Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, or carrying out less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. Sometimes, procrastination takes place until the "last minute" before a deadline. People may procrastinate personal issues (raising a stressful issue with a partner), health issues (seeing a doctor or dentist), home care issues (patching a leak in a roof), or academic/work obligations (completing a report). Procrastination can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression and self-doubt.
In a 1984 study of academic procrastination, 46% of subjects reported that they “always” or “nearly always” procrastinate writing papers, while approximately 30% procrastinate studying for exams or reading weekly assignments. For a range of tasks, a quarter of subjects reliably reported that procrastination was a problem for them. Approximately 60%, however, indicated that they would like to reduce their procrastination.
A 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination." It is estimated that 80%–95% of college students engage in procrastination, and approximately 75% consider themselves procrastinators.
In a study performed on university students, procrastination was shown to be greater on tasks that were perceived as unpleasant or as impositions than on tasks for which the student believed s/he lacked the required skills for accomplishing the task.
Gregory Schraw, Theresa Wadkins, and Lori Olafson in 2007 proposed three criteria for a behavior to be classified as academic procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. Steel reviewed all previous attempts to define procrastination, and concluded in a 2007 study that procrastination is "to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay." Sabini & Silver argued that postponement and irrationality are the two key features of procrastination. Putting a task off is not procrastination, they argue, if there are rational reasons for doing so.
An approach that integrates several core theories of motivation as well as meta-analytic research on procrastination is the temporal motivation theory. It summarizes key predictors of procrastination (expectancy, value, and impulsiveness) into a mathematical equation.
The pleasure principle may be responsible for procrastination; one may prefer to avoid negative emotions, and to delay stressful tasks. The belief that one works best under pressure provides an additional incentive to the postponement of tasks. Some psychologists cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Piers Steel indicated in 2010 that anxiety is just as likely to get people to start working early as late, and that the focus of studies on procrastination should be impulsiveness. That is, anxiety will cause people to delay only if they are impulsive.
Traditionally, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism: a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one's own performance, intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one's abilities by others, heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety, recurrent low mood, and "workaholism." However, adaptive perfectionists— egosyntonic perfectionism—were less likely to procrastinate than non-perfectionists, while maladaptive perfectionists, who saw their perfectionism as a problem— egodystonic perfectionism—had high levels of procrastination and anxiety. In a meta-analysis of 71 studies in 2007, Steel found that perfectionists typically procrastinate slightly less than others, with "the exception being perfectionists who were also seeking clinical counseling."
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus held that "Men are not moved by events but by their interpretations". Negative coping responses of procrastinating individuals tend to be avoidant or emotional rather than task-oriented or focused on problem-solving. Emotional and avoidant coping is employed to reduce stress (and cognitive dissonance) associated with putting off intended and important personal goals. This option provides immediate pleasure and is consequently very attractive to impulsive procrastinators at their first knowledge of achievable goals. There are several emotion-oriented strategies, similar to Freudian defense mechanisms, coping styles and self-handicapping.
Coping responses of procrastinators include the following.
- Avoidance: Avoiding the location or situation where the task takes place (e.g. a graduate student avoiding driving into the university).
- Denial and trivialization: Pretending that procrastinatory behavior is not actually procrastinating, but rather a task which is more important than the avoided one, or that the essential task that should be done is not of immediate importance.
- Distraction: Engaging or immersing in other behaviors or actions to prevent awareness of the task (e.g. intensive video game playing or web browsing)
- Descending counterfactuality: Comparing a life situation with others who have it worse (e.g. "Yes, I procrastinated and got a B− in the course, but I didn't fail like one other student did.")
- Valorisation: Pointing in satisfaction to what one achieved in the meantime while one should have been doing something else.
- Blaming: Delusional attributions to external factors, such as rationalizing that the procrastination is due to external forces beyond one's control (e.g. "I'm not procrastinating, but this assignment is tough.")
- Mocking: Using humor to validate one's procrastination. The person uses slapstick or slipshod methods to criticize others' striving towards the goal as funny.
- Laziness: Procrastinating simply because one is too lazy to focus on her or his desired task.
Task- or problem-solving measures are taxing from a procrastinator's outlook. If such measures are pursued, it is less likely the procrastinator would remain a procrastinator. However, pursuing such measures requires actively changing one's behavior or situation to prevent and minimize the re-occurrence of procrastination.
In 2006, it was suggested that neuroticism has no direct links to procrastination and that any relationship is fully mediated by conscientiousness. In 1982, it had been suggested that irrationality was an inherent feature of procrastination. "Putting things off even until the last moment isn't procrastination if there is a reason to believe that they will take only that moment". Steel et al. explained in 2001, "actions must be postponed and this postponement must represent poor, inadequate, or inefficient planning".
A research on the physiological roots of procrastination has been concerned with the role of the prefrontal cortex. Consistent with the notion that procrastination is strongly related to impulsiveness, this area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, and attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual's ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention, and increased procrastination. This is similar to the prefrontal lobe's role in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, where underactivation is common.
Procrastination is found to result in stress, anxiety, a sense of guilt and crisis, health problems, and severe loss of personal productivity, as well as social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote further procrastination. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder. Such procrastinators may have difficulty seeking support due to social stigma and the belief that task-aversion is caused by laziness, low willpower, or low ambition. On the other hand, many regard procrastination as a useful way of identifying what is important, as it is rare to procrastinate when one truly values the task at hand.
In a 2014 U.S. study surveying procrastination and impulsivity in fraternal twin and identical twin pairs, both traits were found to be "moderately heritable." The two traits were not separable at the genetic level (rgenetic = 1.0), meaning no unique genetic influences of either trait alone was found. The authors confirmed three constructs developed from the evolutionary hypothesis that procrastination arose as a by-product of impulsivity: "(a) Procrastination is heritable, (b) the two traits share considerable genetic variation, and (c) goal-management ability is an important component of this shared variation."
Psychologist William J. Knaus estimated that 90% of college students procrastinate. Of these students, 25% are chronic procrastinators and they are usually the ones who end up dropping out of college.
Perfectionism is a prime cause for procrastination, because demanding perfection usually results in failure. Unrealistic expectations destroy self-esteem and lead to self-repudiation, self-contempt, and widespread unhappiness. To overcome procrastination, it is essential to recognize and accept the power of failure without condemning,[better source needed] to stop focusing on faults and flaws and to set goals that are easier to achieve.
To overcome procrastination:
- Be aware of habits and thoughts that lead to procrastinating.
- Seek help for self-defeating problems such as fear, anxiety, difficulty in concentrating, poor time management, indecisiveness, and perfectionism.
- Evaluate your own goals, strengths, weaknesses, and priorities.
- Set realistic goals, and develop a personal positive link between the tasks and the concrete, meaningful goals.
- Restructure activities of daily life.
- Modify your environment for that newly gained perspective. For example, eliminate or minimize noise or distraction; put effort into relevant matters; reduce day-dreaming.
- Discipline yourself to the priorities you set.
- Motivate yourself with enjoyable activities, socializing and constructive hobbies.
- Tackle issues in small blocks of time, instead of trying to solve whole problems at once and then be intimidated.
- To prevent relapse, reinforce your pre-set goals based on needs and allow yourself to be rewarded in a balanced way for accomplished tasks.
Making a plan to complete tasks in a rigid schedule format might not work for everyone. There is no hard-and-fast rule to follow such a process if it turns out to be counter-productive. Instead of scheduling, it may be better to execute tasks in a flexible, unstructured schedule which has time slots for only necessary activities.
Piers Steel suggests that better time management is a key to overcoming procrastination, including being aware of and using one's "power hours" (being a "morning person" or "night owl"). A good approach is to creatively tap one's internal circadian rhythms that are best suited for the most challenging and productive work. Steel says that it is essential to have realistic goals, to tackle one problem at a time and to cherish the "small successes". Ann McGee-Cooper says that "if we learn to balance excellence in work with excellence in play, fun, and relaxation, our lives become happier, healthier, and a great deal more creative."[better source needed]
John Perry through his "Structured Procrastination" from a lived experience proposes a "cheat" method as a safer approach for tackling procrastination: using a pyramid scheme to reinforce the unpleasant tasks needed to be completed, in a quasi-prioritized order.
For some people, procrastination can be persistent and tremendously disruptive to everyday life. For these individuals, procrastination may be symptomatic of a psychological disorder. Procrastination has been linked to a number of negative associations, such as depression, irrational behaviour, low self-esteem, anxiety, poor study habits, and neurological disorders such as ADHD. Others have found relationships with guilt and stress. Therefore, it is important for people whose procrastination has become chronic and is perceived to be debilitating to seek out a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.
With a distant deadline, procrastinators report significantly less stress and physical illness than do non-procrastinators. However, as the deadline approaches, this relationship is reversed. Procrastinators report more stress, more symptoms of physical illness, and more medical visits, to the extent that, overall, procrastinators suffer more stress and health problems.
This section possibly contains original research. (March 2013)
As noted above, procrastination is consistently found to be strongly correlated with conscientiousness, and moderately so with impulsiveness.
Though the reasons for the relationship are not clear, there also exists a relationship between procrastination and eveningness; that is, those who procrastinate more are more likely to go to sleep later and wake later. It is known that conscientiousness increases across the lifespan, as does morningness. Procrastination too decreases with age. However, even controlling for age, there still exists a relationship between procrastination and eveningness, which is yet to be explained.
Testing the hypothesis that procrastinators have less of a focus on the future due to a greater focus on more immediate concerns, college undergraduates completed several self-report questionnaires, which did indeed find that procrastinators focus less on the future. Researchers had also expected to find that procrastination would be associated with a hedonistic and "devil-may-care" perspective on the present; against their expectations, they found that procrastination was better predicted by a fatalistic and hopeless attitude towards life. This finding fits well with previous research relating procrastination and depression.
According to an Educational Science Professor, Hatice Odacı, academic procrastination is a significant problem during college years in part because many college students lack efficient time management skills in using the internet. Also, Odacı notes that most colleges provide free and fast twenty-four-hour internet service which some students are not usually accustomed to, and as a result of irresponsible use or lack of firewalls these students become engulfed in a world of procrastination.
"Student syndrome" refers to the phenomenon where a student will begin to fully apply himself or herself to a task only immediately before a deadline. This negates the usefulness of any buffers built into individual task duration estimates. Results from a 2002 study indicate that many students are aware of procrastination and accordingly set binding deadlines long before the date for which a task is due. These self-imposed binding deadlines are correlated with a better performance than without binding deadlines though performance is best for evenly spaced external binding deadlines. Finally, students have difficulties optimally setting self-imposed deadlines, with results suggesting a lack of spacing before the date at which results are due. In one experiment, participation in online exercises was found to be five times higher in the final week before a deadline than in the summed total of the first three weeks for which the exercises were available. Procrastinators end up being the ones doing most of the work in the final week before a deadline.
Other reasons cited on why students procrastinate include fear of failure and success, perfectionist expectations, as well as legitimate activities that may take precedence over school work, such as a job.
Procrastinators have been found to receive worse grades than non-procrastinators. Tice et al. (1997) report that more than one-third of the variation in final exam scores could be attributed to procrastination. The negative association between procrastination and academic performance is recurring and consistent. Howell et al. (2006) found that, though scores on two widely used procrastination scales were not significantly associated with the grade received for an assignment, self-report measures of procrastination on the assessment itself were negatively associated with grade.
Different findings emerge when observed and self-report procrastination are compared. Steel et al. constructed their own scales based on Silver and Sabini’s "irrational" and "postponement" criteria. They also sought to measure this behavior objectively. During a course, students could complete exam practice computer exercises at their own pace, and during the supervised class time could also complete chapter quizzes. A weighted average of the times at which each quiz was finished formed the measure of observed procrastination, whilst observed irrationality was quantified with the number of practice exercises that were left uncompleted. Researchers found that there was only a moderate correlation between observed and self-reported procrastination (r = 0.35). There was a very strong inverse relationship between the number of exercises completed and the measure of postponement (r = −0.78). Observed procrastination was very strongly negatively correlated with course grade (r = −0.87), as was self-reported procrastination (though less so, r = −0.36). As such, self-reported measures of procrastination, on which the majority of the literature is based, may not be the most appropriate measure to use in all cases. It was also found that procrastination itself may not have contributed significantly to poorer grades. Steel et al. noted that those students who completed all of the practice exercises "tended to perform well on the final exam no matter how much they delayed."
Procrastination is considerably more widespread in students than in the general population, with over 70 percent of students reporting procrastination for assignments at some point. A recent panel study from Germany among several thousand university students found that increasing academic procrastination increases the frequency of seven different forms of academic misconduct, i.e., using fraudulent excuses, plagiarism, copying from someone else in exams, using forbidden means in exams, carrying forbidden means into exams, copying parts of homework from others, fabrication or falsification of data and the variety of academic misconduct. This study argues that academic misconduct can be seen as a means to cope with the negative consequences of academic procrastination such as performance impairment.
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- Life skills
- African time
- Attention economy
- Avoidant personality disorder
- Distributed Practice
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Postponement of affect
- Resistance (creativity)
- Emotional self-regulation
- Attention management
- Decision making
- Temporal motivation theory
- Time management
- Trait theory
- Pomodoro Technique
- Time perception
- Work aversion
- Egosyntonic and egodystonic
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- Impulse control
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- CalPoly — Procrastination — Analysis of dilatory behavior and possible cures