Writers are famously good at procrastinating. Just how good? While working on this article, I found myself shopping for a dog bandanna … and I don’t have a dog.
Many creative and artistic personality types, including music educators, struggle with procrastination, which affects up to 20% of adults. Interestingly, some parts of the country tend to have more procrastinators, including Northern California and Oregon, according to the American Psychological Association. You’ve probably noticed procrastination behavior with some of your students, too, especially if you teach teens. A 2016 study found that procrastination is most common in people ages 14 to 29.
The word procrastinate has been around in the English language since the 1500s, with roots in the Latin prefix pro as in “forward” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow.” This makes me picture a bunch of monks playing foosball and drinking beer while a stack of manuscripts goes uncopied.
All humans procrastinate to some level, and that’s due to a cognitive bias: They falsely believe that 1) tasks will magically become easier, and 2) we’ll have more time for the task. According to research published in 2022 in the journal Nature Communications, MRI imaging can capture a brain procrastinating, with changes observed in the prefrontal cortex. With procrastination, we tend to enjoy the immediate rewards of procrastinating — whee, free time! — and underestimate the adverse consequence of procrastinating, such as stress, late fees or bad performance reviews.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, procrastination comes in two flavors: active and passive. Active delay, a.k.a. active procrastination, is when someone chooses to wait until there is sufficient pressure to act. These are the people who file taxes on April 15 at 11:30 p.m. Or teachers who turn in student grades right before the administration comes calling for them. Some people simply prefer to work with a little — or a lot — of deadline weight bearing down on them.
Passive procrastination, in contrast, is when someone is paralyzed by a task, with that awful sensation of having no idea where to begin.
While it’s normal human behavior to procrastinate, it can be worsened by depression and anxiety. Writing in Psychology Today, Alice Boyes, Ph.D., notes a “chicken-and-egg” problem, where people deal with stress by procrastinating, which leads to more anxiety, which can contribute to a lack of momentum. One self-help treatment for depression is called behavioral activation, she says, where people schedule activities that are enjoyable and provide a sense of mastery and engagement. “Changing your behavior in this way can make your thinking style less depressed, even though you’re not specifically working on changing your thinking,” Boyes writes.
Here are five ways to tackle procrastination:
Conquering procrastination can lead to more life satisfaction, less stress and greater professional success. So, if, as English writer Edward Young wrote “procrastination is the thief of time,” maybe this article can nudge you to stop stealing from yourself. Now, who needs a dog bandanna?
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