Procrastination is nothing new. In 700 B.C., the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod proclaimed his tendency against procrastination in a poem, “Work and Days.” He said, “Do not put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.” Conversely, years later, Mark Twain quipped, “never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow just as well.”
Research psychologist Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D. stated, “While everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator.” In fact, according to Dr. Ferrari, only 20% of people are likely be chronic procrastinators.
Procrastination is a breakdown of self-regulation. It is a delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that such a delay is likely to be detrimental. Having a poor concept of time may contribute to the process, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be central to procrastination.
Many people consider procrastination to be a trivial issue, or at worst, a minor inconvenience. Such people frequently assert that it does not matter when a task gets done, as long as it is actually finished. Some even believe they work best under pressure. John Perry, Ph.D. author of the book The Art of Procrastination, argued that procrastination has benefits. However, most other researchers disagree.
Neuropsychologists have also shown interest in procrastination. The brain’s frontal lobes control what are termed, “executive functions,” which self-regulation, problem-solving, planning, self-control, etc.
Neuropsychologist Laura Rabin, Ph.D. wrote, “Given the role of executive functioning in the initiation and completion of complex behaviors, it was surprising to me that previous research had not systematically examined the relationship between aspects of executive functioning and academic procrastination—a behavior I see regularly in students but have yet to fully understand, and by extension help remediate.” Consequently, Dr. Rabin evaluated several hundred students. She initially assessed their level of procrastination, but then she also evaluated nine aspects of executive functioning: impulsivity, self-monitoring, planning and organization, activity-shifting, task-initiation, task-monitoring, emotional control, working memory, and general orderliness. Dr. Rabin’s research showed significant correlations between levels of procrastination and all nine aspects of executive functioning. Although Dr. Rabin noted that the correlations did not prove the that executive functioning directly cause the procrastination, she believed that procrastination might be an “expression of subtle executive dysfunction.”
Regardless of the underlying cause, behavioral techniques can help people to break the procrastination habit. People can learn to more effectively manage time and learn how to better emotions better, which can reduce the tendency to procrastinate. By following several simple steps, people can learn to be timelier:
- Define your goals: Once you have identified your goals in clear terms, you can begin to plan a way to accomplish them.
- Prioritize: By prioritizing tasks, you can determine which tasks you need to focus on first. This will ensure that you don’t end up procrastinating by wasting time on trivial tasks while neglecting important ones.
- Restructure your environment: By removing distractions, you are more likely to focus on the task at hand.
- Take baby steps: Break large tasks into small achievable pieces. This allows you to enjoy success.
- Get started: Begin by committing to working for a short period of time, and track your success.
- Reward yourself: It is important to give yourself an immediate reward for starting a task. The reward can be small, it should occur shortly after you have taken action.
Procrastination can be a difficult pattern to break, but with effort and a plan, change can occur today . . . or maybe tomorrow.
Dr. Kenneth Freundlich, the Morris Psychological Group’s Managing Partner, heads the Neuropsychology and Consulting Divisions. With over 35 years of experience, Dr. Freundlich’s practice is exclusively devoted to neuropsychological evaluation and management consultation.