Procrastination – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Procrastination is defined as the tendency of delaying the completion of certain tasks which are usually aversive and lack instant gratification. It is very common among college students and adults, with half of college students and a fifth of the adults identifying as chronic procrastinators. However, the severity of procrastination may differ in case of every individual.

One 2015 study analyzed the self-assessments of 710 participants regarding procrastination, anxiety, depression and quality of life and then classified the procrastinators into five different types: Mild procrastinators (24.93%), Average procrastinators (27.89%), Well-adjusted procrastinators (13.94%), Severe procrastinators (21.69%) and Primarily depressed (11.55%). Thus said, procrastinating is not a problem that should be treated lightly.

Procrastination in relationship with worry and perfectionism

A study conducted on 185 students at the Free University of Berlin has shown that there is a significant correlation between procrastination, worry and perfectionism. The results suggested that people who are always seeking perfect results or have the tendency to worry regardless of the severity of the problem also end up also procrastinating more. Worriers’ capacity of making decisions is affected by their fear of failure and they prefer to delay taking action instead of risking to make a bad decision. In many cases, those who worry or those who can be satisfied only by perfect results end up not taking any action at all. Moreover, worriers are also slowed down by ambiguous stimuli, which prevent them from responding immediately when they face uncertain situations and consequently make them more prone to procrastinating.

The impact of procrastination on health 

Procrastination may have not only a negative impact in the day to day life but it may also negatively affect one’s health.

One reason for this is the fact that, as procrastination is usually related to aversive tasks or to tasks which are not followed by an immediate reward, procrastinators tend to practice health-promoting behaviors less frequently (such as maintaining a healthy diet or exercising regularly). Another factor which puts the procrastinators’ health at risk is the high level of stress emerging from continuously postponing the tasks, which may lead to headaches, digestive issues, colds or insomnia. Moreover, both stress and unhealthy behaviors may lead to the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The health of those who procrastinate may also be negatively affected by alcohol consumption. A study conducted on college students who identified as procrastinators has shown that many of those who have a maladaptive procrastination style choose to turn to alcohol when they are procrastinating.

Mental health may also be affected. Procrastinators are more likely to develop depression because of their maladaptive behavior, the continuous life stress and the high levels of anxiety, which are lower in case of non-procrastinators. Studies have also shown that another trigger of depression in case of procrastinators is the fact that they tend to evaluate themselves in a rather negative manner.

Introducing: active procrastination

Delaying the completion of certain tasks has been associated with negative outcomes, such as poor academic or work performance. In 2005, Chou and Choi have introduced the construct of active procrastination, making the distinction between active procrastinators and passive procrastinators.

While passive procrastinators may fail to complete their tasks and may be overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt and remorse afterwards, active procrastinators purposefully delay the completion of their tasks because of a preference for time pressure, which helps them generate more original ideas. This intentional postponing benefits them and the outcomes are not negative, as in the case of passive procrastinators. While passive procrastinators become stressed and depressed when a deadline approaches and are more likely to give up trying to complete their tasks, active procrastinators become more motivated and focused. Another difference is that active procrastinators’ time perception is more realistic and may resemble the one of non-procrastinators, while passive procrastinators underestimate the time required for the completion of tasks.

Purposeful delay

Unlike passive procrastinators, active procrastinators do not replace adaptive behaviors with maladaptive behaviors. A study conducted on 1106 college students has identified five academic procrastination styles: non-procrastinators, academic productive procrastinators, non-academic productive procrastinators, non-academic procrastinators and classic procrastinators. Active procrastinators reported delaying the completion of their academic tasks by either completing less difficult or more urgent academic tasks or by engaging in non-academic but productive activities. On the other hand, passive procrastinators did not engage in any productive activity. Those who replaced an adaptive behavior with another less adaptive behavior usually managed to meet their personal goals and procrastinating did not have a negative impact in their performance.

Creativity

Psychologist Adam Grant, the author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, also believes that a certain amount of procrastination may be beneficial in the creative process. Those who procrastinate have more time to generate new and unexpected ideas, as they continue to learn and are able to form more connections. However, delaying a task for too long is not advisable either, as the stress blocks the creative process.

Thus said, we should reflect upon the way in which procrastinating affects our lives. Is it rather beneficial, or do we need to make some changes?

 

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