Procrastination is ‘a common pulse of humanity’

by Grace

Procrastination has been a problem since early in recorded history, and recent research suggests new ways to address it.

The twenty-first century seems no different. Students procrastinate instead of doing their schoolwork. In one study, thirty-two per cent of surveyed university students were found to be severe procrastinators—meaning that their procrastination had gone from being an annoyance to an actual problem—while only one per cent claimed that they never procrastinated at all. Employees procrastinate instead of taking care of their office tasks. The average employee, one survey found, spends about an hour and twenty minutes each day putting off work; that time, in turn, translates to a loss of about nine thousand dollars per worker per year. In a study conducted in 2007, about a quarter of surveyed adults reported that procrastination was one of their defining personality traits. In addition to Americans, the sample included Europeans, South Americans, and Australians.

It turns out procrastination is linked to impulsivity — “a failure of self-control rather than a failure of ambition”.

Both traits are moderately heritable, and related to goal-management ability.  Recent research suggests that learning to manage long-term goals is an important positive step in reducing procrastination.  Two strategies are suggested.

Tackle one specific step at a time
Break up the postponed job into smaller tasks.  It’s easier to convince yourself to tackle a 15-minute task than to commit to an afternoon of work.  Once you get started you often develop momentum to accomplish more than expected.  I know this works with me, and just getting dressed to exercise is sometimes the impetus needed to complete my entire routine.

Reduce distractions
Find ways to minimize distractions. Try using apps that prevent or limit access to distracting websites, for example.  I use a timer to limit my web surfing breaks, but I have not graduated to a tool that will take control of this restriction.  My system usually works, but I do find myself cheating and ignoring my time limits.  Maybe I should try one of those apps, but for now I’ll put it off . . .

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Maria Konnikova, “Getting Over Procrastination”, The New Yorker, July 22,2014.

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