Understanding and Reducing Procrastination at Work


Procrastination is often a top contributor to delayed projects, inconvenienced customers, and poor work quality. It’s also a symptom of burnout and stress. Understanding the root cause of procrastination and how it works can help us stop it from wreaking havoc on our workdays.

Procrastination is a particularly unique problem, as most people agree that it works against their best interests. When we are actively procrastinating on a project, we are often aware that doing so has a good chance of causing us greater stress closer to the project deadline—and yet we procrastinate anyway. This delay generally happens when we are trying to avoid feelings of discomfort, such as boredom or fear of failure. Hence, procrastination is more of an emotional issue than a cut-and-dry work problem, and tackling it with an eye on our emotions can be a more effective solution.

Make Yourself Less Overwhelmed: Break Up Projects into Small Tasks

One of the main precursors to procrastination is feeling overwhelmed. Whether we’ve been hit with multiple deadlines or one large project that seems too much to handle, we often delay tasks in order to avoid feeling swamped. One solution involves breaking up large projects into small and easily manageable tasks that we can finish relatively quickly. Concentrating on just one small task will help us feel less inundated with work, and we’re more likely to complete each individual task—and the easier the task, the better. Even something as small as reading an article for research will work. Each step will be progress towards a goal, and you will ultimately find yourself less stressed when the deadline approaches.

Give Yourself Rewards

After you’ve broken up your project into smaller tasks, don’t forget to set yourself rewards. These can be as simple as a stretch break or a walk outside. When you complete a bigger or more difficult task, consider buying yourself a treat after work. Whatever the reward is, it should be enjoyable. Your brain will begin to connect the reward with the action of completing a task, and soon you will build a habit of completing tasks regularly instead of putting them off.

Trick Your Mind

Although being assigned multiple projects at once can be overwhelming, you can turn the situation to your advantage. If you delay one project to avoid feeling bored or tired, work on the second or third project. When you need a break, switch over to the first project you initially delayed. When you tire of working on that, switch back to your other projects. Keep flipping back and forth between projects as it suits you. You might be procrastinating, but you’ll get a lot of work done while doing so.

Procrastination is a near universal human experience. Nearly all of us will procrastinate at some point, and given the weight of the current global crisis and the fears over job loss, it’s no surprise that procrastination has become more prevalent. But with a few well-placed tactics, we can build the habit of getting things done on time and succeeding at work, even when we’re overwhelmed or stressed.



  1. Forbes, Five Ways to Shorten the Distance and Overcome Procrastination
  2. Harvard Business Review, Five Research-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination
  3. Harvard Business Review, How to Beat Procrastination