As a leader, you want a productive team, so it only makes sense to reinforce timeliness and help team members steer clear of bad work habits like procrastination.
Procrastination eats away at productivity of the person who is procrastinating. More than that, it adds stress — stress to the procrastinator as well as to the rest of the team, who must struggle to take up the slack for missed deadlines.
It also leads to negative emotions that erode teamwork. The procrastinator carries around a load of guilt for not being timely, and others on the team feel resentment for having to make up for someone else dropping the ball.
Not to mention, of course, it can hurt your business’s bottom line. Procrastination can lead to unhappy customers, penalties for delays, and lost future sales.
Software provides an easy solution to help your team break the procrastination habit. Here are 5 simple ways to use software to break away from procrastination and make you and your team more productive.
Use Calendars to Their Greatest Potential
Digital calendars are perfect to break the cycle of procrastination — if you use them the right way. Encourage your team to try these calendar techniques (and use them yourself to lead by example):
- Block out a set period of time to do an important project or task on your calendar. If it’s on your calendar with an hour or two set aside to do it, you’re one step closer than simply putting the task on a to-do list.
- When you set the calendar notice up, add links to any documents you need for the task, right in the calendar notice. That way you don’t waste time searching for documents to get started — or get distracted.
- Use shared calendars in your organizations, to avoid going back and forth to check availability. With shared calendars, you can see who’s free. Also, learn the features of your calendar program to find little hacks that make scheduling easier. For instance, Outlook calendars have something called the Scheduling Assistant that can make meeting set-up go faster.
Rinse and Repeat: Templates, Templates, Templates
Nothing fosters procrastination like looking at a blank screen wondering where to start for that next project. A template gets you off the block faster on tasks like writing a report, creating a presentation, or building a meeting agenda.
There are two kinds of templates. One is generic templates that you can find online or even in the Office suite you’re using. Office 365, for example, has lots of free templates in various modules like spreadsheets and presentations.
Another kind of template are those that are specifically tailored to your business. Over time you will build templates for sales presentations, reports and more. The key is making sure everyone can find them when they need them. Create a central template library and encourage everyone to use it. With shared folders and cloud file storage it’s super easy to set this up.
Tick Tock: Use Time Management Timers
Sometimes procrastination is aided and abetted by spending too much time on unimportant tasks. Help your team understand how to allocate their time better, to spend it on the most urgent and most important tasks.
Here’s where something as simple as a timer can help. If someone on your team has a tendency to spend too long reading unimportant emails, or lets meetings run over, then a timer can help save minutes that add up into hours over the course of a week.
I’ve found being more conscious of time has amazing effects. Until I started tracking, I did not realize how much of my time was being squandered on low-importance tasks.
Windows 10 has a free timer app built in. You can also find timer apps on the Web or simply use the timer and alarm on your smartphone.
Instant Changes: Collaborate Over Shared Documents
Suppose you have a press release you want some of your team to look at before it goes out over the internet. Trying to get everyone who needs to give input to review it and respond can take time — especially for the procrastinators among your team.
Here, the cloud comes to the rescue in the form of shared cloud documents.
Did you know you can collaborate on Word by using a feature that let’s you co-author in real time? You can keep track of the edits character by character when someone else is working on the document. That way, you can get everyone on a call together and gather all input quickly in real time — avoiding the tendency for some to procrastinate.
Microsoft Office 365 also offers the multi-party HD video and audio platform Teams so your group can discuss numbers, campaigns and projects from different locations. If you’ve got a client that wants to stitch ideas for their latest campaign together, this puts everyone on the same online page.
Planner was built specifically for Office 365. It works across all your devices. You can add files, tasks and even speak with the team no matter where they are. Email notifications make it easy to let team members know when they’ve been given a new task. Planner engages everyone and keeps them updated on any developments.
Office 365 Video is another option to avoid procrastination. Uploading and sharing video content through your company puts a face and live action to written notes and directives.
Use a Virtual Assistant like Cortana
Here’s one more procrastination-avoidance hack: use a virtual assistant to take notes and do research for your next project. For example, you can use Cortana to verbally dictate a few notes for that big report and save them to OneNote. Sometimes it’s much easier to get started if you start with baby steps, such as dictating a few notes of things to include in a report.
You can also use Cortana to conversationally do web research for a project. It makes it feel less like laborious work and more like a simple discussion, if you use something like Cortana to look things up.
As these examples have shown, there are lots of ways to use technology to get started and avoid procrastination. So what, are you waiting for? Get started using some of these tools!
At the time of this writing, Anita Campbell is participating in the Microsoft Small Business Ambassador program.