Beat Procrastination with Kanban

Even highly successful, highly motivated people sometimes struggle with procrastination. They know what to do, but they just can’t bring themselves to get started. It’s a more common problem than you may think. According to psychologists, nearly 20% of all adults procrastinate some of the time.

Procrastination is a destructive habit. It not only inhibits productivity, but it also increases stress and anxiety. The pressure of undone or incomplete work grows over time, leading to fatigue and poor self-esteem. Eventually, procrastination can have negative effects on interpersonal relationships and even take a toll on your career. It’s a terrible trap.

Causes of Procrastination

While the reasons for procrastination vary widely, here are some of the most common causes:

Perfectionism

Setting a difficult standard for the work before you even begin can make tasks seem overwhelming. Magnifying the importance of mistakes or failures makes some people avoid a task altogether.

Working on small things while putting off big things

It’s easy to spend your time working on small, unimportant tasks instead of tackling more difficult, important work. It can make a person feel busy, and seem like work is getting accomplished, but it’s not the right tasks and not a good use of your time.

Lack of motivation

lack of motivation

Lack of motivation is caused by a reduced sense of the value of your work. If the task seems irrelevant or unimportant, it gets deferred in favor of tasks that are more meaningful.

Lack of information

Lack of needed information is a key reason why people procrastinate. If they feel that they don’t know where to begin, don’t know how to do what’s asked of them, or don’t know what the criteria for success or completion will be, it makes the task seem more difficult or complex than it actually may be. The exaggerated difficulty and lack of clarity is a common reason for people to procrastinate tasks.

Distraction

The modern workplace, with hundreds of emails, messages, and calls, frequently in shared or open settings, is an environment filled with distractions. Furthermore, the technologies we use as productivity tools are themselves a huge source of distraction, with constant notifications completing for our attention.

Procrastination is a psychological habit of self-defeating behavior, favoring short-term benefits with long-term costs. While no single solution will work for everyone or every team, a Kanban board is a fantastic way to reduce many of the causes of procrastination and improve productivity.

Kanban Fights Procrastination By…

Breaking big projects into smaller tasks

By reducing a project down to a series of step-by-step tasks and assigning them to the right people, the flow of information is much more clear and specific. Everyone should have the information necessary to complete their task, and a Kanban board visualizes the flow of information along with the flow of work.

Visualizing the workflow of a whole project, task, or team

Seeing how tasks fit into the overall workflow and move the team or company toward their goals, can make tasks feel more relevant and meaningful, improving motivation.

Visualizing accountability for tasks

public ownership of tasks

The simple act of having public ownership of a task reduces procrastination, because people naturally want to earn the approval of others and be considered a good team member.

Showing progress of tasks

Visualizing progress can make tasks that otherwise seemed overwhelming look more manageable. Incremental progress markers can provide many of the same emotional rewards as working on little, unimportant things.

Limiting WIP (work in progress)

Limiting the number of tasks available ensures that people are working on the right thing at the right time. It improves focus and reduces distractions, fighting procrastination by limiting options.

As we can see, Kanban naturally counteracts many of the causes of procrastination.

How to Use Kanban to Beat Procrastination

Capture all your tasks and make Kanban cards for them

Documenting your tasks not only helps you visualize and organize your work, but it reduces the distraction of constantly reminding yourself of other things you need to remember to do. This habit of documenting tasks to free yourself from having to recall them is central to the Getting Things Done system, because it reduces distractions and uses your time more effectively. It’s a proven productivity technique, and Kanban makes it easy to do.

Break big tasks into small, actionable steps

break down tasks Kanban

Spend time with your Kanban board and reduce big assignments into small tasks. Use specific action verbs when defining your task. For example, instead of “work on Q3 report,” define tasks with verbs like “email David for Q3 sales numbers.”

Redefining your tasks by breaking them down into small separate steps confers several procrastination-fighting advantages:

  • A big project is not so mentally overwhelming
  • It’s easier to determine where to begin and what the priorities are
  • Small tasks are easier to delegate
  • Small tasks move quickly along your Kanban board toward completion, visually demonstrating progress and improving motivation

Reward yourself for accomplishments

When your tasks land in the Done section of your Kanban board, reward yourself. Rewards are a great way to increase motivation and reduce procrastination, but rewarding yourself with a short break has other rewards as well.

A walk around the block, or even a walk around the office, is a welcome mental break, and short intervals of physical activity actually improve mood and concentration and stimulate creativity.

Just do the first step

The Zeigarnik Effect is a mental phenomenon where unfinished tasks linger in the mind longer than finished ones. In short, once you start something, the brain is inclined to keep working on it, because the brain doesn’t like loose ends. In the workplace, we see this effect in two ways:

  • Reduced accuracy and productivity when multitasking, because unfinished tasks linger and distract the mind
  • Increased desire to keep working on a task and finish it. We’re all familiar with the idea of “working just a little longer to finish this”

With the Zeigarnik Effect, once you start a task, you are more likely to stick with it and finish it. So simply beginning something is a great way to combat procrastination.

Reduce multitasking

multitasking

Speaking of the Zeigarnik Effect, multitasking contributes to procrastination by both amplifying distractions, and making it easy to dilly-dally on small, unimportant tasks instead of tackling the bigger ones. Use your Kanban board to restrict your attention to only 1-3 tasks that are the highest priority and focus on them one at a time.

Reduce distractions

Studies show that 3 in 10 workers lose focus during the work day due to chatty colleagues. If possible, work offsite for a few hours to improve concentration on the work in front of you. Silence notifications, and, if necessary, use an app that will block distracting activities on your phone, filtering communications to only what is most relevant.

Be accountable

Public ownership of a task is powerful incentive to finish it. Once a task is visibly assigned to you on a Kanban board, the natural inclination to seek the approval and respect of our peers provides strong motivation to finish it. In fact, social rewards are as motivating, of not more so, than financial rewards.

Delegate tasks that can or should be reassigned

A common cause of procrastination is simply stalling due to the sheer number of tasks we are faced with, and often the procrastinators’ perfectionism impedes good delegation habits. Delegation is a crucial time-management skill to master, because it fights perfectionism, allows for better distribution of tasks, and builds stronger teams. Overcome a reluctance to delegate and dedicate a portion of your Kanban workflow to tracking delegated tasks.

Conclusion

Kanban is a fantastic method to improve productivity and concentration and is a natural solution for the problem of procrastination. Even if your workplace doesn’t use a Kanban system, you can adopt personal Kanban to organize yourself and manage your own time better.

Don’t allow procrastination to consume your time and energy or have a negative impact on your teammates and career. Take steps to control procrastination, manage your time, and improve your performance with Kanban.

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