Three Tips to Weed Out Procrastinators

I just happened upon an interesting article in Psychology Today (PT)  regarding Project Deadlines and their importance to project success.  Interestingly, it also discusses a psychological aspect that, as project managers, we have all run across before: procrastination.

While we have likely all had procrastinators on our project teams before, I haven’t read much project management literature regarding an analytical study of how to best get the procrastinator to work more effectively.  The usual advice for dealing with procrastinators usually ends up sounding very micro-manager to me, and because I have a strong aversion to micro management techniques, I end up disregarding this advice. However, I like the recommendation from PT regarding “Temporal Norms”:

“…Research has shown that talking about time in task groups facilitates the establishment of temporal norms and this discussion can foster a focus on task activity. Taken together then, similarity of pacing style and temporal reminders can promote shared temporal cognitions which should improve the functioning of the group and the timely completion of group tasks. This is exactly what Gevers and her colleagues hypothesized in their study…”

Basically, get the group together for an active discussion (read, NOT a lecture) regarding individuals working styles and a group consensus, and even more importantly, group pressure,  is likely to emerge.  The important part of this study shows  that groups tend to coalesce around the working style that most members share. So if most group members are procrastinators, then that is how the group will function. Worse (or better) yet, how the group acted for their first shared assignment tends to reinforce how they will act for the second assignment, and so on.

This has several important conclusions for the project manager:

  1. If you have a choice over the members of your team, including even one strong individual who generally gets their work done early or on time can have a big difference on the team efficacy.
  2. Having a conversation upfront with a new team and setting your expectations may help prevent the team from lapsing into procrastination mode.
  3. If you notice procrastination tendencies, act early, as these problems have now been proven to only get worse, and if left untreated, may poison your entire team and ensure that your project is late.

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