By Bradley Gregory
If the saying “Due tomorrow? Do tomorrow!” sounds like a pattern of behavior you find yourself adopting more often than you’d care to admit, you are likely engaging in the very common practice of procrastination. Piers Steel, a procrastination expert, defined the behavior as “voluntarily delaying an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”
In a recent study of procrastination habits among undergraduates, 30 to 60% reported regularly delaying academic tasks such as studying for exams, writing research papers, and reading weekly class assignments, to such a degree that they no longer believed optimal performance would result from these voluntary delays.
Typically those who engage in procrastination are aware of the negative consequences such as emotional troubles, internal distress and poor performance. However, many paradoxically continue to stall and drag their feet.
Given that there appear to be many unanswered questions regarding individuals’ motivations behind choosing to procrastinate while still understanding the negative consequences associated with it, Dr. Bradley Gregory, assistant professor of psychology at Southern Utah University has made this tricky behavior his primary line of research.
Through a two-year-long research study conducted on 175 college students, he has examined the predictive impacts of 24 different variables that correlate with procrastination. Variables include gender, academic classification (such as being a freshman, sophomore, etc.), social media use, goal orientation, personality traits, and personal confidence beliefs.
Gregory discovered only three of those variables held statistical significance for procrastination: conscientiousness, a positive attitude toward learning, and being a young student (typically freshman). Conscientious held the biggest impact. Individuals who scored high on conscientiousness scored low on procrastination. Both a positive attitude toward learning and being a freshman increased the likeliness to procrastinate.
“The results of my study are encouraging for students because conscientiousness can be learned,” said Gregory. “This is promising because it means even students who historically have procrastinated can adopt behaviors that are more conscientious to reduce procrastination.”
In practical terms, students can choose to plan ahead, budget sufficient time, fill out and regularly refer back to daily and weekly calendars, proofread and revise multiple drafts prior to submitting their final version, and seek help and feedback from their professors. All of these are among examples of conscientious behaviors that can go a long way in reducing the prevalence of procrastination among students, according to Gregory.
“My students often hear me say several times throughout the semester: you can choose your behavior, but you can’t choose your consequence,” said Gregory. “Procrastination is no different. If you choose to be conscientious you can reap the benefits of decreased procrastination.”
Any student who wishes to rid himself or herself of this pesky behavior, or at least reduce the degree of voluntarily delaying academic tasks, can choose to procrastinate less by simply choosing to implement any number of behaviors that positively correlate with conscientiousness.
“Choose wisely,” said Gregory. “Choose to be more conscientious. Just be sure to choose today, not tomorrow.”