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Procrastination: More People Aren't Doing Today What They Won't Do Tomorrow
by Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro

Procrastination is on the rise according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association. The ten years of research, which was only suppose to take five years, was conducted by professor Piers Steel from the University of Calgary. He found that procrastination is on the rise and makes people poorer, fatter, and unhappier.

Dr. Steel has found that procrastination is pervasive and affects individuals, families, communities and business. “Ninety-five percent of us procrastinate at least occasionally and about 15-20% of do it consistently and problematically,” according to Steel. “Also, there are historical records of people procrastinating going back at least 3,000 years.” According to this massive study, in 1978, only about 5% of Americans viewed themselves as chronic procrastinators. It is now 26%.

His comprehensive analysis of procrastination research, published in the recent edition of the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, presents some surprising conclusions on the subject, such as:

•Most people will not follow through with their New Year’s resolutions.

•Perfectionism is not at the root of procrastination.

“Essentially, procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task,” Steel says. “Perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more.”

Some other behaviors that predict procrastination include: task aversiveness, impulsiveness, distractibility, and how much a person is motivated to achieve. Not all delays can be considered procrastination; the key is that a person must believe it would be better to start working on given tasks immediately, but still not start. There are many theories on why people procrastinate and Dr. Steel has examined the four most popular ones generally promoted.

•Anxiety: Fear of Failure and Perfectionism People are thought to procrastinate on tasks that are stressful. Therefore, those who are more susceptible to experiencing stress should procrastinate more. This theory is not supported by research. It may explain why we might avoid tasks entirely, but not why we delay them. In fact, more anxiety is experienced as we near a deadline, so procrastination appears to be a way of increasing anxiety, not reducing it. Research evidence indicates a weak or no relationship between anxiety and irrational beliefs and procrastination. In fact, self-perfectionists actually report less procrastination than other people.

•Self-Handicapping This refers to the habit of placing obstacles that interfere with their own good performance. The motivation is often to protect self-esteem by giving them an “out” if they fail to do well. While there is some overlap of symptoms with procrastination, it has different causes and treatment.

•Rebelliousness According to some research, rebelliousness, hostility and disagreeableness are thought to be major motivations for procrastination. While parents of teenagers may disagree, this theory is not supported. It may explain why we might avoid tasks entirely, but not why we delay them. In fact, we appear more autonomous by just not doing a task. By doing it at the last minute, procrastination may appear to be “caving in” to the demands.

•Temporal Motivation Theory (TMT) Steel identifies this theory as “cutting edge” based on an equation that evaluates people’s decisions. He has found that people will low levels of self-efficacy or feelings of competence, procrastinate more. Procrastination is also strongly association with the value of the task. The more unpleasant it is viewed to be, the more likely to be delayed. Steel found that people who are more distractible, impulsive, and have less self-control tend to procrastinate more.

Procrastination is strongly associated with time delay. The closer we are to realizing the goal, the harder we work at it. In fact, work often expands to the time allotted for completion. As Johnny Carson once said, “If you have all week to do a TV show, it will take you all week. If you have a show everyday, you get it done everyday.”

The TMT theory also predicts an intention-action gap, where we intend to work but fail to act on our intentions. Procrastinators often have many intentions but tend to fail to put them into action.

Interested in an evaluation of your procrastination? Log on to to participate in online study. You will receive an evaluation of your procrastination along with suggestions to reduce delaying what you need to get done. Do it today, not tomorrow.

As Mark Twain remarked, “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro may be contacted at

FREE E-mail newsletter, sign on at Barbara Bartlein, is The People Pro, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps companies sell more goods and services by developing people. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by e-mail at: or visit her website at


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