Have you ever had a member of your team who just doesn't seem to place any urgency or importance over the goal or task that you have set? You set the goal, delegate the tasks, and trust them to deliver, but it's always late or half finished? How do you think about those people? Do you think they are incompetent, lazy, or demotivated? Why would they behave like this if they no they are ultimately going to get into trouble or have a "talk" about their performance or let you down?

Many psychologists have attempted to understand the causes of procrastination because it is fascinating field of human behaviour. Why do we put off doing things that we know we need to do, ultimately causing more stress, frustration and feelings of guilt and shame? When you think about it, procrastinators are really self-sabotaging and causing more pain to themselves.

Freud related this behaviour to signs of neurotic, self-defeating behaviour. If you procrastinate, according to this view, you’re guaranteeing that you’ll fail. Since you believe deep down that you are an imperfect and flawed person, full of self-doubt and self-harming, you subconsciously support that view by procrastinating. So, in this theory, it's a psychological flaw and the problem is with the procrastinator.

Over the decade’s psychologists shifted their focus towards motivation rather than demotivation or flaws. Once we understand what motivates us, we can understand why sometimes we put things off. Procrastinators are now seen as lacking such qualities as self-regulation, time-management, and planning strategies. They simply haven't learned to the gap between intention and action.

University of Bieleland psychologists Axel Grund and Stefan Fries (2018) wanted to revamp the view procrastination as not just failure to follow through with our intentions, but not holding the intention to be on time or get things done in the first place.

In a nutshell, they believe that people who don't get things done on time or to the right quality simply don't hold the same value to that "thing" as some people who do. It's all about goals, purpose and value and it's why some managers struggle to understand why some people just don't seem to care about the urgent and important tasks. They simply don't see them as their priority.

Tool Tip

To understand procrastinators, you have to understand their values, motivators and drivers 

Using a sample of 223 undergraduates Grund and Fries found, as they predicted, a positive relationship between procrastination and an orientation to personal enjoyment and well-being. Procrastination, they concluded from this first study, “reflects a mismatch between current engagement and basic motivational structures."

Therefore, if you can link the activity or tasks to a value, purpose or motivating vision, you are more likely to stop procrastinating and achieve your goals. Even if you add a reward for completion, a coffee, a break or freeing up your time to do the things you really love, the dull tasks becomes more motivating. 

The procrastinator already knows the negative consequences of not doing the tasks, so as a Manager, you need to give them something to run to, rather than run from.

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