Whatever your industry, writing is likely a part of your work day. Despite this, too many professionals still don’t see writing as a primary part of their jobs.
Team leaders and supervisors in science, technology, engineering, and industry tell us they all share a common pain: their teams must produce some sort of writing (documentation, research papers, journal articles, grant proposals, and even emails), but getting team members to complete these tasks on time and with acceptable quality can be a monumental struggle.
Why? Even when teams have the best of intentions, people who don't consider writing an essential task often put it off. This gap between intention and action is procrastination, which leads to stress for everyone involved. By setting up barriers to procrastination, you and your team can make even major writing projects less burdensome and alleviate the stress that comes with them.
A common behavior
Some people procrastinate only occasionally, whereas others are chronic delayers. There are many reasons people choose to put off important tasks:
- They hate it. Some people delay based on negative associations with the task. If writing is a chore that team members don’t like or don’t believe they're good at, they procrastinate because working on the task isn’t pleasurable.
- They’re born that way. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder published a study that links procrastination to genetics. The study reveals that our genetic wiring makes some of us more easily distracted than others.
- They believe they work better under pressure. Although a few people do excel under deadlines, for most of us, working under pressure results in high stress and dismal quality of work.
- Procrastination produces pleasure. As AsapSCIENCE explains, when we put something off, our brain releases a feel-good hormone called dopamine, and we can become addicted to the warm feelings it causes. We procrastinate more and more because we like that short-term positive boost, even if worse feelings arise later.
Whether it’s because we’re hardwired to delay or conditioned to do so based on past experiences, we've all procrastinated at some point. Regardless of the reasons, repeated procrastination has serious personal and professional consequences.
For individuals, delaying big projects increases stress as they constantly think about the project they have to finish. Writers may feel guilty for delaying the team’s progress and may lose focus on other projects.
Procrastinating also has significant implications for the entire business. Team members may have to pick up the procrastinator’s slack; the quality of work may suffer because tasks are being completed at the last minute; and the company may miss opportunities for grants, proposals, or recognition if the work isn't completed on time.
Block the behavior
If procrastination tends to be an issue in a team, team leaders are often the ones who end up dealing with the consequences. Although motivating every team member may be impractical, some management strategies can help reduce procrastination early in the project and throughout the process.
- Break up writing projects into shorter pieces. Assignments are easier to tackle if each person isn’t faced with writing a large project at once.
- Set priorities for the most important projects and tasks.
- Require multiple deadlines. Instead of asking for the finished product, set milestones and require submissions of smaller pieces for each step.
- Implement team reviews so team members hold each other accountable and benefit from collaboration during their writing.
Finally, ask your team members what would make writing easier for them. Their answers may surprise you!
Make writing an everyday activity
These strategies may seem like they require more planning and management. But they also have the effect of ensuring that writing happens more often, even every day.
Many professionals dread writing because they don’t do it often, don’t feel that they're good at it, or they procrastinate until they have a mountain of work to do in a short period. However, if they write more frequently and practice their writing skills, they'll quickly learn how capable they really are.
Scientists continue to work to define the complexities of procrastination, but in the meantime, don’t let it rob your team of productivity!