According to recent research by Piers Steel of the University of Calgary, about 15-20 percent of the population engage in procrastination. Steel analyzed 691 published studies on procrastination for a recent issue of the Psychological Bulletin. Steel has an entertaining presentation on procrastination here. I didn’t know that Leonardo da Vinci was considered to be a procrastinator.

Putting off a project is not necessarily procrastination. If you believe that you have much more time than you need to complete a project, you may delay starting work without actually procrastinating. Procrastination occurs when you KNOW you should start, but don’t. Because your idea of how long a project takes and your supervisor’s may be different, it’s a good idea to use the time you’re given. If a professor gives students three weeks to work on a paper, he/she expects three weeks, not one night, of work. In my experience as both a student and professor, one of the variables that drives procrastination is success. If you procrastinate and still get an A, you are more likely to procrastinate in the future. If you get “burned,” then you tend to reform.

According to Steel, procrastination can be predicted by looking at the desirability of a task, its immediacy, the value of completing the task, and the person’s sensitivity to delay. Applying Steel’s approach to weight loss, we can see why some people succeed and others fail. Losing weight is tough–in spite of snake oil promises to the contrary, dieting hurts. However, the value of completing the task is extremely high, both for how we feel about ourselves and our health. Immediacy is a HUGE problem for most dieters, though. The pleasure of that ice cream sundae right now might mask the even greater, but months distant pleasure of reaching a healthy weight. So we come back to individual differences in delayed gratification.

Steele notes that risk factors for procrastination include task aversiveness, impulsivity, distractibility, and achievement motivation. Not too surprisingly, given the association of many of these risk factors to personality, and a growing recognition of the biological predispositions to personality, some psychologists have suggested that people are genetically predisposed to procrastination.

If you spend more time playing Spider Solitaire than finishing a paper, is there hope for you? Steel is optimistic. Because of the importance of expectancy in procrastination, if you expect to finish your work in a timely manner, you will. The more experience you have with self-control, the more you will expect to behave in a self-controlled manner.



mamorale · January 17, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Melissa Morales: I myself am a procrastinator. I feel that procrastination depends on what kind of person you are, and not the consequences that come from it. It depends on your personality, and since attributes in ones personality are difficult to change procrastination is hard to change in a person…. trust me i know

knowaboa · February 3, 2007 at 10:36 am

Hi Mamorale, After reading your comment I was compelled to say that I believe procrastination isn’t necessarily difficult to change. And I say this as a former procrastinator myself. It takes some emotional work, but it’s not about forcing or fighting against the inner procrastinator. My experience as a psychotherapist is that generally procrastination is a protective part of a person, a strategy, whether conscious or unconscious, of avoiding a vulnerable feeling such as worthlessness, failure, disappointment, etc. In therapy when people resolve/heal the vulnerable feelings which are being avoided by the procrastinator, then the procrastinating part doesn’t have to avoid as much as it had. Sometimes procrastination is hedonism in disguise and usually experienced by a person who has avoided suffering and never learned from the “no pain, no gain” factor. Anyway, if you’re interested in learning about the kind of therapy I described for procrastination. Go to and follow the links to resources, models of therapy, Internal Family Systems.

sebia · February 3, 2007 at 12:50 pm

I’ve been thinking of leaving a reply for this article for about 2 weeks now; each time that I come to the website I think “Oh, I’ll give myself some more time to think of a valuable comment to make and post it later…”

For me procrastination is a result of one of two things: either I am uncertain of my capabilities and therefore avoid the task at hand OR I know I can “get it done later” and still have a good outcome. I am waiting to get burned one of these days by my procrastination, but so far I have gotten away with waiting until the VERY LAST SECOND to do a number of things (that I probably shouldn’t have waited to the last minute to do) which encourages the procrastinating behavior.

I do question, though, how much our biology plays a role in procrastination because all of my siblings are excellent procrastinators. Do those of you that habitually procrastinate find that your siblings or family members do the same?

alleyj · March 10, 2007 at 2:53 pm

I would definitely use “procrastinator” as a word to describe myself. I tend to always find myself rationalizing why it’s ok to put something off and to come back to it later knowing that I really should just finish it now when I have time and it on my mind. Yet for some reason there is never enough will power present to push myself to actually complete or even start the task. I’m actually glad that there is hope out there and I guess I’ll just have to work on my self-control, maybe not today but hopefully tomorrow.

R.Nickles · November 25, 2007 at 8:45 pm

I will be forever mesmerized by the procrastination that has ‘ruled’ my life these past college years. This article made sense, with the comments on task aversiveness or time management, but I feel like it’s a completely different story with me! I will honestly TRY to start a paper, or work more on my senior project, but I will just sit there and nothing will come to my head! It’s as if I NEED the limited amount of time to increase my vocabulary and speed up the output onto the computer screen. Try as I might, nothing is ever completed until the last minute. And I wish I could start things earlier, I really do! It just doesn’t work that way. I laughed about the comment on Spider Solitaire though, because I definitely play it while writing papers, and could almost swear it helps me think! =)

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