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How to 'Get Gritty' and Fight Procrastination

Mar 22 2016

Putting off writing that report or running those spreadsheets? You're not alone. Researchers say everyone procrastinates at work sometimes, with about 20% of us being chronic procrastinators.

But waiting to get things done — or never finishing tasks at all — can cause higher levels of stress and lower levels of well-being. What's more, this lack of tenacity may also be tied to a lower amount of work success.

Angela Duckworth, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has researched what drives success in various fields, whether it's in school or the workplace. Her findings? Talent, skills, smarts — none of these are as important as "grit," or as Duckworth defines it: "the tendency to sustain interest and effort toward very long-term goals."

If you chronically miss deadlines or turn in rushed, sloppy work at the last minute, you probably aren't very gritty. But all is not lost. While grit may be innate for some, it also can be developed. Here are five suggestions to start fighting procrastination: 

1. Find meaning in your work

This helps you get motivated, providing the fire to overcome any urge to put off the task. Duckworth tells Strategy+Business that if managers want to foster grit in the workplace, they should "ensure that people have a goal or outcome that they hold in high regard."

Fast Company's Leo Babauta has similar advice for procrastinator.  Consider refocusing on the overarching goal you want to achieve in order to find motivation. 

Even if a task seems meaningless, with a little effort you can change how you perceive it — perhaps making a game out of it, says procrastination expert Tim Pychyl.

2. Implement rewards

Duckworth says people need to see either a tangible reward or (at the least) no penalty for the work they're doing. She advises managers to either increase the value of the reward for a task or reduce the perceived cost.

If bosses won't reward you, reward yourself for finishing something, says Margie Warrell in Forbes. Whether you give yourself a night out with friends or a fun gift, "make it something that acknowledges your progress and effort," she says. 

3. Set realistic goals

Don't expect to complete a large project all at once, says Duckworth. Doing so can be overwhelming and lead you to put off even attempting. Instead, organize work into small, achievable chunks. 

4. Be mindful of what you're doing

Do you spend an hour Googling random facts when you just meant to look up one quick question? If you are aware of what you are doing, says Babauta, you are better able to set up strategies to keep yourself on track (such as using apps to block time-wasting websites).

5. Adopt a growth mindset

That is, the belief that abilities are not fixed. Don't tell yourself "I always work best under pressure" or "I always put everything off to the last minute." Instead, know that you can change and can develop better work habits. "Growth mindset is a great idea for developing grit," says Duckworth.

In short, you don't have to be defined by your procrastinating history. It is possible to get gritty — and find greater success at work as a result.

(Want to see how gritty you are? Take Duckworth's grittiness test.)


Lorna Collier is a Chicago-area writer whose articles about business and technology have appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Intuit Small Business Blog, Workforce Management, Crain’s Chicago Business, CNNUSNews, the Chicago Tribune, and others. Follow her @lornacollier.


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