There are few people that would deny the existence of procrastination. However, there exists some disagreement as to what causes procrastination. Some people believe it to be sheer laziness, or poor time-management, while other psychologists, like Pychyl, strongly argue that procrastination is an emotional response at its core.
There is also some controversy surrounding how to overcome procrastination. How can we motivate ourselves? Some people argue that extrinsic motivation is a useful way to motivate others or oneself. Enjoying a reward after completing a task, such as a candy bar, might persuade you to associate positive emotions with it. However, research has also shown that once an extrinsic motivation is introduced, we lose our intrinsic desire to do the task, and become even less motivated when the reward is removed. This is known as the overjustification effect.
Another strategy is the Eisenhower Matrix. This time-management separates tasks based on their urgency and importance, and can therefore remind us to tackle ‘important’ tasks first. Of course, some argue that having an extensive to-do list can cause us to feel overwhelmed and anxious, negative feelings which may diminish motivation.11
Don’t Procrastinate on Your Health
People often loosely throw around the term procrastination. Since it is something most people experience at one time or another, we don’t tend to think of it too seriously. However, some research suggests that procrastination doesn’t just impact your efficiency; it can impact your health as well.
Psychologist Fuschia Sirois suggests that procrastination negatively impacts our health in two ways. For one, when we continuously delay tasks, we are likely to face a great deal of stress about missed deadlines. Stress can have severe impacts on our health, such as headaches, digestive issues, colds, insomnia, and at its very worst, cardiovascular disease. Moreover, procrastinators – especially chronic procrastinators – procrastinate in almost all areas of their lives. That means they also put off things like exercise or going to the doctor for regular checkups.12
Sirois suggests two particular coping mechanisms that cause procrastinators to feel more stress: behavioral disengagement and self-blame. Sirois found that in her study, those who used these two coping mechanisms had a tendency to reduce efforts in difficult task and blaming the procrastination on a personal flaw, respectively, were more likely to have a diagnosis of hypertension or cardiovascular disease.12
Is Procrastination Always Bad?
The term procrastination carries a negative connotation. One explanation of procrastination is a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually do.
However, what if people intend to procrastinate? German psychologists Axel Grund and Stefan Fries suggest that procrastination may not be a failure to follow through on our intentions, but rather to have those intentions in the first place.13 They suggest that people who tend to procrastinate actually might have different goals than people who are better at accomplishing tasks on time. For example, procrastinators may prioritize their mental health, which is negatively impacted by the pressure to meet deadlines. The fact that people procrastinate more these days might then be a reflection of increasingly liberal values, such as mental well-being.
Grund and Fries therefore understand procrastination as situational, rather than a moral failure. To test their hypothesis, the pair conducted a study that examined the values of procrastinators. After surveying over 200 undergraduate students, Grund and Fries found that there was a correlation between procrastination and values of personal enjoyment and wellbeing. They also found that students tended to procrastinate less on tasks they had set for themselves, suggesting that procrastination might be a response to tasks that don’t align with one’s personal goals. Grund and Fries concluded that procrastinators should not always be regarded as morally deficient, but rather as people who have personal priorities and strong intrinsic motivations.13