Putting off a work or school assignment in order to play videogames or water the plants might seem like nothing more serious than poor time-management.
But researchers say chronic procrastination is an emotional strategy for dealing with stress, and it can lead to significant issues in relationships, jobs, finances and health.
In August, researchers from Stockholm University published one of the first randomized controlled trials on the treatment of procrastination. It found a therapy delivered online can significantly reduce procrastination.
Psychologists also are studying other ways people might be able to reduce procrastination, such as better emotion-regulation strategies and visions of the future self.
Scientists define procrastination as the voluntary delay of an action despite foreseeable negative future consequences. It is opting for short-term pleasure or mood at the cost of the long-term. Perhaps we didn’t finish preparing a presentation on the weekend because we had house guests. That is just intentional delay based on a rational decision, says Timothy Pychyl (pronounced pitch-el), a psychology professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, who has published extensively on the topic.
The essence of procrastination is “we’re giving in to feel good,” Dr. Pychyl says. “Procrastination is, ‘I know I should be doing it, I want to, it gets under my skin [when I don’t].’ ”