Dealing With Employee Procrastination: Can Science Help?

Employee Procrastination


Scientific studies have indicated that procrastination seems to be a conflict between two parts of the brain: the fun loving limbic system and the sensible prefrontal cortex. In a choice of after work activities, kicking back with a beer and TV usually wins out over going to the gym. Or you get on the computer to work on the budget, but think, “Hmm, I’ll just check my twitter account.”

“We all do it; it’s part of our nature,”  Piers Steel, a psychologist at the University of Calgary and a leading researcher in procrastination, says in an article in Discover Magazine. “You never want the same cues for play and for work,” because when it comes to a choice, work will lose almost every time. Steel also adds, “Sometimes just a minute or two delay of the temptation makes you far more likely to make a rational choice.” He’s designing programs that put in a delay of 20 seconds before accessing such distractions as email or Twitter.

Banks have taken notice of this research. An article published in the Journal of Marketing Research, “Increasing Saving Behavior Through Age-Progressed Renderings of the Future Self” has inspired the use of that very tactic to motivate people to save more in their retirement accounts which benefits that business.

So, how can small businesses take advantage of this concept?

There are websites designed to help the average person or business to make use of these motivational techniques to improve employee procrastination. Strategies range from charging money for failures to cheers and encouragement for success. These businesses also help organize a plan to increase work productivity.

Resources to Help With Employee Procrastination

Beeminder ‘stings’ when you go off the rails. This site asks you to set up goals for yourself. This might be exercise 3Xweek, or work on spreadsheet every weekday. Beeminder will send an email asking you to verify the meeting of the goal. Missing it will cost you whatever you’ve pledged, e.g. five dollars.

Beeminder plots the optimal results of your goals on a chart, colored in yellow, calling it the ‘Yellow Brick Road’. Your true path is colored in turquoise making it easy to compare your progress.

The website states, “Your company can design unique Commitment Contracts, aimed at improving the health or performance of your employees. From losing weight to smoking cessation, or meeting deadlines to exceeding sales targets, any goal can be made into a Commitment Contract. To improve success rates, employers can assign referees and reward participants.”

It utilizes both monetary penalties and supervisory oversight as in a referee that verifies your reports. Access can be granted to friends and family who may want to cheer you on.

StickK has a section committed to giving corporate and institutional entities tools to help their employees be more productive.

This website also caters to the need of businesses, but takes a unique approach. Habitica uses a computer game technique. Your goals are ‘monsters’ to be defeated and, like most computer games, you build your avatar and acquire weapons. You can compete with friends or join an interest group.

The corporate plan allows for a special site to be built for the company’s employees independent of Habitica’s site and give controls to the employers.

While this website gives out good tips to deal with procrastination, it also gives a hand by blocking access to distracting websites during a set time designated to work on a project., as the name suggests gives gives out the sound and ambience of a coffee shop. The website claims scientific backing for this service. The idea seems to be that if you are working alone, the illusion of other people working away is inspiring to the work process.

Now this site is hard core. It keeps tabs on how steady you are writing and if the flow stops for too long the punishment steps in. The more mellow of these are the taking away of pleasant background sound or beautiful background. The harsher consequence might be an ugly popup to scare you or even worse, it’ll take out all the vowels of part of your work. You set up your choice and then experiment with works best for you.

In the end, building good habits depends on the determination and need of the individual. Goals are good, rewards and punishments can help, but it all depends on truthfulness and cooperation.

Daydreaming Photo via Shutterstock

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JoAnn McFarland JoAnn McFarland is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. She covers breaking news such as new product announcements, government policy, acquisitions and other industry developments. She is a published author and comes from a family-business background.