Where Time Flies – The True Cost of Procrastination at the Office

Procrastination at work is a type of self-regulatory failure to execute an intended work task. 

Nguyen et al., 2013

Did you ever wonder how much procrastination actually costs? You may think that there is the little-to-no cost of it but, believe us, procrastination can bring in significant costs, some very tangible, others more subtle.

In 1978, only 5% of the population admitted to being chronic procrastinators. In a study done in 2007, the numbers have grown to roughly 26%!

That means that more than a fifth of employees all around the globe is procrastinating. For some, it is simply their lifestyle. They fail to pay bills on time, they miss many activities, and somehow, they always file important documents late and many other things…

In a work domain, most of them use smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smartwatches, smart TVs, and any other technology’s perks – only to gain a lack of focus on productive tasks. Professor Piers Steel estimated that these new technologies cost the U.S. about $70 billion in the lack of productivity per year.

And the problem doesn’t stop there. On the contrary.

Very often, procrastination may take a toll on our physical and psychological health. Leaving procrastinators with depression, lowered self-esteem, and insomnia. Yes, that’s what happens when you are to blame for missing deadlines and opportunities.

According to a study done by a Boston marketing firm, the average American wastes 55 minutes per day – and that is roughly 13 days a year! – looking for items they own but can’t find. That is a classic consequence of disorganization, closely linked to procrastination.

When we fail to be organized, everything around us suffers. Our tasks, role, position, co-workers. By delaying our coordination, we basically procrastinate. And what we lose in the process is not trivial or insignificant. We lose time, we lose money and, in the end, we lose something even more important – the trust of people around us. No need to accent the aftereffect of this behavior. We are talking here about slimming our chances to progress professionally, to learn new skills or even getting promoted for our efforts.

And when it comes to how much of a cost a procrastinator is to his company, a 2012 CNBC post identified the cost of procrastination in business as being a staggering $10,396, per employee, per year! If you are a CEO or a manager, you must be freaking out right now, multiplying this amount with your employees!

The mentioned article referred to procrastination as “the most invisible cost in business today” and we couldn’t have said it better!

The cost of this aspect of procrastination: money, credibility, and again: a possible promotion!

A plastic example:

Let’s say you have a team of ten employees who all earn $16 per hour more or less. If all of them procrastinate 25% of their weekly shifts that’s $1600 down the drain. If we take that figure and put it into a year that’s $83,200!

The impact and consequences of procrastination in the workplace

High on this list is definitely stress!

It’s that impulse in our body that tells us we have to get something done. Usually, this can be interpreted as a good motivator. Something that keeps up productive and delivering quality work in order to avoid more stress by getting fired.

However, when the procrastination takes over the stage, it only adds another layer of stress.  By practicing it, we only get less time and more work to do. All while it is understandable that you produce the same results as usual. This negative stress creates a heavy health risk and you stop being an effective and therefore desirable employee.

“Empty Labor” is a term that Roland Paulsen of Lund University coined in his book of the same name. This refers to all the time employees spend at work doing things unrelated to their position or task.

According to this author, procrastination causes organizations and projects to lose a lot of money. The only solution is for managers to take care of their procrastination-subjected employees. If they are left unchecked by their superiors, things can go from bad to worse, in no time.

Money is going to get lost in procrastination and that is why it is important to always calculate this cost (and try to lower it down) when planning out projects.

Otherwise, you will be stuck with poor time management within your organization. We don’t see the need to repeat that time is money.

If you don’t find that employee who prioritizes the wrong things, or even fails to prioritize at all, you are in trouble. And not only you: your whole team can be in trouble and your project and the company itself as well. Look for those team members who usually postpone difficult or boring tasks. Also, check for those with a low frustration tolerance level, or who seems to be overwhelmed every time a task seems complicated or they feel marginalized…

Find those, and you will find a cause for your money leak. Try to fix it with these few pieces of advice:

  • Recognize self-defeating behavior and react
  • Think about success – not failure
  • Note when and where you procrastinate
  • Plan how to control this behavior
  • Break large tasks into small ones
  • Prioritize work and set deadlines
  • Place reminders for your task
  • From time to time, take a break and switch subjects or tasks
  • Reward yourself for accomplishment
  • Learn to tolerate discomfort

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