In the world of work, a majority of employees wait until the last minute to complete a project, or submit a report. Yet, putting things off can make workers more productive if they do it right, as strategic procrastination can lead to innovation, creativity and better business solutions.
Psychology Today defines procrastination as when a person plans or feels he or she should have completed a task earlier, but then delays performing the task. Technological innovations like e-mail and social media often pave the way to distraction in the workplace.
Sometimes, a short amount of procrastination can be beneficial. A 2016 TED talk by organizational psychologist Adam Grant revealed there’s a sweet spot somewhere between finishing a project as soon as possible and waiting until the very last minute.
Grant found out in a study that when people start a task, but are then told to do something different, this keeps them from accomplishing the original assignment for a period of time.
“It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind that you start to incubate,” he said. “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, learn and reflect on setbacks, and then incorporate those lessons into your final work.”
As a result, those who allow an appropriate amount of time to examine the task they are assigned are more creative than those who completed the task immediately.
Useful Tips to Keep Productivity in Check
Need help focusing and being more productive at work? Here’s a checklist on how to take on challenging tasks:
Be accountable: Find someone who will hold you accountable to accomplish your tasks. Check in with each other periodically. Harvard Business Review research shows that top-performing peers immediately and respectfully confront one another when problems arise. Not only does this drive greater innovation, trust and productivity, but it also frees a supervisor from micromanaging projects.
Re-visit your goals: Avoid the temptation of procrastination by goal-setting for short-term projects. Forbes.com advises employees to write goals down and make sure they’re SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-oriented.
Break up a task into smaller parts: Those who work in the payroll department often have to address billing questions, as it could involve pulling paperwork, finding receipts, and contacting other departments. Because it may take a while to get other departments to respond, it makes sense to break the task up into manageable steps. While you’re waiting for responses from others, start working on the parts you can control.
Create a timeline: After breaking down a project, set deadlines for each part of a task. Knowing that you have to finish each task by a certain time will help keep you in check. For example, if you don’t complete a part of the task by the end of a business day, it may hinder your progress. A firm timeline also makes it easier to see your progress when you’re checking off each item on your list.
Make your workspace productive: If your desk is a mess and you can’t find what you need to get the job done, this may impact your productivity. Take some time to transform and organize your office space.
- Don’t put files on the desktop: A desktop should only contain a recycle bin and a high-resolution wallpaper of your loved ones or a favorite travel memory.
- Create folders: Divide up the documents on your laptop into folders for easy filing. For example, human resources professionals may prefer to organize his/her files by employee name.
- Flag important emails: When you get email that you can’t respond to immediately, or need to refer to them at a later date, flag them to retrieve them later on.
When you cross items off your to-do list, or are successful in achieving a goal, it is important to take a moment and reward yourself – whether enjoying a coffee or tea break, taking a brisk walk or indulging in a healthy snack. Be sure to acknowledge your efforts, not only your results.
Now that you know how to boost creativity and innovation through strategic procrastination, take the next step in your career. The UCPath Center in Riverside is currently hiring in payroll, benefits, employee services, workforce administration and IT. Apply here.
UCPath Center Culture: Opportunities to be innovative and creative