Is there anything else you ought to be doing instead of reading this article? I hope not (and I'm glad to have your attention, settle yourself down with a nice hot drink and enjoy yourself), but if you do, well, it's understandable, isn't it? Don't we all have moments when we've something pressing to do, and we know we ought to do it, but we get distracted, we find something else to do, and the clock turns about unnoticed. Before we realise it, the job's still undone, and there's no longer time to finish it. Hopefully, there'll still be the opportunity to do it tomorrow, or next week, and of course we'll definitely make sure it's completed then. Sure, we've wasted time today, but we'll do better in future.

It's entirely human to procrastinate, to keep putting off and not-quite-getting-around-to. Unfortunately, it can also create quite a lot of problems; if the postponed task is, say, cleaning the kitchen, then the task will be larger tomorrow, and will keep growing until it seems overwhelming and difficult to complete in the manner originally intended. But it should still be able to be done. However, procrastinating in a business environment, failing to carry out key tasks at the due time, can be a lot more than a nuisance - it can seriously inhibit the company's progress. Cutting down on procrastination can be an issue of real importance for any organisation.

But is it really that simple? If time wasting could be dealt with by simply deciding not to waste any more time, the problem wouldn't exist at all. But procrastinating and postponing isn't always a straightforward conscious choice - it can have many causes that are themselves harder to prevent, leaving procrastination as more of a seemingly unavoidable consequence than a wilful failing.

Precise planning

Sometimes, the number of tasks that need doing can become overwhelming. They might be set down in a to-do list, or they might be tangible demands that can be seen waiting to be dealt with (a pile of filing, perhaps - or an untidy kitchen!). But if they all require some of your time, with no immediately obvious priorities, it can be very difficult to know just where to begin. Indeed, other, separate tasks can often take your attention, as a single clear activity, however unimportant, can be taken up as an alternative to delving into the disorganised morass.

Although such a response can appear productive - spending the time completing some sort of task seems better than doing nothing - vital work will not be done in time, and this can have a knock-on effect on other tasks, and on the business as a whole. Yet this is an avoidable problem, with a little preparation. Careful planning of tasks, of what needs to be done and when, removes the confusion that comes from an unregulated stack of work - and helps keep you focused on the job in hand.

Confidence in your ability

Sometimes, any of us can lack a little belief in our ability to carry a task through. It may be a fear of failure, or of possible reactions of others, or even of the consequences of success. It may be a natural disinclination to face difficulties, waiting for the arrival of an ideal mood or situation. I may be that completing the work represents a step into the unknown, and seeking the safety of the familiar is one of the deepest rooted of human instincts.

Yet as understandable as it may be to procrastinate for lack of confidence, the impact on the business would remain every bit as critical, so it's vital to address these problems. Again, detailed and precise planning can help - it's easier to feel confident about a task if you know exactly what will be required, as problems loom larger when they're vague and shadowy. It can also be helpful to visualise your goals in this process, to think carefully about what will result and to picture yourself and the work at this end point; what may have seemed a step into the darkness can become far more manageable if you turn some light onto the matter. And don't be afraid to talk to others - you're probably not in a unique situation, and there may well be others in the organisation with experience of the task you're facing, and who can help you find a way through it.

A positive working environment

As important as it is to improve your approach to your work, and to try to be more positive in how you think about it, procrastination can also sometimes be dealt with in a far more practical manner: if you're frequently being distracted from doing the task in hand, it's always worth taking a moment to remove the distractions themselves. This can be a particular issue if you're working at home, surrounded by your own books or magazines, your own television, your own music and perhaps your own housework. But it can also be an issue at work - perhaps other tasks are visibly demanding your attention, perhaps the internet or your email inbox is always temptingly open. Whatever it is that is distracting you, anything that can be done to remove it will help to prevent procrastination; prepare your working environment, and you'll find that the work itself progresses more smoothly.

And these little distractions have to be addressed directly, because as small as they may seem individually, the accumulated impact of key tasks being left undone can be severe for any organisation. It's worth remembering, too, that a little procrastination can creep up on any of us, so it's always a good idea to make sure that you approach your work prepared, with likely obstacles dealt with before they arrive. A short training course can certainly be a helpful part of that preparation - and don't forget, you mustn't let yourself get distracted from preparing, so stop reading and get back to work!