The Psychology of Procrastination

Andrew Kim, Staff Writer

We all experience it. We all admit to it. Since the dawn of humanity, procrastination has never failed to leave us whether it be putting off gathering food in the hunter-gathering age or writing a feature article on procrastination for your journalism class. Yet research on procrastination has been relatively scarce, and its impacts on mental health and physical well-being are limited and unknown.

According to studies reported by SpringerLink, with the earliest being 1986 and the latest being 2020, “Procrastinators experience the negative consequences of their behavior in various domains: health, social, occupational, and mental.” This is definitely not something new to many of us as sophomore Niko Cornell states, “I do feel stressed when procrastinating on an assignment.” Freshman Arianna Simms shares that feeling, stating that she does feel stressed, “especially on big assignments” where the implications grade-wise are much heavier. Procrastination can also impact our personalities and the way we interact with others. Chronic stress is extremely bad for one’s mental state, and procrastination on big projects with high stakes exacerbates the impacts of stress. Additionally, in a study done in 2013 submitted to the American Psychological Association, researchers Sirois and Pychyl found a correlation between continuous procrastination with the vulnerability to more diseases and falling ill.

In a new era with more information on procrastination, the findings from these studies are fascinating yet worrisome at the same time. According to Thrive My Way, “An estimated 80%–95% of college students procrastinate at some level, while 50% consider it to be a problem.” With more advertisements and social media websites, these percentages will continuously increase. In the highly controversial and famous attention span study done by Microsoft in 2015, Time reported that “the average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but … people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.” With more innovations and a seeming increase in the number of digital devices, society seems primed for an even shorter attention span that could have major impacts on nearly all aspects of one’s well-being. Both senior Zachary Bi and junior Katie Cheng agree that “distractions” are the major cause of their procrastination and how laptops and phones are mainly responsible for those distractions. In fact, two out of three combined Canadians and Americans use social media for news and other notices. Additionally, one out of every two people also reach for their phone when they currently have no other activities, illustrating the vast majority of people addicted to this digitalized society.

Although symptoms of procrastination have been noticed, such as mood swings, illness, high-stress levels, etc., there are still many unknown facts about the psychology of procrastination. Is it because of genetics or is it taught? Can it be cured or is it simply a part of your personality? Is it a concern or could it be mediated? All these questions still have many disagreeing on the actual science behind procrastination. There are mixed opinions on the origins of procrastination: Cornell says that procrastination is “not necessarily taught but gained over time” while Bi says that it is purely “taught because if you see others not having a hard work ethic, then [they] most likely would not either.” It is important to note that the number of studies on procrastination has been growing. According to the National Institute of Health, “Although procrastination research appeared as early as the 1900s, it had a stable total volume until the 1990s, when it developed sustained growth, and that growth became extraordinary during the 2010s.” More than 250 studies have been published over the last year which will help scientists, psychologists, and therapists uncover the mysteries of procrastination.

Though not as common, some experts and chronic procrastinators argue that procrastination is beneficial to maintain a healthy level of stress. There are many times when there could be an overwhelming amount of work that simply just requires a break. Cornell states how he gets “tired of doing homework for five hours straight,” resulting in him taking a break and finishing his work later to ensure a better quality of work. As reported by PyschCentral, procrastination may hold some real benefits to an improvement in life. A study published by the National Institute of Health found that “although active procrastinators procrastinate to the same degree as passive procrastinators, they are more similar to non-procrastinators than to passive procrastinators in terms of purposive use of time, control of time, self-efficacy belief, coping styles, and outcomes including academic performance.” This new development of active procrastinators and passive procrastinators shows the complexity of procrastination, and it questions the narrative that all procrastination is bad. Simms states that “some  [procrastination] is fine but for the most part bad.”

It is important to note that research on this sophisticated issue is not at all complete and there are still many unknowns. Cornell, Simms, Cheng, and Bi all agreed that schools did not help at all in terms of teaching time management skills or dealing with procrastination. As more studies are published, more information may become understood about procrastination and give way to better ways of harnessing its effects and becoming an active procrastinator to be more productive in nearly all aspects of our life.