Don’t Believe All You Hear About Procrastination
MYTH - MYTH - MYTH
Posted January 7, 2021 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
It seems that over the past 40 years interest by the media and by other scholars increased in understanding procrastination. Unfortunately, folks still characterize it as laziness, poor time management, delay, waiting, or postponing. Some authors even try a positive spin on procrastination, claiming it is a “good thing” if you organize tasks around deadlines. I call that ‘prioritizing,’ NOT procrastinating (see Ferrari & Tibbett, 2017, for a summary; see Ferrari, 2010 for details).
There are three common myths about procrastination (a.k.a. proc, as I call it) I hear a lot as I present nationally and internationally about the causes, consequences, and ‘cures’ based on my research. (Interested scholars need to secure Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995, which includes self-report scales and a solid understanding of what procrastination is and is not.)
Myth #1: “Technology today makes it easier to procrastinate…”
In 2006, a newspaper reporter from Connecticut phones me and asks, “Deacon Ferrari, what do you think of the snooze button on alarm clocks?” Snooze button, I think. What? He tells me, this button on alarm clocks is the first technology promoting procrastination (giving us an additional 9 minutes in bed, then another 9 minutes, next another 9 minutes, and so on), and it was first available in 1956. Interesting, I think—who knew?
But the reporter was onto something. Technology has always tried to “make our lives easier.” For instance, the first gas-fueled automobile engine was made by Benz Motor Car—in 1885. No longer did one have to take time to get their horse and buggy together for hours to go 10 miles down the road to see their neighbor—the "horseless carriage" saved you time. Wanting to contact your friend at a longer distance, say across the country? There was a time when you had to write a letter and mail it. Then, in 1879, a guy named Alexander Graham Bell created a technology (the phone) so we could contact that friend within minutes instead of days.
See, technology has always been available to help us, to engage us to apply less effort, to save us time. But it is not technology that promotes proc—it is how we use or abuse it. Do not say your smartphone makes it easier to procrastinate. Do you need all those apps? Or, do you want those apps? We are told we must have these tech toys as soon as they become available for sale. Trust me, you do not need them for joy.
MYTH #2: “You don’t get it, our lives are busier today, so procrastination is inevitable...”
Do the math… there are 24 hours a day x 7 days a week = 168 hours a week… no more, no less. Our daily calendar goes back to 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII created it, based on the months created by Julius Caesar in 46BC, borrowed from the Egyptians noting 365 days a year.
What’s my point? Our ancestors were restricted to the same 168 hrs. Our farming ancestors got up early in the morning to fix the fence, feed the animals, adjust the well, repair the roof, mend the clothes, can the foods, plant the crops, reap the crops. They had busy lives, yet managed within 168 hrs. They got it done.
True, we are busy today; absolutely. But do not make it an excuse to say life is busier today. Instead, consider how you can adjust your life to address those demands.
There is a saying I share: “We can’t control the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” We cannot control all that life throws at us, but we can manage how we handle those challenges. In fact, studies show time management programs will not work with chronic procrastinators, since they will generate excuses for not meeting those deadlines. Right. We cannot manage time; we only manage how we address the events of our lives (Ferrari, 2010).
MYTH #3: “Procrastination is not a problem for me—see, I work best under pressure...”
Folks say, “I need that last-minute deadline pressure to get me going, to get me excited, to get me ‘charged.’ And I do so well under that time pressure.”
Sorry, not true. In two separate experiments conducted at my DePaul lab (Ferrari, 2001), procrastinators and non-procrastinators worked on tasks under time limits; we recorded the number of errors and task completion times. Procs made more errors than non-procrastinators. But they believed they did better—that they made fewer errors.
I know, some readers (maybe those focusing on academic procrastination) say I am wrong. You recall times when waiting until the last minute seemed to pay off. I believe you. But I ask, recall times when last-minute binging did not pay off; you made more errors, more often.
SUMMARY: SO WHAT? Life is short; we may have 70, 80 years if we are strong. Why procrastinate? Why create excuses? Just do it—now. Leave a legacy; make a difference. Will you fail in life? Sure, our knees bend so we go down. But our knees help us up. It is not whether you will fail, it is how you get up. Adjust your sails, focus on the future.
Ferrari, J.R. (2001). Procrastination as self-regulation failure of performance: Effects of cognitive load, self-awareness, and time limits on “working best under pressure.” European Journal of Personality 15, 391 - 406.
Ferrari, J.R. (2010). Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Ferrari, J.R., & Tibbett, T. P. (2017). Procrastination. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T.K. Shackelford (Eds). Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, pp. 1 - 8. New York: Springer Meteor Press.
Ferrari, J.R., Johnson, J.L., & McCown, W.G. (1995). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. New York: Plenum/Springer Science Publications.