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Is Procrastination Useful?

We’re all guilty of procrastinating. Whether it is walking the dog, doing the washing up, or even replying to friends online, an excuse can always be found to do something else. However, whereas our friends will likely forgive us for a few hours of silence, procrastination at work can be massively problematic. But what if procrastination at work isn’t just laziness or a poor work ethic, but an adaptive behaviour that can help us to understand ourselves and our colleagues better?

A member of our own business was set to do some work for another company helping them to create more efficient processes and IT systems, but initially seemed apprehensive, disinterested, and put off doing the work. He had done the same job for us in the past, so why did he keep avoiding doing this job for another company? He wasn’t lazy as some may think, but his need for security and certainty wasn’t being fulfilled. As someone high on the ‘Defender’ motivator, he was searching for a clear role that he knew he could excel at with minimal risk. As someone who had never done external work in unfamiliar businesses, this need was not fulfilled. This young and talented employee was neither lazy nor adverse to hard work, but procrastinated because he wasn’t sure that he could do the perfect job without mistakes.

Many people have more experience and still procrastinate, but this may instead be due to their ‘Searcher’ motivator. Searchers want their work to be meaningful and make a difference, but what if this is hard to measure or create? We have found that incredibly talented and hard-working people have procrastinated in a range of roles, despite being highly confident, because they aren’t sure how their work is going to make a difference. Perhaps they feel that their job doesn’t link to the business’ goals, or that they are not adding value to a project, and this causes them to doubt whether their work is worthwhile. Understandably this leads to procrastination due to unfilled needs rather than laziness as many used to (and still do) believe.

The above are just two examples using Defender and Searcher to illustrate why procrastination may be functional. Just as a baby cries when it needs food, procrastination is an adaptive behaviour signalling unmet needs at work. Dilt’s Logical Levels supports this, as we can see using this that it is one’s beliefs and identity that trickles down to cause behaviours such as procrastination. If we or somebody else is procrastinating, rather than scold ourselves for being ‘lazy’, we should reflect on what we value and identify what is holding us back from completing (or even starting) an activity.

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