Procrastination

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Procrastination is a type of avoidance behaviour which is characterised by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. It is often cited by psychologists as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. [1]

For the person procrastinating this may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the chagrin of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. While it is normal for individuals to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder.

The word itself comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow). The term's first known appearance was in Edward Hall's Chronicle (The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancestre and Yorke), first published sometime before 1548.[2] The sermon reflected procrastination's connection at the time to task avoidance or delay, volition or will, and sin.

Causes of procrastination

Psychological

The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth and a self-defeating mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a higher-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the "dreams and wishes" of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential.[3]

Author David Allen brings up two major psychological causes of procrastination at work and in life which are related to anxiety, not laziness.[citation needed] The first category comprises things too small to worry about, tasks that are an annoying interruption in the flow of things, and for which there are low-impact workarounds; an example might be organizing a messy room. The second category comprises things too big to control, tasks that a person might fear, or for which the implications might have a great impact on a person's life; an example might be the adult children of a deteriorating senior parent deciding what living arrangement would be best.

Graduate students are frequent subjects of academic procrastination studies, often because they do not finish their dissertation (sometimes referred to as "ABD" for "all but dissertation").[citation needed]

A person might unconsciously overestimate or underestimate the scale of a task if procrastination has become a habit.[citation needed]

From the behavioral psychology point of view, James Mazur has said that procrastination is a particular case of "impulsiveness" as opposed to self control.[citation needed] Mazur states that procrastination occurs because of a temporal discounting of a punisher, as it happens with the temporal discount for a reinforcer. Procrastination, then, as Mazur says, happens when a choice has to be made between a later larger task and a sooner small task; as the absolute value of the task gets discounted by the time, a subject tends to choose the later large task. From the behavioral standpoint, there's no such thing as anxiety or unconscious decisions; everything is in the environment[citation needed].

Physiological

Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual's ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention and increased procrastination. This is similar to the prefrontal lobe's role in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), where underactivation is common. [3]

Procrastination and mental health

Procrastination can be a persistent and debilitating disorder in some people, causing significant psychological disability and dysfunction. These individuals may actually be suffering from an underlying mental health problem such as depression or ADHD.

While procrastination is a behavioral condition, these underlying mental health disorders can be treated with medication and/or therapy. Therapy can be a useful tool in helping an individual learn new behaviors, overcome fears and anxieties, and achieve an improved quality of life. Thus it is important for people who chronically struggle with debilitating procrastination to see a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.

Severe procrastination and/or ADD can cross over into internet addiction or computer addiction. In this instance the individual has a compulsion to avoid reality by surfing the web or playing video games (see Game addiction) or looking at online pornography (see Pornography addiction). Although these are relatively new phenomena, they are being considered as psychiatric diagnoses by mental health professionals.

Perfectionism

Traditionally, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism, a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one's own performance, intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one's abilities by others, heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety, recurrent low mood, and workaholism. Slaney (1996) found that adaptive perfectionists were less likely to procrastinate than non-perfectionists, while maladaptive perfectionists (people who saw their perfectionism as a problem) had high levels of procrastination (and also of anxiety).[4]

Academic procrastination

While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting[citation needed], where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students' time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination"[5].

Some students struggle with procrastination due to a lack of time management or study skills, stress, or feeling overwhelmed with their work.[citation needed] Students can also struggle with procrastination for medical reasons such as ADD/ADHD or a learning disorder[citation needed].

Student Syndrome

Template:Original research Student syndrome refers to the phenomenon that many students will begin to fully apply themselves to a task only just before a deadline.[citation needed] This leads to wasting any buffers built into individual task duration estimates.[citation needed]

The term originated in Eliyahu M. Goldratt's novel-style bookTemplate:Nonspecific, Critical Chain. The principle is also addressed in Agile Management for Software EngineeringTemplate:Nonspecific.

For example, if a group of students goes to a professor and asks for an extension to a deadline they will usually defend their request by noting how much better their project will be if they are given more time to work on it; they request this with the intent to distribute their work time across the remainder of the time until the deadline. In reality however, most students will have other tasks or events that place demands on their time. They will often end up close to the same situation they started with, wishing they had more time as the new delayed deadline approaches.

This same behaviour is seen in businesses; in project and task estimating, a time- or resource-buffer is applied to the task to allow for overrun or other scheduling problems. However with Student syndrome the latest possible start of tasks causes the buffer for any given task to be wasted beforehand, rather than kept in reserve. Like students, many workers do not complete assignments early, but wait until the last minute before starting, often having to rush to submit their assignment minutes before the deadline. A similar phenomenon is seen every year in the United States when personal tax returns are due - Post Offices remain open until midnight on the final day as people queue to get their tax return postmarked.

Types of procrastinators

The relaxed type

The relaxed type of procrastinators view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them by directing energy into other tasks. It is common, for example, for relaxed type procrastinating children to abandon schoolwork but not their social lives. Students often see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts. This type of procrastination is a form of denial or cover-up; therefore, typically no help is being sought. Furthermore, they are also unable to defer gratification. The procrastinator avoids situations that would cause displeasure, indulging instead in more enjoyable activities. In Freudian terms, such procrastinators refuse to renounce the pleasure principle, instead sacrificing the reality principle. They may not appear to be worried about work and deadlines, but this is simply an evasion.[6]

The tense-afraid type

The tense-afraid type of procrastinator usually feels overwhelmed with pressure, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals and many other negative feelings. Feeling that they lack the ability or focus to successfully complete their work, they tell themselves that they need to unwind and relax, that it's better to take it easy for the afternoon, for example, and start afresh in the morning. Usually have grandiose plans rather than being realistic. Their 'relaxing' is often temporary and ineffective, and leads to even more stress as time runs out, deadlines approach and the person feels increasingly guilty and apprehensive. This behavior becomes a cycle of failure and delay, as plans and goals are put off, penciled into the following day or week in the diary again and again. It can also have a debilitating effect on their personal lives and relationships. Since they are uncertain about their goals, they often feel awkward with people who appear confident and goal-oriented, which can lead to depression. Tense-afraid procrastinators often withdraw from social life, avoiding contact even with close friends.[6]

See also

References

  1. Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 9781585425525.  p. 5
  2. Procrastination. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Strub, R. L. (1989). Frontal lobe syndrome in a patient with bilateral globus pallidus lesions. Archives of Neurology 46, 1024-1027.
  4. McGarvey. Jason A. (1996) The Almost Perfect Definition
  5. R P Gallagher, S Borg, A Golin and K Kelleher (1992), Journal of College Student Development, 33(4), 301-10.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Procrastination, How To Stop Procrastinating

Books

  • Allen, David (2001). Getting things done : the art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking. ISBN 9780670889068. 
  • Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 9781585425525. 
  • Lakein, Alan (1973). How to get control of your time and your life.. New York: P.H. Wyden. ISBN 0451134303. 

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