Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Complete Guide to Procrastinating at Work

ARCHIVES
It's okay, your love of cat videos just means you're creative. It's okay, your love of cat videos just means you're creative. Image via Pav197lin/Shutterstock.com

Some research says the best way to spark creativity is to walk away and that the best ideas come from those least-expected “aha!” moments. So maybe procrastination isn’t such a bad thing after all. Or is time spent on those cat memes taking its toll? Can procrastinating ever be a source of productivity?

Here’s the complete guide to procrastinating at work:

Clever people procrastinate smartly

The Creativity Research Journal studied the working habits of a particularly intelligent group of people, winners of the Intel Science Talent competition. They found the group procrastinated productively. Some used procrastination as a trigger for a helpful amount of stress needed to ignite positive action. Others saw it as a “thought incubator”: They put off making a decision because they wanted to fully process it before finding a solution.

Procrastinate using your to-do list

The same study also found that the tasks the science competition winners were doing while avoiding work were helping in other areas of their life. They were procrastinating efficiently and taking care of other responsibilities. So don’t feel too guilty the next time you pause from that spreadsheet to pay your gas bill online.

Procrastination isn’t just poor time management

Professor Joseph R. Ferrari of DePaul University writes extensively on procrastination and has found that procrastinators aren’t simply managing their time poorly. It’s a tactic deployed by those with vulnerable self-esteem and has a lot to do with perceived notions of time.

There are two types of procrastinators out there

There are those who delay making decisions, and those who delay taking action. Ferrari found that the decision-avoiders are dependent on others, relying on them to make their minds up for them. They’re more submissive and prefer to pass the buck to someone else whom they can blame them if it all goes wrong.

The task-avoiders, on the other hand, are generally characterized by low self-esteem; they make a decision but don’t follow up on it. Of course a lot of people fall into both categories, but the findings go some way in explaining the different ways people procrastinate.

Nature versus nurture

Though procrastination might seem merely a personality quirk, scientific opinion is divided as to whether it can be put down to nature, or is the product of a person’s environment.

According to Ferrari and further research from Oklahoma State University, factors like “time perspective” affect someone’s likelihood to procrastinate. Time perspective is how people understand and interpret their past, present and future. For example, someone who focuses on the bad things in his past is more prone to bitterness and resentment. Although it’s possible to modify your time perspective, it’s thought to be rooted in personality and linked to procrastination.

Other research, though, has found that environment is also a contributing factor in procrastination. The American Psychological Association, for example, found that procrastination often starts at school, where a lack of rigor in curricula and not being punished for missed deadlines can breed time-wasting habits.

Procrastinators hate procrastinators

In one of his many studies into the behavioral habits of procrastinators, Ferrari found that they are hyper-critical of their fellow procrastinators. This is especially true of women. When asked to the evaluate the poor performance of a co-worker who has the same procrastinating tendencies and habits as themselves, workers were harsher on them than their non-procrastinating co-workers.

Those cat memes could be pretty bad for you

That trance you can go into when finding yourself scrolling through cat memes or chatting an afternoon away has a name. It’s called “flow”. The concept was coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and was originally considered a good thing because it’s a state of deep engagement and absorption, as he abstractly explains in a Wired interview.

Andrew Thatcher and his colleagues at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa wanted to understand more about flow in relation to two other online behaviors: procrastination and problematic internet use. They were trying figure out to what extent too much time online was psychologically and socially harmful.

Unsurprisingly, they found a strong link between procrastination and problematic internet use, as they wrote in the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior. But they also found that when someone was in a state of flow while engaged in a non-work related activity, she was more likely to end up with problematic internet use.

In a way, then, this frames procrastination not as a time-wasting phenomenon, but more as a disconnect between intent and action. Flow is a desirable state to be in when you’re working, but you misdirect it at something else, like avoiding a boring task or the pressure of an assessment, you fall down a rabbit hole.

Don’t hire procrastinators

A study by Ritu Gupta and colleagues in the journal Current Psychology suggests a way for employers to screen applicants for their procrastination tendencies. People who believe in some form of fate or pre-destination—in a hopeless, “it’s out of my hands” kind of way—are more prone to procrastination, because such people tend to be more neurotic and anxious.

But more surprising, perhaps, is that the other main characteristic of the typical procrastinator is a relatively healthy life outlook. According to the study, people who have a glowing, nostalgic view of their past have a high tendency towards procrastination. This new finding (the study was conducted in 2012) runs opposite to previous research in the field, and scientists don’t yet have a concrete explanation for what seems rather counter-intutive.

Right, back to those cat memes.

Read more about management at Quartz.

Image via Pav197lin/Shutterstock.com

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.