In This Article Procrastination

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Article-Length Reviews
  • Conferences
  • Definition and Clarification
  • Types of Procrastination
  • Treatments

Psychology Procrastination
by
Piers Steel, Katrin Klingsieck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0140

Introduction

Procrastination is a common form of self-regulatory failure with references to it throughout the historical record. Typically, it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay,” or to put off despite expecting to be worse off. By nature, this is a dysfunctional or irrational delay, though some refer to more functional forms of strategic delay as procrastination as well. The topic is studied under numerous disciplines and has been framed as an aspect of behavioral economics, personality, motivation, self-regulation, and neuropsychology. Procrastination has been shown to negatively affect various life domains, including those related to academics, health, finances, and the workplace. Not surprisingly, then, many ideas for overcoming procrastination have been accumulating, some of which have been formulated in well-conceptualized interventions programs and books. Procrastination is reviewed here in four sections. First, its definition and measurement are considered. Second, the review shifts to the different perspectives from which it has been theoretically understood and empirically studied. These perspectives pertain to behavioral economics, to three different psychology perspectives (differential psychology, motivational and volitional psychology, and clinical psychology), to a situational perspective, and to the perspective of neurobiology. Third, we briefly present the demographic differences in procrastination and its impact on different aspects of different life domains. Finally, the different endeavors for treating procrastination are reviewed.

General Overviews

Because procrastination is a common human frailty, books on the topic are numerous, mostly written from time management and self-help perspectives. This section focuses on texts written by academics and popular self-help texts written by counseling psychologists. In general, the books reflect two schools of thought on the topic. Early works, especially those by counseling psychologists, take a view that procrastination is primarily caused by irrational beliefs, such as perfectionism. Examples of this type of work are Burka and Yuen 2008 and Fiore 2007. Later works, especially those by research psychologists, indicate that procrastination is primarily an impulse-related issue, finding less empirical support for self-esteem or perfectionism as a major contributor. Examples of these works are Ferrari 2010, Steel 2012, and Sirois and Pychyl 2016. In addition, Ferrari, et al. 1995 and Schouwenburg, et al. 2004 summarize the research approaches and intervention programs until 1995 and 2004, respectively. Andreou and White 2010 takes a different approach by analyzing procrastination from a philosophical point of view.

  • Andreou, C., and M. D. White, eds. 2010. The thief of time: Philosophical essays on procrastination. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195376685.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive book examining procrastination from three different perspectives: its meaning and sources, its connection to vices and imprudence, and strategies for overcoming it. Though several chapters are from a strictly philosophical perspective, this text compiles writings from key researchers across the entire procrastination field.

  • Burka, J. B., and L. M. Yuen. 2008. Procrastination: Why you do it, what to do about it. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo.

    E-mail Citation »

    With a similar background to Fiore 2007, this is an update of an earlier 1983 edition. Notably, like Fiore, these authors were also counseling psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley. They take an almost identical position: that procrastination is caused by irrational beliefs related to perfectionism and low self-esteem.

  • Ferrari, J. R. 2010. Still procrastinating: The no-regrets guide to getting it done. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is written for the theoretically interested reader as well as for the help-seeking procrastinator. It presents the different theoretical concepts linked to procrastination, a review of research results, and advice.

  • Ferrari, J. R., J. L. Johnson, and W. G. McCown. 1995. Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. New York: Plenum.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4899-0227-6E-mail Citation »

    One of the first academic books on procrastination, this text gives an introduction into different research perspectives on procrastination, the measurement and treatment of procrastination, as well as different phenomena (e.g., perfectionism, depression) associated with procrastination.

  • Fiore, N. 2007. The now habit: A strategic program for overcoming procrastination and enjoying guilt-free play. New York: Tarcher/Penguin.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a revised version of the author’s 1989 book. The author’s positions reflect his career as a counseling psychologist, hypnotherapist, and productivity coach. He views procrastination as a symptom of irrational beliefs associated with low self-esteem, perfectionism, and fear of failure.

  • Schouwenburg, H. C., C. H. Lay, T. A. Pychyl, and J. R. Ferrari, eds. 2004. Counseling the procrastinator in academic settings. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10808-000E-mail Citation »

    In this book, the editors have collected interventions and ideas for dealing with student procrastinators. The covered interventions range from those focusing on cognitive restructuring techniques to those suggesting different forms of self-management training.

  • Sirois, F. M., and T. A. Pychyl, eds. 2016. Procrastination, health, and well-being. London: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this edited collection, the three themes of “failure to regulate behavior, emotion-regulation difficulties, and the temporal aspects of procrastination” are highlighted. Interventions and guidelines for future research are also covered.

  • Steel, P. 2012. The procrastination equation: How to stop putting things off and start getting things done. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

    E-mail Citation »

    Based on seventy pages of academic citations, the first six chapters review the phenomenology of procrastination, considering its prevalence, individual and societal costs, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology. The last three chapters focus on treatment options organized into expectancy, value, and time-related sources. The book contains a procrastination scale and a diagnostic procrastination scale based on Temporal Motivation Theory.

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