understand how your work is contributing to team and company goals. When you have this level of clarity, work becomes meaningful. Instead of doing work for the sake of working, you’re contributing to a larger vision

Ideally, this vision is something you feel passionate about. But even if it isn’t, simply understanding how your work connects to something larger helps it become more meaningful. Instead of struggling with time-inconsistency, the work you’d typically procrastinate on now has clear value. 

2. Clarify priorities

Inevitably, deadlines change. This could happen because a project suffers from scope creep, another project gets prioritized, or your team lead reallocates resources based on last-minute needs. But if you know what work is most important, you’re more prepared to actively manage your priorities. Then, when deadlines and timelines do shift, you have the clarity to deliver the work that drives meaningful results. 

Clarifying priorities is a good anti-procrastination method because it helps you clearly see which work is most important. With clear priorities, you know you aren’t working on unimportant tasks. Instead of feeling like you’re wasting time at work, you see why your work matters.

Read: Four ways to manage tight schedules and shifting priorities

3. Use goals to fight perfectionism

Sometimes, chronic procrastinators are actually perfectionists. In such a case, the pressure of doing perfect work is overwhelming—which leads to procrastination. But perfectionism, like most other types of procrastination at work, can be solved through clarity.

Focus on impact

If you struggle with perfectionism, it helps to have a clear sense of the impact of your work. Instead of aiming for perfection, focus on completing the task at hand so it supports company goals in the best way possible. Here’s what we mean:

Imagine you’re working on an educational animation for your website’s home page. Many people will see this work—which is causing the perfectionist in you to panic. That’s because you’re focusing on the outcome and thinking about all of the people who will see the video. Instead, focus on the video’s goals and impact. The animation’s goal is to communicate the benefits of your company’s product to people who aren’t familiar with the product—and the impact is education. By re-orienting your priorities around the impact, you reduce the pressure of perfectionism and get right to work. 

Define “done”

Another good strategy to fight perfectionism is to define what “done” means. This is a technique that Scrum teams use to move quickly. By defining—and sticking to—what “done” means, you have a point at which you can stop working, regardless of whether the work is 100% perfect. When in doubt, keep in mind that done is better than perfect. 

Read: What is Scrum? What it is and why it works so well

4. Break big initiatives into smaller tasks

Sometimes it’s hard to clearly see how and when you’ll complete a big project. As a result, it’s tempting to just put it off. The scope of the initiative makes it difficult to grasp all of the moving parts and connect those back to your larger goals. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the enormity of the task (or project), break the work down into smaller chunks, then use a project management tool to track and organize your work.

Create an Eisenhower matrix template

Breaking big pieces of work into smaller chunks is also helpful because you’re probably not responsible for every aspect of a large initiative. For example, if you’re writing an ebook, you’re responsible for outlining, drafting, and copyediting the work. But there’s probably someone else designing the ebook, plus an editor to approve the ebook. Breaking up the initiative “Create ebook” into multiple tasks not only makes it easier to get started, but also gives you clarity into who’s doing what by when. 

Read: RACI chart

5. Capture every to-do

Even if you’re not working on complex initiatives, it’s still helpful to list each to-do out. Without a clear way to visualize what’s on your plate, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of everything you have to do. And you’re not alone. According to our research, 26% of deadlines are missed each week. 

Capturing every to-do is a tactic from the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. Once you clearly see what’s on your plate, you can more easily organize, prioritize, and execute work. Make sure you’re tracking your work in a to-do list app, not a written checklist. While it’s fun to cross things off a list, tracking your work in an app helps you sort and prioritize work, add additional context to important to-dos, and share those to-dos with team members. 

To build a great virtual to-do list, read our article about 15 secrets for making a to-do list that actually works.

6. Set deadlines

Without a clear sense of when things are due, it’s tempting to put that work off. Clear deadlines make it easier for you to understand exactly when a task needs to be completed. You can then plan accordingly to make sure it’s done on time. After all, you can’t get good work done if you don’t know when that work is due in the first place.

Once you’ve captured all of your to-dos in a to-do list tool, make sure each item has an associated deadline. This is also a chance for you to identify work that isn’t a high priority for you. If you come across such a task, defer the work until you’re more available or delegate the task to someone else.

Don’t just do this once. Quickly triage work at the end of the day and set due dates for any new tasks. That way, when you get into work the next day, you’re better equipped to get stuff done.

7. Try these time management strategies

Once you have clarity, you’re more likely to feel motivated. Yet there are still days where you need a little extra support to stay on task. If that’s the case, try a time management strategy to reduce multitasking and get into flow state

  • Getting Things Done (GTD) method. The GTD method is based on the idea that the more information you’re mentally keeping track of, the less productive and focused you are. Instead of relying on your brain, the GTD methodology encourages you to store all of your work information in an external, organized source of truth. 

  • Pomodoro technique. The pomodoro technique alternates between work and break sessions. A pomodoro is a 25-minute work session, after which there’s a five-minute break. After doing four pomodoros, you take a long break. By working in short spurts, you’re more likely to be productive while staying motivated.

  • Time blocking. Time blocking is a time management strategy where you schedule out every part of your day. With time blocking, you’re effectively breaking the work week into bite-sized time slots where you check your email, work on projects, take a break, or even exercise.

  • Timeboxing. Timeboxing is a goal-oriented time management strategy to help you increase productivity and reduce procrastination. A timebox represents a goal to finish a particular task within a certain time frame.

  • 2-minute rule. The 2-minute rule is a simple time management strategy: If a task takes less than two minutes to accomplish, do it now. This methodology focuses on small tasks, with the belief that if you get them out of the way quickly, you have more time—and more brainpower—to get your higher-impact work done.

Read: 18 time management tips, strategies, and quick wins to get your best work done

Don’t procrastinate creating clarity

While you can try to brute-force your way out of procrastination and adopt a “just do it” attitude, these strategies are only effective in the short term, at best. In the long run, the most effective way to stop procrastinating is to connect your work to larger goals. 

Like other personal development skills, stopping yourself from procrastinating takes time. If this is a habit you’ve built up, don’t expect it to go away overnight. Instead, dedicate yourself to creating clarity—for yourself and your team—over a period of time. Slowly, you’ll find you’re more motivated to get work done when you can clearly see why your work matters.

Want more? Get 12 tips to be more productive today.

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