The Complete Guide To Procrastinating At Work

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?

Image via Getty/Maciej Laska.

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 characterised 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 rigour 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 behavioural 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 behaviours: 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.

The Complete Guide to Procrastinating at Work [Qz.com]

Andrea Codrea-Rado covers management and design for Quartz. She is Columbia University's Tow centre digital media fellow. Follow her on Twitter @annacod.


Comments

    It’s a tactic deployed by those with vulnerable self-esteem and has a lot to do with perceived notions of time.

    This. But I don't quite know why a person with vulnerable self-esteem procrastinates, knowing full well they'll get a talking to when stuff doesn't get done, which won't make them feel any better.

      because if it comes to that, I can talk my way out of it... My fears of failure and being found out are both paralysing and yet strangely powerful, if not completely misdirected. If only I could use that power for good rather than evil, I wouldn't be so messed up...

        And 'this' to this as well. I know the feels.

      Unless they're self employed. Then there's noone to give them a talking to.

    I like it how the article started out saying procrastinating could be good, then going so far as to say don't hire - here's how to avoid them lol.

    I procrastinate by looking up guides on how to more efficiently procrastinate.

      I'm procrastinating by reading comments about procrastinating.

      I win!

        I procrastinate by reading peoples comments on comments about procrastinating

    In the procrastination is closely linked with loss of control and helplessness. The less effective I feel I am the more I tend to procrastinate.

    A great way I find to overcome procrastination is to set myself a five minute goal to focus on something … anything really. The sense of achievement creates a momentum and spurs me on past the procrastinating mindset / bad emotional context.

    Vitamin R is a fantastic app that facilitates this. I have to write a blog post on this one!
    :-)

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