As leaders and managers, procrastination is a source of frustration at different times because it inhibits our effectiveness, efficiency and overall performance.
I had the opportunity to explore procrastination at some length with a leader looking to understand its causes for her, and how it impacted her. In the beginning we did not readily identify procrastination. Here’s why.
At a high level most leaders and managers suggest probable causes for their procrastination include: the task difficulty; consumption of time required due to the enormity of the task; having adequate knowledge and skills; fear/concern over something; ambiguity around priority; direction or expectations.
Yet the leader in this instance was remarkably optimistic about her ability to complete tasks with tight deadlines and her certainty that what needs to be delivered will be delivered on time, and it is, albeit more often than not, accompanied by anxiety. So almost always this leader was late starting lulled into a false sense of security by her confidence until she suddenly realised there was not enough time.
There is a sudden spurt of energy directed towards completing the task and often at the expense of all else. Rapid progress is made only because she no longer has a choice, however, it led her to create a belief that “I only work well under pressure”. As a result, the counterproductive behavior is repeated over and over again. We had unearthed what the research literature lists as a legitimate cause of procrastination – their term is ‘thrill-seeking’.
It did not stop there. As we unpacked the situation further, we found this leader had a strong driver to make things perfect which was reflected in the need for unrealistically high expectations around standards. Everything must be completely right. Combine her perfectionism with her thrill-seeking and there were major adverse impacts which her team outlined when asked for feedback. Some of what they shared about their frustrations with her are:
- Quality of thinking is rushed and quality of solutions could be so much better;
- Because of impending deadlines she is very directive and unwilling to listen to input;
- Communication is rushed and ambiguous;
- Decisions are made ‘on the run’;
- Opportunities to learn and up skill are lacking;
- Demotivated because people in the team feel anything they do is never good enough.
This leader reframed her late starting thrill seeking and need to make perfect behaviour to one of ‘focus and drive is always on excellence’. Here is some of what she applied:
- Ensure goal and outcome clarity to remove ambiguity;
- Get started now! Once there is momentum it is easier to change course and easier to engage the team;
- Applied “fit for purpose” on a situational basis. This leader began by determining the required outcomes and the quality standards that must be met in each particular situation;
- Accepted it’s impossible to eradicate all mistakes. Accept mistakes will occur and use them as rich and valued sources of learning;
- Took partly formed rather fully formed ideas to her team and worked collaboratively to develop the complete solution.
Procrastination befalls all of us as leaders and managers; we need ensure we don’t spend too long thinking about it.