Procrastination, demotivation & loneliness. How you can get through it.
While some people are living their best lives at home in isolation and are being productive beyond measure, there is a large portion of our society who isn’t doing well, and many of these people still have a job. The only difference is, they’re working from home and their face-to-face connections have been severed. You might be one of these people.
What is it about Working from Home that makes some thrive and others dive?
We all get inspiration and motivation from different things, people and environments. People who thrive working on home tend to love it due to less distractions, less travel time, they can be themselves, be with pets and flexibility. I’m one of these people – I always work from home as my home office is inspiring and I’m easily distracted by others.
I am fully aware that not everyone feels this way – especially when it comes to younger generations in particular. While many of us Gen Xers love a home-office, Gen Y and Gen Z tend to hate them. For many, the office is a place of social connections, inspiration and direction. Many people only have friendships through work, and if they weren’t to go to an office, would have very little interaction with other humans – even in their personal life. Sadly, many Australian’s are lonely – even when they have a physical job to go to. In a study conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and Swinburne University in 2018, 50.6% of people said they felt lonely.
Now fast forward to today, and you can guarantee that statistic is much higher, as many of us are missing our colleagues, friends, family and business associates.
How does loneliness affect motivation?
There are certain factors that are associated with lonely people – the major ones being a feeling of low energy, irritability, higher anxiety levels, lack of motivation, increased mental health issues, inability to concentrate, negative thoughts, sleep disturbances, procrastination, boredom and the inability to achieve personal or professional goals. Note that loneliness has factors in common with depression, and other mental health problems, so these factors aren’t exclusive to loneliness.
Some of you reading this will now recognise a few of these factors in yourself, your staff or colleagues, something that before the pandemic was quite an alien concept. While the good news is that there will be an end to this feeling of loneliness for many of us, it is valuable to reflect and sympathise with half of Australia who feel like this all the time. Food for thought.
Procrastination station – how can you get off the bandwagon?
What is procrastination? Procrastination in its simplest form is task avoidance and the inability to self-regulate (more on that later). Motivation in its simplest form is the driving force that makes you complete a task. They are often interlinked and share causality with each other.
However, procrastination is extremely complicated, different for each person, and not easily solved. It is connected to emotional state, self-regulation, personality traits (particularly consciousness and neuroticism in the Five Factor Model of Personality Traits), upbringing, self-belief, environment, parental attachment style and more. It is a difficult problem and psychologists have been studying it for decades which gives you some insight into its complexity. The cause can be different for everyone, and is a lifelong issue for those who are chronic procrastinators, however, we all suffer from it at some point in our lives.
Contrary to popular belief, procrastination isn’t as simple as the product of fear! The business sector fixated on a study on this in 1992, which is why you hear this as a single cause from many business coaches and motivational speakers worldwide. Science builds on previous findings, and in the past 28 years has learned much more on this subject - which is vast and complicated. Fear can be a contributing factor for some people – depending on their personality traits, experience, self-regulation and motivation levels, but is by no means the main factor or most common.
In fact, the majority of people procrastinate because they are bored, dislike the task, don’t know where to start, the task seems too big to tackle, lack of skills to perform it, the task is perceived as too “junior” the task doesn’t lead to a big enough tangible reward or appreciation, they have mental health issues, feel low or demotivated, or lack self-regulation and self-efficacy.
On the flip side, for some, procrastination leads to a shorter time-frame in which one has to achieve a task, which is beneficial to those who work better under pressure. This is often a subconscious mechanism to make those people achieve better results. Where fear and procrastination do meet, is often in the context of self-sabotage, confidence, and imposter syndrome. It is important to note, this is not the main contributing factor for most people. It is also worth noting that fear isn’t always bad! Fear of not meeting a deadline can be a motivator, and drive people to succeed.
As you can see, this is not a simple problem to fix.
Let’s go through some of the main and less complex causes of Procrastination and Demotivation (as they have commonalities).
Boredom is a huge factor contributing to procrastination and demotivation. Let me give you an example - filing is one of the world’s most hated tasks – whether it be physical or digital. Why? Are people fearful of filling? Do the majority of people lack the skills to file? No, of course not! Filing is boring, monotonous, and does not achieve a tangible reward outcome. Once something is filed, that’s it. It might be easier to find things in the future, but that reward isn’t big or motivating enough for people to do their filing first.
Another cause for procrastination and demotivation is the size of the task. For those of you who have employees, you may have noticed over the years that employees tend to gravitate towards small tasks that are achievable in shorter time-frames, v’s huge tasks that span months. Why is this? The human brain finds it difficult to start tasks it can’t imagine completing in the near future. Tasks that are too big become overwhelming, and most people like to avoid things that overwhelm them. This is why project management exists –breaking down huge tasks into smaller, manageable, logical chunks is a way to overcome procrastination and demotivation. You can also use apps such as WorkflowMax to assist you in doing this.
Lack of direction
The majority of people are not self-motivators. They cannot manage their own workload, prioritise tasks or estimate the time in which it will be completed. This is not a flaw, this is simply the way the majority of people are. If you provide them with clear instructions, deadlines and training on how to complete things they are unsure of, procrastination / demotivation falls away. Gen Y and Gen Z tend to fall into this category most often – they love to know what is expected of them and when, so they can do their jobs effectively (this is why daily stand-ups are popular and effective with younger generations). Autonomy is not something many workers thrive on, even though if you ask them directly, they will mostly say they can and like to work autonomously. If you leave people who aren’t good self-regulators to complete work autonomously, they will simply avoid it (procrastinate).
Lack of skills
Think back to early on in your career when your boss asked you to do something you weren’t familiar with and you didn’t have the confidence to say “what do you mean?”. We’ve all been there, and no-doubt your staff have too. We all live in our own bubbles and sometimes take for granted that our staff know what we want, and know how to do it. As an entrepreneur, if I don’t know the answer to something, I’ll conduct research and teach myself new skills, and have often been frustrated that past staff members don’t do the same. The reality is, most people don’t take the initiative to do this (perhaps they don’t have the computer skills to find the answer), and instead avoid the task (procrastinate). It’s our job as business owners to provide them with the skills to assist them in doing their job effectively. There isn’t a more perfect time to do that than now.
Self-sabotage & fear of failure
There is a portion of people who self-sabotage their own careers, jobs and lives. This is rarely consciously done, and is often due to past experiences, upbringing, self-belief and personality traits. I have personally had staff that have had such potential and talent, to only see them squander their future at a time just before they achieve great success. This is the time that fear does come into play. People in this situation think “can I really do this? Am I really good enough? What if people think I’m a fraud?” The fear of not being good enough or the fear of failure kicks in, and rather than tackle the fear head-on, they retreat or sabotage their own success. Imposter syndrome on steroids!
However, in people’s daily lives, fear of failure is not usually the cause of procrastination. Most people in their job positions know how to do it, and are confident in their abilities, so unless the task could result in personal vulnerability or the task is new, fear doesn’t come into it.
Having said that, for entrepreneur’s fear can contribute more prominently, because putting yourself out there means you are open to criticism. Self-regulation is a huge contributor in whether this fear holds you back or not (more on that later).
Overwhelm can be down to a high workload, not being able to prioritise, not knowing where to start, or not feeling confident in having the skills to complete the task.
Often people in a state of overwhelm are consumed by the amount that is to be done and can’t find the motivation to start because the task doesn’t appear to have an end-point within reach. Instead, they tend to tackle unimportant tasks that they are familiar with because they feel confident in achieving them, and avoid tasks that seem to be in the too hard basket.
The Task is too Junior
One of the big issues with running an SME is finding people who are happy to put all hands-on deck, and get the work done, regardless of what the work is. Many people have left the corporate world to start businesses, and others have left to have a less stressful life. These people, when at this stage in their career look for jobs in the local area that are perhaps a little junior in comparison to their corporate job, but are paid well and provide a better work-life-balance. As humans, we are often quick to forget the horrors that we’ve been through, and in these instances, some people forget why they left the corporate world, and start to resent their more junior role. This a huge road-block for small businesses, and a huge contributor to demotivation and procrastination. This is where people’s emotional states can create task avoidance.
Expectancy Theory explains motivation (or lack thereof) by the expected outcome of a task, or the reward. This theory denotes that for a person to be motivated to complete a task they need to believe their effort will result in their desired goal, that they have the skills to perform it, and that their performance will meet performance expectations. They must also believe the completion of the task will result in a reward they value.
In our filing example – the reward might be the issue, because there is not a high value on completed filing for most people. In the case of sales, the reward (a bonus, prestige, satisfaction) is the driving force. However, in your business, salary might not be the reward required. In fact, studies on motivation show that job satisfaction is different for everyone, and isn’t as simple as just money. A simple thank-you can be all it takes.
It is also very important to know that motivation and procrastination in can often be due to the inability of a person to regulate their emotional state. Self-regulation theory is one of the Psychological Theories used to explain procrastination and demotivation, and in its simplest form explains that people who don’t procrastinate hold self-standards of desirable behaviour, have the self-motivation to meet those standards, monitor situations and their own emotions that might affect standards, and have the willpower (intrinsic motivation) to control their inner emotions which might cause them to become demotivated or procrastinate. They also very rarely loose emotional control – that is they don’t snap at people, shout or display mood swings with their clients or staff, because this breaches their standards.
How do you become a better self-regulator/self-motivator?
Planning and Goal Setting – planning what you need to do, when and how, and working out the smaller task components that are required to achieve the main goal. Your main goal needs to have purpose and meaning.
Monitoring – self-regulators can monitor their own performance, and the performance of others. It’s the skill of knowing whether the task is progressing well or not, the ability to critically evaluate progress and the methods used. It is also the ability to know when something isn’t working well, and when to abandon methods that aren’t working. For those that struggle doing this for themselves, having a colleague or business consultant to keep you honest and critically evaluate your business direction.
Reflection / Introspection – the ability to reflect on past performance and learn and improve from them. Many people don’t self-assess their own work or life or sit and think about what they really want. Understanding why you have done things, and what you want is important. You need to know these things in order to move on from past experiences that might be influencing your current decision making. Most people fall into their careers, and upon reflection realise they want a career change - and many others start businesses because it’s what they’re good at, and it’s what they’ve always done… Isn’t it better do what you’re passionate about?
Challenging work – in the many studies on workplace motivation and procrastination, a common thread is that most people need to be challenged to feel motivated. When something becomes too easy or monotonous, motivation drops. This is why car factories such as Toyota rotate their staff so they each build different parts of the car each week. They noticed productivity dropped when people did the same repetitive task for prolonged periods of time.
Social Interaction – this is a huge motivator for many people, and, for
those doing monotonous tasks – it is vitally important. In factories for example, people tend to find motivation in seeing their work colleagues each day. Secondly, it is easy to see the impact of your workload on others as they are working next to you, which creates job satisfaction. In addition, for some people, the fact that they are in the presence of their boss can be motivating. Wanting to be seen as a good worker is enough for some people to work well. In the current climate, keep your connections going with FaceTime or Zoom meetings.
Purpose - What is your purpose? Why do you like what you like? What is your passion and why? A key component to achieving your goals is emotional motivation so if you’re not feeling passionate about what you do, perhaps you need to adjust to a more motivating purpose.
Belonging – maintain your work connections via Zoom or FaceTime. Belonging comes from being with like-minded people, and this is often created through work colleagues or your business network.
Mental Health - assess your mental health – procrastination and demotivation are correlated with depression and loneliness which many of you or your staff may be experiencing right now. If you’re experiencing these symptoms repeatedly (even before COVID-19) and they are prolonged, your first step is to get some help.
To conclude, procrastination and demotivation has correlates which a myriad of factors. There is no one cause for why we procrastinate or why we become demotivated, however I hope this article will help with working through some of the things that might be holding you back.
Don’t feel bad if you aren’t thriving or working on your business, something good will come of this current crisis – even if that something is just surviving to the other side.
If you need help with any of these topics, please reach out to me at email@example.com
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W H Freeman/Times Books/ Henry Holt & Co.
Baumeister, R. F., Schmeichel, B. J., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-regulation and the executive function: The self as controlling agent. In A. W. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (p. 516–539). The Guilford Press.
Baumeister, R.F. and Vohs, K.D. (2007), Self‐Regulation, Ego Depletion, and Motivation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1: 115-128. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2007.00001.x
Costa, Paul & McCrae, R.R.. (1999). A five-factor theory of personality. The Five-Factor Model of Personality: Theoretical Perspectives. 2. 51-87. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284978581_A_five-factor_theory_of_personality
Kiel, Joan M. "Reshaping Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to Reflect Today's Educational and Managerial Philosophies." Journal of Instructional Psychology, vol. 26, no. 3, 1999, p. 167. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 1 May 2020.
Lawler, Edward E III (1972), Expectancy theory and job behaviour. Journal of Behaviour and Human Performance, vol 9, no 3, p. 482-503. doi: 10.1016/0030-5073(73)90066-4
Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (Eds.). (2001). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theoretical perspectives (2nd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.