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How to "Procrastination Proof" Your Next Project

written by: Marjory Pilley • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 6/21/2011

When you face an important deadline on a project, the last thing you need is unnecessary delays. This article identifies effective techniques for avoiding procrastination so you can keep a project on track.

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    Move Beyond the Label

    Meet deadlines by using techniques to avoid procrastination. Lazy. Slow starter. Dawdler. Unmotivated. The procrastinator is dubbed with some unflattering labels. Similarly, a business that is slow to respond can be identified as ineffectively managed, and its products are often viewed less favorably. As you can see, this behavior has tremendous implications for a project.

    Usually, there is a more telling root cause for this behavior. Therefore, the first step in structuring a project to minimize procrastination (or to combat an existing problem) is to carefully consider why you or one of your team members might not act with a sense of urgency. Then, you can select the appropriate tactics to apply. The time will be well spent. According to Brian Tracy, the habit of urgency is one of the biggest determinants of career success.

    So, without further delay...

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    The "Fix"

    Create a detailed plan of action that answers potential questions. Seven common reasons for procrastination have been outlined below and effective techniques to avoid it within the context of a project have been provided. Some relate to how the project is structured, some relate to the team members on the project and others are specific to any demons a PM is battling.

    1. Overwhelmed by Scope/Not Sure How to Proceed. When someone is presented with a very large project, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Valuable time is lost pondering the first step or the next step or the step after that. The PM may experience delays when taking the helm of a project. New team members can experience this throughout the project life cycle. Take these actions to provide clarity on a project:

    • Create a detailed project plan that is broken down into logical and manageable chunks.
    • Set goals with deadlines. Set team goals, individual goals and PM goals. Nothing gets you moving like written goals and objectives that are SMART.
    • Make decisions early in the project life cycle so that status meetings deal with comparisons to the plan rather than becoming lengthy decision-making sessions.

    2. Bored; Not Interested; Rather Be Doing Something Else. First, take note that the longer you delay performing a task, the more likely additional work will be required. In addition, the work may become more difficult. As a result, stress is encountered which leads to sickness. Since you may have no choice but to participate in a project because it is part of your job (and you want to keep your job,) use these techniques to get yourself and team members moving:

    • Set up a reward system that acknowledges achievement of small and large milestones.
    • Once you psyche yourself up and finish a task, quickly move on to the next step so you keep the momentum going.
    • Try eating a frog! This is a term most recently discussed by Brian Tracy that is based upon Mark Twain's musing that if you eat a live frog when you get up each morning, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that it is probably the worst thing that can happen to you all day long. Identify the most important task you need to work on. Finish that task first. According to this theory, the satisfaction of "eating a frog" or completing your most important task will result in enhanced productivity.
    • Identify a positive affirmation or quote about procrastination and post it for ongoing inspiration.

    3. Too Many Distractions. Another reason people often can't stay on task is because they are distracted or have difficulty concentrating. Any number of things can contribute to this. These changes to the environment may be helpful:

    • Set up workspace with minimal distractions. Establish guidelines for office etiquette that will minimize noise and interruptions.
    • Designate work periods where there are never interruptions for meetings, phone calls, etc.
    • Eliminate the possibility for Internet surfing, if that is your downfall. Try time-tracking software, such as RescueTime, which will aggregate the sites you visit on the computer and prevent you from accessing disruptive sites during designated time periods.
    • Clear the clutter (on your desk and computer.) Remove everything from site except what you need to work on your most important task.

    4. Poor Work Habits. Someone with poor work habits spends excessive time on unimportant tasks or works inefficiently. As a deadline approaches, reliance on adrenaline is often necessary. This behavior can be misconstrued as procrastination. But, there are some easy fixes to this one. Things to do include:

    • Using effective tools to prioritize and schedule activities. The method should ensure coordination with other team members.
    • Making realistic estimates for completing tasks.
    • Organizing workspace so that needed items are readily accessible.
    • Gathering all items needed before beginning a job so you can work without interruption.

    5. Perfectionism/Afraid to Make a Mistake. Do you spend valuable time worrying instead of acting? The first step in addressing this problem is recognition of self-defeating behavior and associated thinking.

    • Visualize the project successfully completed and the steps you need to take to get there. Create a clear picture for yourself and your team.
    • Now, take a first step in the detailed action plan you've created. Build on the momentum.

    6. Lack Skills or Ability for Assignment. Of course, work quality suffers without proper training and experience. In addition, useless time is spent simply worrying about what to do and how to do it. The underlying reason for indecision may be masked and appear to be procrastination.

    • If you lack the skills or ability to complete an assignment, communicate this early so you can obtain necessary training.
    • Consider delegating tasks so you can utilize your strengths in areas that will benefit the most.

    7. Hope Things Will Improve. Some PM's and team members may use a wait-and-see strategy to address a problem. If the strategy is the result of a reasoned analysis, then it may be appropriate. Otherwise, circle back through the list above for other possible reasons for the procrastination.

    These techniques for avoiding procrastination overlap. That is, when you implement one tip, the effects will be cumulative and affect other aspects of your project as well. Don't be surprised if you end up with excellent morale too!

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    References and Resources

    • Tracy, Brian. Eat that frog!: 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007. Print.
    • Tracy, Brian. Time power: a proven system for getting more done in less time than you ever thought possible. New York: AMACOM, 2004. Print.

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Procrastination Resources and Strategies

Learn to analyze and address procrastination with this series of articles that provides tips and strategies to avoid it, examples of good delays, the connection to creativity and more.
  1. How to "Procrastination Proof" Your Next Project
  2. When Procrastination is Helpful: A Look at Some Examples
  3. Can Procrastination Help Improve Your Creativity?
  4. Procrastination at Work: Quotes that Rally Action and Make You Smile
  5. Anti-Procrastination Tips for Project Managers