Stop Avoiding and Start Doing!
You know the saying “time is money,” right? Everything we do always comes down to how much time we hold in our hands. Yet, the ease with which we spend time, a socially constructed medium of exchange, is awfully disturbing given how frugal people can be with their money. In fact, it is estimated that 20-25% of people chronically delay completing their work worldwide. While money flows in and out of the cash register, time does not quite behave like that. Once it is gone, it is gone for good.
Before you start scratching your head and have massive anxiety attacks about how much time you have already wasted checking Instagram pictures and daydreaming about summer, rest assured that there is hope for all of us! While procrastination is as sticky as caramel on a chocolate-y summer fudge, it can be managed. Just accept that you got your hands “sticky,” and then, wash it away.
“Only lazy people procrastinate” is a myth
There is a widespread misconception about delayers being “couch potatoes” in general. While it is true that chronic procrastinators carry a heavy bag of excuses in their back pocket, attacking the issue through criticizing people’s personalities is a useless effort to get them back to work.
As research shows, personality traits do not necessarily cause procrastination. For example, in a study by Turkish researcher, Bilge Uzun Özer and colleagues (Middle East Technical University) it was found that 52% of college students report frequently engaging in dilatory behavior. While fear of failure especially keeps female students from completing their work on time, males tend to procrastinate out of rebellion against authority.
High impulsivity and low conscientiousness, on the other hand, are thoroughly investigated personality characteristics that are associated with procrastination. Joseph Ferrari who is an internationally acclaimed psychology professor from DePaul University, suggests that these particular traits create just the “perfect storm” for self-control problems which lead people to avoid completing time-stamped work.
Procrastinators report more illnesses
Constantly waiting for “later” to finish work does not just create mental stress and result in low-quality work, but also may make students vulnerable to illnesses. In a 1997 study, psychologists, Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister (Currently at Florida State University) found that while students who chronically procrastinate do seem to benefit from their “carefree” attitude early on in the semester, they actually get sicker towards the end of the year. In a sense, the happy-go-lucky outlook some hold regarding work and responsibilities easily paves the way for “everything is fine” illusion when it is a serious sign that we are simply avoiding what needs our immediate attention.
Then, why do people intentionally procrastinate across a variety of everyday situations even though they expect to be eventually stressed out and crunched for time? In a 2001 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Tice and colleagues found that emotion regulation strategies play a key role in predicting whether or not students procrastinate. When primed to believe that their mood was fixed, students did not procrastinate before an intelligence test. However, those who believed that their mood could improve delayed practice until the very end. Thus, chronic delayers may focus on making themselves feel better in the moment and ignore reflecting on the consequences of their impulsive behaviors.
In addition, as psychology professor, Michael Berzonsky’s (SUNY Cortland) research points out, students who habitually avoid doing homework along with those who seek every opportunity to “buy more time,” might voluntarily wait as long as possible just to see “what will happen.” As opposed to focusing on the task at hand, they may “wish the situation away” in an attempt to divert their attention from conflicts about their interests.
Stop the vicious cycle
Recent research shows that procrastination is not merely a time-management problem but a crumbling of self-control mechanisms. In order to stop this cycle of delay-stress-crunch, our emotion regulation muscles need to hit the gym!
- Try to stick with the deadlines set by your instructors as best as you can. If you do have to plan your own deadlines, though, create evenly spaced “check zones” in your agenda to track your progress. For example, if you have a month to complete a project, check-in with yourself every week to stay on top of your to-do list. That way, you will break up your work into manageable chunks instead of trying to do everything in the last 2 days (dare we say the night before!).
- That homework will not disappear into thin air. Wishing that you did not have to do whatever that you really need to do is a critical sign that your emotions are getting the best of you. So, try to stay present with any difficulties that might emerge from the work you are to complete and do seek help if you need to.
- Take practical steps to improve your performance for the next assignment if you do end up putting off your work until the last minute. Do not let extreme confidence fool you into thinking that you will magically write that 10-page report the next time around. Instead of thinking about how you could have failed your class by not turning in anything, reflect on what you could have done to complete all 10 pages before the deadline.
- 1. Ariely, D., & Wertenbroch, K. (2002). Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: Self-control by precommitment. Psychological Science, 13(3), 219-224.
- 2. Berzonsky, M. D. (1992). Identity style and coping strategies. Journal of Personality, 60(4), 771-788.
- 3. Ferrari, R. J., & Díaz-Morales, J. F. (2014). Procrastination and mental health coping: A brief report related to students. Individual Differences Research, 12(1), 8-11.
- 4. Sirois, M. F. (2004). Procrastination and counterfactual thinking: Avoiding what might have been. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 269-286.
- 5. Tice, D., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The cost and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8(6), 454-458.
- 6. Uzun Özer, B., Demir, A., & Ferrari, R. J. (2009). Exploring academic procrastination among Turkish students: Possible gender differences in prevalence and reasons. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149(2), 241-257.