Updated: April 2020
Do you also like to postpone unpleasant tasks? ‘Oh, there’s still time for that’ or ‘I’d rather do something else first – something I enjoy more’ are statements that seem familiar to you? Every day, employees spend one and a half to three hours in the workplace with private and non-work-related things  and thus accept that their actual, professional work suffers as a result of postponement. With their behaviour, they not only harm themselves, but also the company, their colleagues and customers , without intending to do so. This postponement – or procrastination – affects 15-20% of adults . Although the tasks have to be done, they are pushed far back … but why? What are the underlying causes of this behaviour?
How does procrastination develop?
Procrastination is not about the abilities or qualities of individual employees, but about the task itself (relevance, content, difficulty, type and duration) [4,5]. If the task to be performed is too difficult, a feeling of cognitive overload quickly develops and a protective mechanism occurs. Out of a fear of failure, not being able to cope with the work demands within the specified time  and a lack of concentration , discipline and perseverance, suspensive behaviour develops .
Those affected usually have a poor organisation over time, little impulse control , a low frustration tolerance and a strong fear of evaluation [9,10]. They weigh up whether sufficient information is available to accomplish the task . If not, and because of their difficulty in making decisions [9,10], postponing tasks seems to be the most obvious option.
Procrastination and stress
Obligations, decisions and tasks that are postponed due to undemanding demands , fears of failure or difficulties in decision making, or that are only dealt with shortly before the deadline, lead to increased work-related stress [11,12]. This can be seen not only as a consequence of procrastination, but also as its trigger. Thus it is conceivable that certain tasks are deliberately delayed in order to protect against work-related stress . However, this strategy does not offer the desired effect – it is quite the opposite: the result is wasted time, poor performance and even more stress towards the end  due to the high time pressure .
How can procrastination be avoided?
In order to avoid the postponement of tasks, a working environment should be created that fits the individual needs, qualities and capabilities of the employees right from the start .
According to Ulic , it is advisable to design a work task in such a way that it promotes the health, professional and social competence, self-efficacy and flexibility of the employees . Successful task design has the following characteristics [16,17]:
- Wholeness: a task should have planning, executing and controlling elements, including the ability to compare their requirements with individual results. Thus, employees retain control over the task.
- Diversity of requirements: different requirements demand the individual abilities, skills and knowledge of the employees in a variety of ways and prevent boredom.
- Possibilities of social interaction: tasks are solved in a cooperative and communal way.
- Autonomy: This guarantees decision-making options and room for scopes of action.
- Learning and development opportunities: To solve the task, existing and newly learnt qualifications bring out the best in the employees.
In time management training courses, for example, they learn strategies for reducing tension and stress as well as for time and organised planning in order to focus on the relevant tasks and thus be able to positively influence their own performance . At the same time, the social environment can help to create structures and achieve a feeling of control .
But all the help and well-intentioned advice is not enough if you don’t have your own will or intrinsic motivation to make a real difference. Even a lack of ideas about how unpleasant tasks could be done directly often leads some employees to simply maintain their current behaviour. So-called ‘if-then’ statements  have scientifically proven their worth in such situations: ‘If get to work tomorrow, then I’ll first go to task XY’.
The individual willpower and the additional support from outside will make it easier for the employees concerned not to postpone tasks any longer and to face their work more openly and happily.
Identification of work disturbances and job-related burdens by CompanyMood
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Orlando Policicchio ist Geschäftsführer und Mitgründer von CompanyMood. Als Führungskraft und Projektmanager hat er schon früh Erfahrungen mit der Wichtigkeit von Mitarbeiterfeedback und einer gelebten Firmenkultur sammeln.