Why Do We Procrastinate?

FLEXTIME graphic showing desk in an office in background and skewed clock in foreground, 1-6-03 AP / CBS

The reason we procrastinate may be more about confidence than perfectionism, a new study says.

Contrary to popular belief, procrastinators generally aren't perfectionists; instead, they're more likely to delay tasks they're not confident about, says researcher Piers Steel, Ph.D.

Steel is an assistant professor in the human resources and organizational dynamics department of Canada's University of Calgary.

"Essentially, procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task," Steel says in a University of Calgary news release.

"Perfectionism is not the culprit," he continues. "In fact, perfectionists procrastinate less, but they worry about it more."

Steel reviewed procrastination research from scholarly books, conferences, journals, and other sources.

His review appears in the January edition of the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Procrastination has been around ever since civilization began and "does not appear to be disappearing anytime soon," writes Steel.

So he boiled procrastination down to a mathematical formula.

The formula predicts procrastination based on a person's expectation of finishing a task, the task's importance, the person's desire to complete the task, and how soon the task needs to be done.

The formula suggests people are less likely to procrastinate if the task has to be done ASAP and they feel confident they are up to the task.

It suggests people are more likely to procrastinate if the task is less urgent, less appealing, or daunting to the person facing the task.

Other factors may also be involved, Steel notes.

For example, he points out that rebellious people may tend to procrastinate tasks given by authority figures; and depressed people may procrastinate due to low energy.

More research is needed on procrastination, and the sooner, the better, Steel concludes.




SOURCES: Steel, P. Psychological Bulletin, January 2007; vol 133: pp 65-94. News release, University of Calgary.


By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang

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