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Title: Procrastination  
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Subject: Time management, Temporal motivation theory, Ambivalence, Workaholics Anonymous, Self-discrepancy theory
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Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished.[1] 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.[2] 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."[3] 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.[4]

Behavioural criteria

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.[5] 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."[6] 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.[6]

Psychological perspective

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.[7] Some psychologists cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.[8] 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.[9]


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.[10] 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."[6]

Coping responses

The stoic philosopher Epictetus held that "Men are not moved by events but by their interpretations". Negative coping response's of individuals to procrastination tends to be avoidant or emotional rather than task orientated or focused on problem-solving. Emotional and avoidant oriented coping is employed to reduce stress (and cognitive dissonance) associated with putting off intended and important personal goals, an option that provides immediate pleasure and is, consequently, very attractive to impulsive procrastinators at very first knowledge of achievable goals.[11][12] There are several identified emotion oriented strategies, similar to Freudian defense mechanisms, coping styles and self-handicapping.

Coping responses of procrastinators include using 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 out in satisfaction what one achieved in the meantime while s/he should have been doing something else.
  • Blaming: Delusional attributions on external factors like rationalizing that the cause of 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. A person uses the slapstick or slipshod tools to criticise others' aspirational striving towards goal as funny.
  • Laziness: Procrastinating simply because one is too lazy to focus on her/his desired task.

Task or problem-solving oriented measures are taxing from a procrastinator 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.[13] 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 reason to believe that they will take only that moment".[14] Steel et al. explained in 2001, "actions must be postponed and this postponement must represent poor, inadequate, or inefficient planning".[15]

Health perspective

A research on the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, where underactivation is common.[17]

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.[6] 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.[18]

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.[19] 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."[19]

Cultural perspective


Psychologist William J. Knaus estimated that 90% of college students procrastinate.[20] 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,[21] 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,[22] 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 & priorities.
  • Set realistic goals: develop an intrapersonal positive link between the task and the concrete, meaningful goals.
  • Restructure activities of daily life.
  • Modify your environment to the newly gained perspective. E.g. Eliminate or minimize noise/ distraction; Put effort in relevant matters; Reduce day-dreaming ...etc.
  • Discipline yourself to the set priorities.
  • Motivate yourself through activities, socializing and using downtime for constructive hobbies.
  • Tackle issues in small blocks (instead of looking to solve whole problems at once and be intimidated.)
  • To prevent relapse, re-enforce 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 is best to execute tasks in a flexible, unstructured schedule which only have necessary slots of activity.[23]

Piers Steel suggests[24] that better time management is a key to overcoming procrastination; being aware and utilizing one's "Power hours" ("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 and 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."[25]

John Perry through his "Structured Procrastination" from a lived experience proposes a cheat method as a safer approach to tackling procrastination: using a pyramid scheme to reinforce the unpleasant tasks needed to be completed, in priority.

Negative impact

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,[26] and neurological disorders such as ADHD. Others have found relationships with guilt[27] and stress.[26] 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,[26] to the extent that, overall, procrastinators suffer more stress and health problems.


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 to say that 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.[28] Procrastination too decreases with age.[6] 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.[29] This finding fits well with previous research relating procrastination and depression.[2]


According to an Educational Science Professor, Hatice Odacı, academic procrastination is a significant problem during college years because many college students lack efficient time management skills required to make good use of the internet. Also, Odacı notes that most colleges provide free and fast twenty-four hour internet service which their 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.[30]

"Student syndrome" refers to the phenomenon where a student will only begin to fully apply themselves to a task 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 costly binding deadlines long before the date for which the task is due. Furthermore, 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 tasks are due.[31] 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.[15]

Other reasons cited on why students procrastinate include fear of failure and success, perfectionist expectations as well as legitimate activities, which may take precedence over school work (like a job).[32]

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[2][33] 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.[34]

Different findings emerge when observed and self-report procrastination are contrasted. 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.[15] 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-report 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-report procrastination (though less so, r = −0.36). As such, self-report 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.[35] 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.[36] 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.

Media & Literature


The term's first known appearance was in Edward Hall's The Union of the Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York, first published sometime before 1548.[37]

In films

  • A Clockwork Orange (1971): Story of Alex DeLarge, a procrastinator who has dwindled down to a risky social pathology.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011): Story of Kevin Khatchadourian, an unchecked "free-range" chronic procrastinator whose delusions and laid back attitude fueled coping through a violent crime and incarceration.
  • Rodrick Rules: Greg Heffley, an antagonist, but often procrastinates because he hates work.


In television series

Procrastibaking: During a TV episode of The Great British Bake Off one contestant described her willingness to defer important activities in favor of baking almost anything. This technique was described as 'procrastibaking'. Within a few days other similar definitions were seen in the media - procrastichatting, procrastiblogging and similarly.[39]

See also


  1. ^ Olpin and Hesson, 2013
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Sabini, J. & Silver, M. (1982) Moralities of everyday life, p.128
  15. ^ a b c Steel, P., Brothen, T., Wambach, C., (2001) Procrastination and personality, performance and mood [1]
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^ Ellis and Knaus, 1977
  21. ^ Hillary Rettig (2011), The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block
  22. ^ James Prochaska, 1995
  23. ^ Burka & Yuen (1990), Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It
  24. ^ The Procrastination Equation, 2012
  25. ^ Time management for unmanageable people, 1983
  26. ^ a b c Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997) Longitudinal Study of Procrastination, Performance, Stress, and Health: The Costs and Benefits of Dawdling [2]
  27. ^
  28. ^ Duffy, J. F., Czeisler, C. A., (2002) Age-related change in the relationship between circadian period, circadian phase, and diurnal preference in humans.
  29. ^ Jackson, T., Fritch, A., Nagasaka, T., Pope, L., (2003)
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Tuckman, B. W., (1991) The Development and Concurrent Validity of the Procrastination Scale [3]
  34. ^ Howell, A. J., Watson, D. C., Powell, R. A., Buro, K. (2006) Academic procrastination: The pattern and correlates of behavioral postponement [4]
  35. ^
  36. ^ Patrzek, J., Sattler, S., van Veen, F., Grunschel, C., Fries, S. (2014). Investigating the effect of academic procrastination on the frequency and variety of academic misconduct: a panel study. Studies in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/03075079.2013.854765
  37. ^ Procrastination. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989).
  38. ^
  39. ^

Further reading

  • Steel, Piers (2010). The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. New York: HarperCollins.
  • We're Sorry This Is Late ... We Really Meant To Post It Sooner: Research Into Procrastination Shows Surprising Findings; Gregory Harris;; Jan. 10, 2007 (their source)
  • Why We Procrastinate And How To Stop;; Jan. 12, 2009
  • Perry, John (2012). The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing. New York: Workman.
Impulse control
  • Look Before You Leap: New Study Examines Self-Control;; June 2, 2008
  • Integrating Theories of Motivation, Academy of Management Review 2006, Vol. 31, No. 4, 889–913

External links

  • CalPoly — Procrastination — Analysis of dilatory behavior and possible cures
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