Motivation and emotion/Book/2010/Procrastination

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"Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment."
- Robert Benchley

Test Yourself: Are you a Procrastinator?

Do you think you procrastinate? This is probably a question you are able to answer reasonably well yourself, however if you are interested in finding out where you rate as a procrastinator compared to others, you can take a survey at Procrastination Central.

Do you sometimes find yourself cleaning your room, surfing the web, or watching a movie when you should be writing an essay that is due next week? Or, more generally, do you procrastinate? Procrastination is something that we all do to some extent, and for some, to the fullest extent possible (Schraw, Wadkins, & Olafson, 2007).

The prevalence of procrastination around the world appears to be relatively stable with 20% of adults self-reporting as chronic procrastinators, of whom, 11.5% identify as arousal procrastinators and 9.5% as avoidant procrastinators (see Table 1) (Ferrari, O'Callaghan, & Newbegin, 2005). Arousal procrastinators are those who procrastinate in order to feel the 'thrill' of rushing to meet a deadline. These individuals are usually impulsive, easily distractible and often have poor organisational skills. Avoidant procrastinators procrastinate because they fear failure. They use procrastination as a self handicapping strategy so that they can attribute their poor performance to environmental causes.

What makes procrastination such an interesting phenomenon is that it is maladaptive, irrational, and causes psychological pain (Steel, 2009). It is assumed that individuals do not consciously engage in behaviour that will be detrimental to them, so, one can hypothesise that at some level procrastinators must ‘believe’ that they will successfully complete the task regardless of the delay (Sigall, Kruglanski, & Fyock, 2000). This irrational belief has also been called ‘wishful thinking’ (Sigall et al.).

By the end of this chapter it is expected that you will understand the causes of procrastination (focusing on demographic and psychological reasons, task characteristics, and the temporal motivation theory), the effects of procrastination and whether it is possible to change our procrastination tendencies. We will also briefly look at the history of procrastination and whether or not it is a modern phenomenon.

Table 1

Prevalence of Procrastination Around the World (%)

Country Avoidant Procrastination Arousal Procrastination
Australia 15.3 14.4
England 13.8 10.9
United States 15.5 16.1
Turkey 13.8 14.7
Spain 14.6 13.1
Peru 14.9 12.4
Venezuela 15.2 15.6

Note. Adapted from "Chronic Procrastination Among Turkish Adults: Exploring Decisional, Avoidant, and Arousal Styles," by J. R. Ferrari, B. U. Ozer and A. Demir, 2009, Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 302-308.


"Never do today what can be put off until tomorrow."
- Humphrey Bogart
Wiktionary-logo.svg Look up Procrastination in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

The word ‘procrastination’ comes from the Latin word ‘pro,’ which means “forward, forth, or in favour of’ and ‘crastinus’ which means “of tomorrow” (Steel, 2009). Basically it is the process of voluntarily delaying a task or decision until a later time, often resulting in a negative affect (Blanchard & Gottry, 2004; Hess, Sherman, & Goodman, 2000; Steel, 2007).

It is important to distinguish procrastination from decision avoidance (Anderson, 2003). Decision avoidance is the tendency to avoid making a choice which results in no action or change, whilst procrastination involves the intention to complete a task at some point in the future, but stalling during the current time.

History of Procrastination[edit]

"Procrastination Through the Ages: A Definitive History"

Annie IP's joke -2- wikiWölfchens Späßchen.png

An elaborate joke was played by Paul Ringenback. He ‘published’ a book in 1971 called, “Procrastination Through the Ages: A Definitive History.” This book has been cited in articles by Knaus (as cited by Steel, 2007; 2009), however, as Steel (2007) states, the search is not recommended! An investigation carried out by Aitkin (as cited by Steel, 2007) found that the work was never actually written (a book on procrastination that was never completed!) It was an amusing academic joke played by Ringenback.

Some researchers have stated that procrastination is a modern phenomenon which only emerged after the industrial revolution when there was a sudden increase in commitments, deadlines, and scheduling. Steel (2007, 2009), however, found comments about procrastination as early as 800BC. In approximately 800BC Hesiod, a Greek poet wrote;

“Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work: industry makes work go well, but a man who puts off work is always at hands-grips with ruin (Works and Days, 1.413)” (Steel, 2007, p. 67).

Steel (2007, 2009) also found comments by Thucydides in 400BC who identified procrastination as the most criticised of character traits, by Cicero the Counsel of Rome in 44BC who stated that “In the conduct of almost every affair slowness and procrastination are hateful,” (2007, p. 66) and by Englishman John Lyly in his 1579 book, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, where it is written that there is “Nothing so perilous as procrastination” (2007, p. 66). Procrastination has therefore clearly been recognised as a detrimental personal trait, throughout the ages.

Causes of Procrastination: Amotivation or A Stronger Motivation to Do Something Else?[edit]

There are a number of hypothesised reasons as to why people procrastinate. This chapter focuses on the most regularly cited causes. We will look at demographic and psychological causes, task characteristics, and the Temporal Motivation Theory. For a summary of the main predictors of procrastination see Table 3 and 4.

Demographics and Attributions[edit]

Table 2
Fraudulent Excuses Provided by Students to Validate Procrastination
Excuses Mean % of students who have used it
Alarm failed to go off 10.5%
Overslept 16.7%
Computer failed to work 3.9%
Left paper in dorm room 8.35%
Was out of town 8.85%
Personally sick 28.78%
Best friend died 0.65%
Grandmother died 2.25%
Grandfather died 0.7%
Family Emergency 9.5%
Did Not Understand the assignment 15.76%

Note. Adapted from "The antecedents and consequences of academic excuse-making: Examining Individual Differences in Procrastination," by J. R. Ferrari, S. M. Keane, R. N. Wolfe and B. L. Beck, 1998, Research in Higher Education, 39, 199-215.

There does not appear to be any research indicating that gender or ethnicity have a significant main effect on procrastination (Ferrari, Keane, Wolfe, & Beck, 1998; Ferrari et al., 2005; Kachgal, Hansen, & Nutter, 2001). There has been evidence to suggest however, that gender and university type may influence procrastination through various attributions).

In an American study by Meyer (2000) an interaction between gender and reasons for procrastination was found; men tended to procrastinate on tasks where it would not affect their likelihood of success, whereas women tended to procrastinate on tasks where it would not affect their likelihood of failure. The author suggests that this is because women tend to attribute success to luck, and failure to ability, where men are more likely to attribute successful performance to ability, and therefore will do all that is possible to maximise their chance of success.

Another study found a significant effect for type of university, where students from prestigious universities were more likely to procrastinate than those from less prestigious universities (Ferrari et al., 1998) (see Table 2 for a list of fraudulent excuses provided by the students). A similar explanation was provided, whereby students who are high achievers (those in the prestigious university) were more likely to attribute poor performance to environmental causes such as their procrastination, resulting in a lack of time to complete the task to their full potential. These studies suggest that individuals who have a [[w:Self-schema|self-schema] based on success (males and those in prestigious universities) will act in a way that will result in an outcome consistent with their self-schema. Men will not procrastinate if they feel it might jeopardise their chance of success (which they see as an internal attribution) and those in prestigious universities will procrastinate if it provides them an external attribution for failure.

In his meta-analysis, Steel (2007) found a strong negative correlation between procrastination and age (r = -.48) - older people procrastinate less - where all participants are over the age of 12. However if any participants are under the age of 12 the correlation drops to -.15, which may explain why some studies found no main effect for age (Ferrari, et al., 1998; 2005). Other studies have also found that levels of procrastination drop as the level of education increases. Participants with a graduate degree were found to have the lowest levels of procrastination and participants with less than a high school degree with the highest (Ferrari, Ozer, & Demir, 2009). This could indicate that as one moves through the education system, that one learns to control procrastination tendencies, or, those that cannot control their motivation to procrastinate are more likely to drop out due to failure to complete tasks successfully.


Within the literature there have many attempts to clearly and concisely state the causes of procrastination; the most comprehensive article to date appears to be that by Steel (2007, 2009) who describes it in terms of trait characteristics.

Avoidant Procrastination: Self-Worth and Self-Esteem[edit]

Avoidant procrastination occurs when one procrastinates in order to delay starting a task. This type of procrastination is associated with self-esteem, fear of failure, depression, and anxiety. Avoidant procrastination can be particularly detrimental as it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where avoidance is positively reinforced and therefore continued.

A common explanation as to why people procrastinate is a fear of failure and the need to protect their self-esteem, in other words, procrastination is seen as a self-handicapping strategy (Diaz-Morales, Ferrari, & Cohen, 2008; Fee & Tangney, 2000; Ferrari & Díaz-Morales, 2007; Ferrari, et al., 1998; Hess, et al., 2000; Schraw, et al., 2007; Senecal, Lavoie, & Koestner, 1997; Steel, 2009). If someone is able to provide an external explanation for why they did not perform to their optimal potential (“I had to do all of it the night before it was due”) he/she is able to lower his/her performance standards, and failure is then not seen as a personal inadequacy. This self-handicapping explanation for procrastination has strong evidence with a meta-analysis finding a mean correlation between self-handicapping and procrastination of .46 (Steel, 2007). Further support is seen in the study by Kachgal et al. (2001) where students stated they procrastinate because they were “worried that I would get a bad grade” and “convinced that I wouldn’t meet my own expectations” (p. 4). It is important to remember however that procrastination is only one form of self-handicapping and because someone procrastinates on occasion, does not necessarily indicate that the person is a self-handicapper. Self-handicappers are likely to do more to harm their efforts then simply delay them (Steel, 2007).

Procrastination can also be a symptom of depression or anxiety, particularly in neurotic individuals (Hess, et al., 2000; Senecal, et al., 1997; Stainton, Lay, & Flett, 2000). This correlation exists because of a few suggested reasons. The first explanation is that people who are susceptible to the stress brought on by the overwhelming prospect of a task, cope by simply avoiding it (Diaz-Morales, et al., 2008). Another suggestion is that people who are depressed are simply too tired and unmotivated to start tasks (Steel, 2007). Steel (2007) further hypotheses that it may be due to depressed individuals' inability to take pleasure in any of life’s activities and their inability to concentrate.

An interesting suggestion by Hess et al. (2000) is that procrastination is due to individual circadian rhythms where neuroticism is a predictor of the evening trait (where individuals have more energy in the evening). Circadian rhythm activity has been found to be associated with how people encode, store and retrieve information, and therefore, also associated with academic achievement; with morning-trait individuals (individuals who have more energy in the morning) having higher Grade Point Averages than their afternoon- or evening-trait peers. Hess et al. therefore suggests that evening-trait individuals are more neurotic and have less ability to succeed which results in them avoiding tasks by procrastinating.

Whether one procrastinates because they are overwhelmed by the prospect of the task, or they are scared of failure, the process of procrastination can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (Ramsay, 2002). Individuals with procrastination tendencies report that they focus more on past failures than they do on possible future accomplishments (Specter & Ferrari, 2000). This can be seen in a case study of a 25 year old patient (Michael) who had recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Ramsay found that Michael had developed a core belief of failure based on constructions of past performances. From those constructions he developed conditional beliefs like “If I set a goal, I will not achieve it and will be disappointed. Therefore, if I do not set goals for myself, then I will not be disappointed.” (p. 84). Because the act of procrastinating is rewarding (one does not fail or feel stressed) individuals are more likely to continue to procrastinate as they will never receive the different (more rewarding) feedback of completing a task to their full potential, and so the self-fulfilling cycle of procrastination will continue.

Interestingly, procrastination has not only been related to low self-esteem but also high self-esteem, particularly in narcissists (Sigall et al., 2000). It has been found that wishful thinking (the belief that you will successfully complete a task in a short period of time) is related to high self-esteem as people feel they are superior to others and need less time to complete the task, and therefore can afford to procrastinate.

Feel Like Procrastinating?

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You Should Keep Reading Though!

Arousal Procrastination: Self Control[edit]

"I can resist everything except temptation"
Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan
(1982) by Oscar Wilde

Arousal procrastination occurs when one procrastinates so that they are able to feel the ‘thrill’ that occurs when rushing to get something done in a short period of time. It has been associated with levels of impulsiveness, distractibility, and organisational skills.

Individuals have stated that one of the reasons they procrastinate is to experience the pleasurable arousal created when one is rushing to meet a deadline (Ferrari & Díaz-Morales, 2007). Many students state that they are unable to, “get into the flow unless I’m under pressure” (Schraw et al., 2007). Procrastinating in order to experience ‘flow’ appears to especially occur when the task is seen as boring or irrelevant to personal needs (Schraw, et al.,).

Impulsiveness and procrastination have also been found to be related with a correlation of .41 (Steel, 2007). Individuals who are impulsive are prone to procrastination as they do not have a clear picture of what is important. This lack of insight results in a reduced commitment to broader goals and important tasks, leaving individuals susceptible to the temptation of short term rewards (like going out with friends) (Blanchard & Gottry, 2004). Further evidence that impulsiveness can result in procrastination was provided in the meta-analysis by Steel (2007) where it was found that neurotic individuals are prone to procrastination not because of their anxiety, but their impulsiveness.

Students have stated that common barriers to completing academic work include the balancing of activities and time management, and the pressure to stay focused (Kachgal, et al., 2001). How well an individual can ignore distractions and stay focused on the task at hand has a correlation with procrastination of .45 for distractibility and -.58 for self-control and discipline (Steel, 2007). Self-control is necessary for individuals when trying to overcome procrastination as this is what allows us to override dominant behaviours which may be destructive, irrational or undesirable in the long term (Oaten & Cheng, 2006). One’s ability to organise one's time effectively is strongly related to procrastination with a correlation of -.38 (Steel, 2007). Further evidence for the association with organisation was found in a study by Senecal et al. (1997) who showed that in a laboratory setting individuals who rated themselves as trait-procrastinators managed their time more poorly than non-trait procrastinators. This was particularly so when they were expecting to be evaluated on the task.

Steel (2007) has suggested that because procrastinators appear to be low in conscientiousness, self-control, and self-regulatory behaviour, and high in impulsiveness and distractibility, that they may have an overactive Behavioural Activation System (BAS). Having an overactive BAS may also cause individuals to make rapid decisions and have shorter attention spans, both of which can contribute to procrastination.

Psychological Reactance[edit]

Italian ice cream.jpg

A further reason why an individual may procrastinate could be attributed to psychological reactance. Psychological reactance is the motivated state directed toward the re-establishment of free behaviours which have been eliminated, or threatened with elimination (Brehm, 1966). Brehm states that at any one time an individual has any number of possible behaviours they can partake in, and that freedom of choice is beneficial to our psychological growth. In each situation an individual will generally choose a behaviour that is most likely going to maximise their satisfaction. If a person’s behavioural freedom is reduced, or threatened with reduction, the individual feels an increased amount of self-direction in regards to their own behaviour, where they feel that they can do as they like and do not have to do what others tell them. For example, if a child who originally had the choice between vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice-creams was then told by their parent that they could actually only choose between vanilla or strawberry, they will be motivated to somehow reinstate their previous freedom to choose between the three flavours.

Having a free behaviour eliminated, or threatened with elimination, does not only result in psychological reactance to have the choice available again, but also increases the overall attractiveness of that eliminated free behaviour (Hammock & Brehm, 1966). Using the example above, not only will the child be motivated to ensure they have the choice between the three flavours, they will likely choose to eat the chocolate ice-cream as it has now become far more attractive than the other two. Had they not had that choice threatened with elimination in the first place, they may have chosen strawberry or vanilla instead.

Psychological reactance may therefore result in procrastination as it is the individual’s attempt at reinstating their choice between all available behaviours. If a teacher sets an assignment due tomorrow it threatens the student’s choice of free behaviours as they must complete the assignment, rather than other behaviours such as watching television. This may then result in psychological reactance where the students attempt to reinstate their freedom of choice by procrastinating and watching television instead (the more attractive behaviour as it was threatened with elimination). This may be particularly the case in individuals who have traits of rebelliousness, hostility and disagreeableness (Steel, 2009).

Task Characteristics[edit]

Although there is strong evidence for the psychological reasons for procrastination, the most commonly stated reason by individuals as to why they procrastinate is their personal interest in the task (Fee & Tangney, 2000; Ferrari, et al., 1998; Schraw, et al., 2007; Sigall, et al., 2000) and the difficulty of the task (Ferrari, Mason, & Hammer, 2006). In the meta-analysis by Steel (2007) it was consistently found that the more individuals disliked a task, and the more anxiety-producing it was, the more they procrastinated. This was also found in a laboratory setting where 45% of participants completed the boring task last (Senecal, et al., 1997).

Whether or not the task is to be evaluated also affects levels of procrastination (Senecal, et al., 1997). Tasks that may have the greatest impact on one’s life or student’s end of unit results were found to have the greatest levels of procrastination (Kachgal, et al., 2001). This may be a result of the fear of failure which causes many to procrastinate (see Avoidant Procrastination: Self-Worth and Self-Esteem).

It is not only the task itself which is important when individuals decide to procrastinate, but also the context that it is placed in and the way it is presented (McCrea, Liberman, Trope, & Sherman, 2008). A study by Schraw, et al. (2007) found that the majority of students stated that they were more likely to procrastinate on tasks that were for classes run by well organised instructors who provide detailed outlines and offer regular feedback. The students reported that the detailed plans provided by these instructors allow them to structure their time more efficiently and they were therefore able to 'plan to procrastinate'. Schraw, et al. suggests that these types of instructors are inadvertently promoting procrastination by removing the student's autonomy which may result in psychological reactance. Students have also been found to procrastinate more on tasks which are from lower level classes, large classes, and those run by young lecturers (Ferrari, et al., 1998), or lecturers who expect less and are flexible about providing extensions (Schraw et al.).

Table 3Traits Which Are Positively Correlated With Procrastination and their Strength (r)
Trait r
Dilatory Behaviour .52
Self-handicapping .46
Distractibility .45
Impulsiveness .41
Boredom Proneness .40
Intention-action gap .29
Depression .28
Irrational Beliefs .27
Neuroticism .24

Note. Table only contains traits which had an r stronger than .2. Adapted from "The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure," by P. Steel, 2007, Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65-94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65.

Table 4Traits Which Are Negatively Correlated With Procrastination and their Strength (r)
Trait r
Conscientiousness -.62
Self-control -.58
Age (if all participants over 12yrs) -.48
Need for Achievement -.44
Self-efficacy -.38
Organisation -.36
Achievement Motivation -.35
Self-esteem -.27
Intrinsic Motivation -.26
Course GPA -.25

Note. Table only contains traits which had an r stronger than -.2. Adapted from "The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure," by P. Steel, 2007, Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65-94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65.

Temporal Motivation Theory[edit]

The temporal motivation theory combines self-control and task characteristics as an explanation for procrastination, and has found strong support with many participants indicating the importance of temporal proximity to rewards (Steel, 2007). The theory finds its roots in expectancy theory and hyperbolic discounting, and is based on the following formula (Steel, 2007):

Utility= (Expectancy ×Value)/(Γ×Delay)
  • Utility: Indicates how desirable a choice is
  • Expectancy: Indicates the chance of an outcome occurring
  • Value: Indicates how rewarding or aversive the outcome is
  • Γ: Indicates sensitivity to delay (individual levels of distractibility, impulsivity, and self control
  • Delay: Indicates how long one has to wait for the payout
Discount curve map.png

Figure 1: Discount Curve Map. When both rewards are far off, the larger reward is more appealing. As the time to recieve the smaller reward draws nearer, its utility increases beyond that of the later higher value reward.
Adapted from "Understanding Procrastination," by C. Andreou, 2007, Journal for the Theory of Social Behviour, 37, 183-193, doi:10.1111/j.1468-5914.2007.00331.x and Procrastinus by P. Steel, Retrieved from Procrastinus website:

The theory suggests that we are more likely to choose a task that has a good chance of a pleasurable outcome occurring soon (McCrea et al., 2008). When we are rewarded, or provided feedback on a task relatively instantly, we experience a sudden and intense release of stress and therefore we are likely to choose this outcome over a reward that occurs in the distant future (Schraw, et al., 2007). Consequently, individuals are likely to procrastinate over tasks that are unpleasant and/or only offer rewards in the distant future, even if they are larger rewards and procrastinating will be detrimental to them (Andreou, 2007; Steel, 2007).

An easy way to understand this theory is by viewing a discount curve map (see Figure 1) which tracks the value of a potential future reward as a function of time. When there are two rewards that are a long way off, the later, larger reward appears a superior option and we work towards that goal. However, when the sooner smaller reward becomes closer its value increases to the point that it overtakes the value of the larger, later reward (Andreou). To put this into an example, consider Jodie, a student who likes to get good grades, but also to socialise. At the start of the semester Jodie decides she is going to study all semester and be rewarded with great grades, however, on the first Friday of term her friends ask her to go out with them that night. Suddenly, the immediate reward of going out with friends has a greater value to Jodie than the distant reward of good grades (which may not even occur – expectancy), so she delays her studying to a later point in time.

Effects of Procrastination[edit]

Many students state that procrastination is not detrimental to their performance or affect. They state that it results in cognitive efficacy and peak experiences by maximising learning in a minimum amount of time (Schraw, et al., 2007). In the study by Schraw et al. students unanimously reported that increased effort late in the semester improved productivity, creativity, and quality of work because of the “adrenaline factor”. In addition, they stated that it relieves boredom, especially on tasks they do not find interesting.

Although students state that procrastination is not detrimental to them, this may be another form of ‘wishful thinking'! Throughout a semester students who rate themselves as trait procrastinators, also experienced some form of fatigue, guilt, anxiety, increased levels of irritability, and mild depression due to the stress of rushing to meet deadlines (Blanchard & Gottry, 2004; Schraw, et al., 2007; Stainton, et al., 2000; Steel, 2007).

Can We Change Our Procrastination Tendencies?[edit]

Many schools of thought have provided us with ways to stop procrastinating; these include learned industriousness, operant conditioning, energy regulation, and goal setting. Learned industriousness has emerged from classical conditioning (See also Wikipedia) and states that hard work which is rewarded, will eventually become rewarding for its own sake (Steel, 2009). We can also see the opposite occur in learned helplessness, where if you continue to fail at a task a self-defeating prophecy will occur. This suggests that if we set up tasks for ourselves which will lead to success we will begin to see the work itself as rewarding and are therefore more likely to do it in the future (Steel, 2007).

The operant conditioning (See also Wikipedia) principle of stimulus control may also be of importance. Since procrastination has been associated with distractibility and organisation we could employ processes of stimulus control to keep us on track (Steel, 2007). Operant conditioning works on the principle of reward and punishment where behaviours that are that rewarded are more likely to continue. It is also possible to have behaviours occur in particular situations by rewarding the behaviour only in that situation. For example a pigeon will learn that it will only be rewarded for pecking when a light is on. Using these principles, if individuals learn that they are rewarded when they study in the library (they receive good grades) the library could become a stimulus for study, leaving other environments for other activities.

Understanding energy regulation can also be advantageous as we can schedule our day to complete tasks at optimal times. Steel (2009) states that our energy peaks at 10am and drops at 3pm so if we work in the morning, we are less likely to procrastinate because of tiredness. Understanding this may be of particular importance for individuals who feel they have an evening circadian rhythm (Diaz-Morales, et al., 2008).


S Specific: Exactly what is it that you want to achieve?
M Measurable: How will you track your progress?
A Achievable: Goals need to be a challenge as the higher the value of the reward, the less likely you will be distracted by alternatives. That being said your goal should be something you can achieve otherwise failure may result in self-defeating prophecies.
R Realistic: Similar to Achievable - Can you realistically see yourself completing your goal? - Does it take into account your skills and resources?

Routine: The more often you have to decide between working towards goals and other more pleasurable tasks, the more chance you have of choosing the pleasurable options. If you schedule goals to occur at regular times and places you will not give yourself the opportunity to procrastinate.

T Timely: Set yourself a timeframe in which you will have achieved your goal

Figure 2. Description of each of the components of the 'SMART Goals' Approach to setting goals. Adapted from "Set SMART goals for incentive programs," by M. Resnick, 2009, Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, 43(9), 48-49. '"Set goals the SMART way," by S. S. Roberts, 2007, Diabetes Forecast, 60(5), 43-44. "Procrastinus," by P. Steel, 2009, Retrieved from Procrastinus website: "A 'smart' way to set writing goals," by K. L. Stone, 2008, Writer, 121(9), 8-8.

Goal setting is also an important strategy as this is based on the Temporal Motivation Theory of procrastination. Setting specific goals (and sub-goals) with self-imposed deadlines, allows you to bring rewards and feedback closer in time, which increases their value over that of other distracting activities (Ariely & Wetenbroch, 2002; McCrea, et al., 2008; Steel, 2009). A common strategy to set good goals is to use the SMART approach (see Figure 2) (Resnick, 2009; Roberts, 2007; Steel, 2009; Stone, 2008). Other suggested strategies include the “3 ‘P’ Rule” of Priority, Propriety, and Commitment (Atkin, 2005), and the Acronym ‘SUCCESSFUL;’ Stay focused, Understand procrastination, Clarify goals, Create contracts, Educate yourself, Support systems, Stay simple, Find your strengths, Understand how to work with deadlines, and Look into the future (Hoffman & Wallach, 2009).

Intervention studies have been conducted which utilise a combination of these techniques and positive results have been found, indicating they are viable options. An intervention program by Oaten and Cheng (2006) displayed the advantage of setting sub-goals and working throughout the semester instead of procrastinating until exams. This intervention imposed artificial deadlines on student’s work which meant that distant goals of completing an essay before the end of semester were broken down into several proximal, specific, clear and achievable goals which made students aware of their progress in concrete terms. The students were also given a study schedule to follow which 'suggested' times to study and tasks to complete. Throughout the semester students were also asked to keep a study diary in order to monitor themselves. The diary also generated feedback by displaying to the students any discrepancies which may have occurred between their goal to study and what actually happened. By becoming aware of these discrepancies students gradually learnt to self-regulate their behaviour. The students who participated in the program found strong benefits not only in their grades, but during the exam period also consumed fewer chemicals, had better dietary and exercise habits, attended to more household chores, and had better self-regulatory habits and less stress than their peers in the control group. Another intervention was conducted by Van Eerde (2003) which focused on time management. Participants in his study partook in a workshop that focused on increasing their ability to distinguish between the importance and urgency of a task. They were taught that there is one of four possible options with each task depending on whether it is important and/or urgent and they should act accordingly (see Figure 3). The participants were also taught how to make plans for a year, a month, a week and a list of tasks for each day. One month after the time management intervention training participants reported an increase in their ability to manage their time and a significant decrease in their worrying and procrastination tendencies compared to participants in the control group. These positive results indicate that individuals can alter their current procrastination behaviours if appropriate strategies are utilised and practiced.

Four Options For Each Task

Important Not Important
Urgent Do the task yourself and make time to do it
Computer lab.jpg
Delegate the task to someone else
US Navy 050104-N-9403F-147 A Master Chief assigned to USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) delegate's logistic assistance to fellow Sailors for incoming injured Indonesians.jpg
Not Urgent Plan to do the task later
Do not do the task
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Figure 3. Adapted from "Procrastination at work and time management training," by W. Van Eerde, 2003, The Journal of Psychology, 175(5), 421-434.


Procrastination is a maladaptive motivational phenomenon that has afflicted humankind throughout the ages. It does not appear to discriminate between cultures or gender, however procrastination tendencies are lower for older people and those with a higher level of education. The psychological reasons for procrastination depend to some extent on the type of procrastination in question - Avoidant procrastination is associated with low self-esteem, fear of failure, depression, and anxiety, and Arousal procrastination is associated with impulsiveness, distractibility, and organisational skills. Psychological reactance may also play a role in procrastination especially if individuals have rebelliousness, hostility and/or disagreeableness traits. Task characteristics and the Temporal Motivation Theory are also of paramount importance when determining the likelihood that one will procrastinate. Although students state that procrastination is beneficial for a number of reasons, evidence to the contrary is strong and procrastinators should therefore attempt to change their behaviour as we can learn to become better self regulators. These strategies include setting up sub-tasks which allow for progressive success in order to develop learned industriousness, create environments which stimulate study, study when our energy is at its peak (possibly 10am), set SMART goals, and learn to be better time managers.

Check Your Knowledge[edit]

Procrastination Crossword
Procrastination Crossword.jpg

3. Procrastination associated with sensation seeking and self-control
4. Common strategy used to set good goals
9. Necessary to help us overcome procrastination by helping to override dominant destructive, irrational or undesirable behaviours
10. The irrational belief that one will finish a task on time
11. Procrastination associated with self-worth and self-esteem
12. The main reason neurotic individuals procrastinate – they are
13. The process of delaying a task or decision until a later time, often resulting in negative affect
14. Morningness and Eveningness traits are associated with what rhythm
15. Principle used to change procrastination tendencies, based in the operant school of thought

1. Arousal procrastination may occur in order to experience
2. How desirable a choice is (within the Temporal Motivation Theory)
5. Tasks are likely to be procrastinated on if they are boring and are going to be
6. A strategy used to protect self-esteem in the face of failure
7. The Greek poet who wrote about procrastination in 800BC
8. Students are more likely to procrastinate on tasks provided by what age lecturers

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See also[edit]

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