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Why You Procrastinate at Work and How to Stop

4 min read
why you procrastinate at work and how to stop

Procrastination is a common enemy of productivity, which many of us struggle with occasionally. It can be tempting to put off a task until the last minute or to delay starting a project because it feels overwhelming or intimidating. However, the truth is that procrastination can be a major hindrance to success, both personally and professionally.

When we procrastinate, we’re essentially wasting time that we could use to progress towards our goals. This can lead to missed opportunities, missed deadlines, and, ultimately, missed success. And in the workplace, procrastination can be particularly damaging, impacting productivity, performance, and revenue.

That’s why it’s important to understand the effects of procrastination, what causes it, and to develop strategies for overcoming it. Doing so can make us more effective, efficient, and successful in all areas of our lives.

The Hidden Cost of Procrastination

According to a 2019 research by MusicMagpie involving 2,000 full-time workers in the UK, procrastination costs businesses over £21 billion each year. On average, workers spend 2 hours and 9 minutes per day procrastinating. Men tend to waste more time than women, with an average of 2 hours and 51 minutes compared to 1 hour and 52 minutes.

The survey identified several common time-wasting activities, including messaging on phones for 28 minutes, daydreaming for 20 minutes, and gossiping for 18 minutes. The rates do fluctuate across the UK, revealing that workers in Glasgow reportedly have higher procrastination rates, spending 3 hours and 4 minutes daily, with 37 minutes spent daydreaming. In contrast, workers in Nottingham spend only 1 hour and 18 minutes procrastinating daily.

These findings say fascinating things about our approach to self-management, but they also highlight the significant impact of procrastination on workplace productivity. To bring the fight back, it’s worth brainstorming what proactive steps can create a culture of accountability, set clear goals and deadlines, and provide support and resources to help everyone stay focused and motivated. Organisations can then improve productivity, performance, and profitability by creating a more positive and fulfilling work environment.

What causes procrastination and how to stop

What Causes Procrastination?

Procrastination is a complex issue that can stem from a variety of reasons. A survey by CareerBuilder found that some of the most common productivity killers in the workplace could be texting, gossip, social media, or even emails. Other factors involving the workplace environment, such as noisy co-workers, colleagues dropping by, meetings, or cubicle setups, could prove disruptive to people’s productivity levels. But procrastination could be more rooted than that and instead suggest a deeper issue with a team member.

Fear of failure

Procrastination can be a way of avoiding the risk of failure. If someone is afraid of failing at a task, they may put it off to avoid the anxiety and disappointment of not meeting expectations.

Lack of motivation

Sometimes, people procrastinate because they aren’t motivated to do a particular task. This can be especially true for tedious, repetitive, or unenjoyable tasks.


Perfectionists often struggle with procrastination because they set such high standards for themselves that they feel paralysed by the fear of not meeting them. As a result, they may delay starting a task to avoid the possibility of falling short of their expectations.

Difficulty prioritising

Deciding which task to tackle can be difficult when taking on multiple assignments. This indecision can lead to procrastination as the individual struggles to figure out where to begin.

Lack of clear expectations

If someone is unsure of what is expected of them, they may delay starting a task out of confusion or a desire to avoid making a mistake.

1 to 1 meeting template to discuss procrastination and goal setting

Overwhelming workload

When faced with an overwhelming amount of work, they may procrastinate to cope with the stress and anxiety of the situation.

Lack of resources

If someone doesn’t have the necessary tools, information, or support to complete a task, they may procrastinate as they try to find a way to overcome these obstacles.

How to Overcome Procrastination

While procrastination can be a serious issue, it’s not all doom and gloom. Fortunately, there are several strategies that individuals and HR leaders can use to overcome procrastination and stay on track. 

For HR leaders, providing training on time management and productivity can be a valuable investment in people’s success. As well as promoting a culture of accountability and improving communication around expectations, which can help to reduce procrastination in the workplace. To get things kickstarted, we’d love to take you through our Employee Productivity Template and our Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for a solid starting point.

Another major shift could involve trialling  a 4-day work week. Recently, one of the world’s largest trials of a four-day workweek has shown that reducing working hours while maintaining output benefits both organisations and their teams. And these were some of the major discoveries:

  • Over 60 companies and almost 3,000 workers participated in a six-month trial in the UK, with 91% of companies intending to continue the four-day week. 
  • Notably, business productivity and performance have rated an average of 7.5/10, with revenue increasing by 35% and absenteeism decreasing. 
  • Employee health, well-being, and job satisfaction also improved, significantly decreasing stress and burnout. 
  • The trial also showed positive environmental outcomes, including reduced commuting time. This research supports the idea that reducing work hours can increase productivity and improve work-life balance.

But suppose we’re speaking down to an individual level. In that case, there are also many ways to pinpoint the pitfalls of procrastination and develop a foolproof approach that will deter you from losing time. By implementing the following strategies and taking proactive steps to avoid procrastination, you can boost productivity, reduce stress, and achieve success in the workplace.

why you procrastinate at work and how to stop it

Breaking down tasks

Breaking tasks into smaller steps is an effective way to make progress on daunting projects. By dividing a large project into smaller, more manageable steps, the task can feel less overwhelming and be more easily tackled. This allows you to track projects effectively, set clear deadlines for each step, have an organised path forward, and keep motivation high.

Minimise distractions

Distractions are a common roadblock to productivity, so minimising them can be key to staying on task. Turning off notifications on electronic devices, closing unneeded browser tabs, and finding a quiet workspace can all help to reduce distractions and promote focus.

Prioritising tasks

Prioritising tasks is another way to avoid procrastination. People can stay on track and progress towards their goals by focusing on the most important and urgent tasks.

Find your accountability buddy

Having an accountability partner can be a powerful tool for overcoming procrastination. An accountability partner can provide support, motivation, and feedback, helping to keep individuals on track and avoid procrastination.

Struggling With Procrastination?

Procrastination is a common challenge in the workplace, but it’s not inevitable. By understanding the costs of procrastination and the reasons why people tend to procrastinate, HR leaders can take steps to create a more productive and accountable workplace culture. Likewise, people can adopt practical strategies to overcome procrastination and improve productivity. By working together to address procrastination, we can create a more focused and effective workplace where goals are achieved, and results are delivered.

If you or your organisation is dealing with procrastination in the workplace, we’d love to speak with you and guide you through our wide range of tools and templates to address productivity levels.

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Sergio is a seasoned copy and content writer who has worked directly with company founders, CMOs, brand executives, and marketing directors from multiple industries. He's an HR geek and humble terpsichorean.

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