What type of procrastinator are you?


Aah, procrastination. Controlling our time can be difficult, and most of us are intimately familiar with the act of delaying the act of starting or completing a task. Piers Steel, professor of human resources and organizational dynamics at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary and author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done,” has made the study of procrastination into an academic specialty.

Steel believes that putting off a task in and of itself is not considered procrastination. In a 2007 article in the Psychological Bulletin called “The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure,” he says that procrastination is when one “voluntarily delay[s] an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.” Procrastination is thus different from, though related to, poor time management.

Why do people procrastinate? And what does procrastination have to do with finances? Research into the first question is still being conducted. What is clear is that procrastination can have devastating effects on one's finances. According to H&R Block, about 25 percent of the people wait until the last minute to file their taxes. What's more, the average procrastinator pays about $400 more due to rushing and last-minute errors.

Procrastination can also lead to putting off other important financial tasks, such as, paying off debt or saving for retirement (even when you have the means to do so). So how can you light a fire and overcome procrastination? A good first step is to identify why you are procrastinating in the first place.

Procrastination and task characteristics

In his article, Steel suggests that “unless people procrastinate randomly, the nature of the task itself must then have some effect upon their decisions.” And it's true. I don't procrastinate watching the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy, but I do procrastinate mopping the kitchen. Steel believes that the main task characteristics that lead to procrastination are “timing of rewards and punishments” and “task aversiveness.”

These characteristics are pretty simple to define. “Timing of rewards and punishments” essentially means that the farther off a deadline is (or if it is a task without a specific deadline), the less likely we are to feel a sense of urgency to complete the task. People usually wait until a deadline is closer before feeling motivated to take action.

“Task aversiveness,” on the other hand, means how enjoyable (or unpleasant) we find the task. If it's something we like, we probably will get to it very quickly, perhaps to the point of the activity becoming a time sink, which is a form of procrastination in itself! If it's something we hate, it goes to the bottom of the old “to-do list.”

Honey's tip: One way to combat procrastination due to these factors is to give yourself a public deadline — say, inviting your mom over for brunch on Sunday to ensure that you'll mop the floor on Saturday. Another might be to come up with a reward so that you associate the task with something pleasant — say, telling myself that watching the new episode of Grey's is my reward for mopping the floor.

Procrastination and individual differences

Many psychologists divide personality traits into five categories, called the Big Five or the Five Factor Model (FFM). These five traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN). Of these, Steel explores neuroticism and conscientiousness most closely in relation to procrastination.

Neuroticism is closely associated with worry, irrational beliefs, and low self-esteem. Irrational beliefs are those that cannot easily be proved or disproved to the individual, such as, “I am inadequate” or “this task is too hard.” In fact, since personality traits have a genetic component, it is all too tempting to think “I can't overcome my biological programming” and give up! Procrastinating can also create a negative feedback loop that makes future procrastination even more likely. In other words, “I failed last time, why even try this time?”

Conscientiousness refers to distractibility, organization, motivation, and follow-through (aka willpower). Those who procrastinate may be easily distracted and disorganized. And while highly conscientious individuals enjoy hard work for its own sake and are therefore more likely to follow through, it is possible that the opposite is true for procrastinators.

Honey's tip: Positive self-talk may help you gain self-esteem and the courage to try. And implementing systems (such as setting up auto-pay for your bills) means that you don't have to worry so much about getting distracted or not following through. We only have so much willpower, and setting some things up to be done automatically reserves your mental energy for the tough stuff.

Some good news: Procrastination and demographics

The good news is that we tend to procrastinate less as we age. This is likely due to a variety of factors. Steel suggests that, over time, we develop strategies to avoid procrastination and foster good habits. This sounds likely to me — certainly I'm more responsible now than I was a decade ago!

In addition, I believe it's possible that once you've done something successfully once, it becomes harder to believe that you're too inadequate or the task is too difficult. Just like procrastination can become a negative feedback loop, successfully completing tasks can lead to positive feedback loops where you don't dread the task so much next time. Learning more about a task may also help decrease task aversiveness and worry.

I'd also suggest that we view time differently as we age. When I took stock of 2013, I noted that:

They say that the reason time seems to speed up as you get older is because each day/month/year is a smaller fraction of the time you've been alive. For example, a year seems a lot longer when it's 10 percent of your life instead of less than 3 percent.

As a result of this shift in perceptions, I think it's possible that we become more sensitive to the “Timing of rewards and punishments” task characteristic. In our 20s, knowing that a task needs to be completed a year from now might seem so far off as to be almost unimaginable. In our 40s and 50s, a year from now seems just around the corner, so we might be more likely to take action right away.

Have you ever had problems with procrastination that had a significant negative impact on your financial life? How did you overcome it?

More about...Psychology

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Jon @ Money Smart Guides
Jon @ Money Smart Guides
6 years ago

This explains very well why so many don’t save for retirement. They see the goal decades in the future and figure that “they have time” so save some money. They just don’t realize how much they will need to save and when they do start to save, they have “sticker shock” at how much they need to save each month. On the flip side are those that just don’t save for retirement because they don’t think they could ever save the amount of money they need to retire. But again, if they would start early, they would see that just… Read more »

Your Living Body
Your Living Body
6 years ago

It’s easy to see that – people in their twenties are having their first taste of freedom and dealing with their wants (generally speaking). My wife definitely had sticker shock with the amount she needed to save each month to hit her goal.

I didn’t have clear vision when I was younger. I got offtrack by student loans. Now I’m in my early thirties and I’ve been back on track for a few years now. Slow and steady wins the race sometimes.

Gaming Your Finances
Gaming Your Finances
6 years ago

Having people over is a great motivator to clean the house. Sometimes I invite people over just so we have to do a good clean!

Eric Duminil
Eric Duminil
6 years ago

I’ll read this article tomorrow. Maybe.

Money Saving
Money Saving
6 years ago

I’ve read that procrastination really stems from the fear of failure. This makes a lot of sense to me – often we are fearful that we will not complete the task or it will be too difficult.

In the case of mopping the floor, maybe we are afraid that we will fail to have a relaxing couple of hours watching the TV versus having to work?

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

I’ve been struggling with procrastination quite a bit lately, particularly in regards to writing my book. I think it stems from what you mentioned about lack of self esteem. I just keep thinking… “Who am I to be writing a book anyway?” Meanwhile, my deadline keeps looming closer.

Artistic4
Artistic4
6 years ago

It could also be fear of success, which is a lot trickier to combat. It would mean letting go of all of your falsely negative ideas/beliefs/etc. And going forth with new action.

Great article, thanks!

Alex
Alex
6 years ago

Ironically, this story was a great opportunity for me to put something off: studying for an upcoming exam — story of my early college days (and yes, that did cost me significantly, both financially and emotionally).

Even Steven
Even Steven
6 years ago

My procastination problem is I tend to focus on one task and go all out till it is completed. I leave the other tasks alone instead.

Tom Coghlan
Tom Coghlan
6 years ago

I used to work for a boss who would say “no decision is a decision” and in a way he was right. By deciding to do nothing he was allowing fate to dictate the outcome. Unfortunately, many of us pursue other more enjoyable activities at the expense of things we really ought to do like saving, cleaning, repairing, etc. We inevitably have to “pay up” on some of those poor “no decisions” later in life.

Dave Lalonde
Dave Lalonde
6 years ago

I guess in some way you can tie it back to procrastination but I used to have a difficult time checking my bank account and staying on top of my finances. But I do agree that over time, you become more responsible. Younger generations are typically too busy trying to set up their life still and have fun.

Elissa @ 20s Finances
Elissa @ 20s Finances
6 years ago

Good article for students. This is the first year I didn’t procrastinate on my finals and life was so much easier. Solid advice!

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

I try to avoid procrastinating tasks at work, especially ones that I think will be hard, by leaving the folder or paper on my desk instead of just on a to-do list. My goal is to always get as many things completed so I can delete them out of my email or file them off my desk. I love an empty desk and inbox! In the same regards, I will make calendar items as I schedule bill/savings payments for the future so I can see I have already spent my next check in the best way for me so I… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Rachel

I am always aiming for “Inbox Zero” as I like to call it, and so I won’t move anything out of my inbox until it’s been dealt with. Definitely one of my tools to avoid procrastination!

mirror
mirror
6 years ago

My dad once got me a plaque that read: “If It wasn’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done!” I’ve always been a procrastinator and I found it interesting that the “fear of failure” wasnt mentioned as a reason for this. I tend to want to do so much and have all of it be great that I get stressed out thinking about it and put it off. But your tip about giving myself rewards is something I’ve actually recently started doing in my work. I’m a freelancer so it’s easy to get sucked into the “do it… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  mirror

I think that “fear of failure” would be counted as neuroticism on the FFM, though his article was pretty technical so I could be wrong.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

I’ve been working all day so I couldn’t respond, but now it’s time for drinks so before things get too rowdy I’ll say: I’m the kind of procrastinator that has ADHD and has his attention taken away by shiny objects. Especially when dealing with painful tasks– I’ve timed myself and the longest I can endure doing something I hate is 17 minutes. After maybe 1/2 hour break I can resume another 17 maybe with great luck–more likely 10. So engagement is important. At the same time like other ADHDers I’m capable of hyperfocus, meaning I can dive into an engaging… Read more »

S Arun
S Arun
6 years ago

I used to procrastinate at school and work, and learned hard lesson later. Now, I try to do things as early as possible and free my mind from thinking about the things that I needed to do.

Great article, and thank for you sharing.

Cheers,

Ron
Ron
6 years ago

The salary that we get is high than the past, but the money that we spend is to high than to past, the goverment need to drop the taxes, then we will try to rest.

Stephen in Florida
Stephen in Florida
6 years ago

Procrastination was something that I struggled with throughout my teenage years and into early adulthood. It took a very conscientious push on my part to develop better self discipline and overcome this natural tendency to want to push things till later. I’ll admit that it is something that I must be aware of, within myself and in other people that I collaborate with.

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