Feeling lazy? It's pandemic procrastination

Some of us may be having a hard time fighting 'laziness' while working remotely

Feeling lazy? It's pandemic procrastination

The urge to procrastinate can attack even the best among us. You’ve probably had ‘one of those days’ where you put off a task at work, which snowballs into a week or month of backlogged tasks, before you find yourself in a frantic state the day before the project deadline. Now you’re desperately checking the clock every few minutes as you cram a month’s worth of work into one day to meet the deadline.

If that scenario doesn’t give you heart palpitations – or maybe a secret rush – you’re probably one of the more organised and disciplined among us who have successfully managed to stick to some semblance of structure while working from home. And you know what they say, one of the best ways to thrive as a remote worker is to develop a structure and to follow it to a tee.

The ‘weak’ among us who are guilty of procrastinating, however, should know that it’s a common experience, though we should strive to avoid it in future. The first step, as with all things, is to admit your folly. The next and most crucial step is to avoid making it a habit and falling into the trap of thinking: ‘I procrastinated on a project that one time and met the deadlines anyway’. No matter how true that may be, it’s best to avoid it at all costs.

READ MORE: Fun Friday: Weirdest productivity killers at work

Is procrastinating as bad as people make it out to be?

Then again, is procrastinating really all that bad? Many psychologists have attributed the act to issues like low self-confidence, a lack of self-control, anxiety, weak time management or simply an inability to motivate yourself.

Some label it as self-defeating behaviour because it can lead to higher levels of stress and lower well-being – remember the heart palpitations you get when you’re rushing to complete a project the day before the deadline? It’s not good for you in the long run if you’re a chronic procrastinator.

However, one study by psychologists from the University of Bielefeld in Germany suggested that maybe procrastination doesn’t deserve such a bad rep after all. In 2018, Axel Grund and Stefan Fries released a study that aimed to help us understand procrastinators better. They conducted research and found that the practice isn’t always down to personal weakness. It could just be due to a difference in values.

Basically, they found that conservative individuals viewed procrastination as a lack of discipline or a failure to prioritise, but modern or liberal individuals typically placed less value on completing that specific work-related task. The ‘liberals’ may have different goal pursuits and consciously delayed working on the assigned task because it simply didn’t align with their interests or priorities.

This suggests it may be more of an engagement issue, versus a clearcut issue around laziness or ill discipline. Going by this logic, if you gave them a project that they’re interested to explore or find meaningful purpose in, they should get to it as soon as possible.

READ MORE: How to engage remote employees

Is COVID-19 to blame for our bad habits?

The study pre-dated the pandemic, so it could have missed enduring a mentally crushing crisis as a variable factor in its research. That sounds like an exercise in shifting blame for our faults, but it really isn’t. A viral article by Adam Grant has been making the rounds this year shedding light on how the prolonged pandemic can lead to a sense of stagnation and emptiness, and hence a sharp dip in our levels of motivation.

“It wasn’t burnout – we still had energy,” Grant wrote. “It wasn’t depression – we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.” Originally published in the New York Times, the organisational psychologist and bestselling author tells us that the ‘blah’ feeling that’s crept into our lives is likely because we’ve been stuck in a pandemic for far too long.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Why burnout is on the rise

The term ‘languishing’ was coined by sociologist Corey Keyes “who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving”. It’s not a full-blown mental illness as of yet but it is the absence of well-being. “You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either,” Grant said. “You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.”

Procrastinators could thus be struggling to cope at work right now because they just don’t have anything to look forward to in this crisis and haven't been feeling like themselves. While it shouldn’t raise alarms just yet, Keyes’ research suggested that languishing could suggest a heightened risk of getting mental health conditions like major depression and anxiety disorders in the future, so you should take note of the feeling and reach out for help if necessary. Grant pointed out that even if you don’t feel ‘meh’ during this crisis, you probably know people who are. “Understanding it better can help you help them,” he wrote.

READ MORE: How to deal with frustrated employees

How to tackle procrastination while working remotely

Going by the studies by Grund and Fries as well as Keyes’, it sounds like you need to practise a little empathy and compassion if you want to fight any signs of procrastination in your teammates. As for yourself, it goes back to admitting you’ve slacked off and trying to develop some structure in your workdays. It may be tough to do so when work and personal time have blurred in your little home office but you can try the following:

  • Take advantage of a more flexible schedule
  • Set your daily priorities
  • Keep a list of projects and tasks to accomplish
  • Re-organise your day to fit your work-from-home schedule
  • Get out of the house and get active when possible to stay fresh
  • Set a timer to take frequent but limited breaks

If you do wake up feeling like it's just ‘one of those days’, you should cut yourself some slack. “We need to acknowledge that we’re not robots,” said Anna Wong, director of HR for Asia at FCM Travel Solutions. “There may be days where it can be more challenging than others to remain focused. I actually think that [we have those days] even when we’re working from the office.”

If you’re a leader trying to sustain employee productivity while everyone’s working from home, Wong suggested an empathetic approach. “Leaders need to remain connected with your people, regardless of where they are,” she told HRD. “If you do see someone who’s been a little [unproductive] more often than they used to be, have a conversation with the person and find out what’s going on and why there’s been a sudden change.”

Leaders should make the effort to reach out to a team member and say: ‘Hey, I’ve noticed this and it’s a little bit out of character for you. Tell me what’s going on. Is there anything that we can do to help you get back on track with your work?’

We should also acknowledge that remote work really isn’t for everyone – leader or employee. Some people have really liked working from home, while others simply prefer an office environment. Regardless, it remains a leader’s job to support employees no matter the office location. “Making sure that we really tailor [our management approach to] the working environment and conditions is very much part of the leader’s role,” she said.

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