There is plenty of time… isn’t there? – aka the Procrastination Problem

Cover Story, Editorial, Features, Self-help

Vol. 25 Issue 14, 27 January 2023

We have all done it, that is, put off something to be done at a later date. Usually these are minor things, that we feel are of little importance if they are not done straight away. Whether it is cutting the lawn, redecorating the spare room, or trimming your nails, the consequences of not carrying out the task immediately are usually negligible.

But what about more important issues? What about something you need to take care of that could have serious consequences if not carried out on time? How long would you put off going to the dentist for a sore tooth or to the doctor with a nagging pain that doesn’t seem to go away?

Some people procrastinate about much of the above, often letting things get to a point where it is embarrassingly obvious that something needs to be done, or that the pain becomes so intolerable that it has to be sorted out. We only have ourselves to blame, and usually we are the only ones to suffer, in these circumstances.

I’m sure I’ll get round to putting this watch back together one day…

But what about those tasks that we try to put off that have fixed deadlines, such as at work or in studies? Procrastinating behaviour in these circumstances can have serious consequences. Missed that deadline for EU funding for the multi-million Euro project that your boss has put you in charge of because you were procrastinating? Hmm, you might not have a job after that or great prospects of finding another similar job.

Procrastination in studies is another area that can have severe repercussions. Many tasks and assignments have deadlines for them to be completed so they can be evaluated by the lecturer. You might think that the task is only a few hours or days overdue (if the lecturer is kind and flexible enough to allow late submissions), and that it is “not a big deal”. However, remember that after the deadline has passed, lecturers usually set aside time so that they can get on with evaluating all submissions. If they have finished the evaluations, then a couple of late submissions come in, they need to set aside time for those, then some more come after that, and so on – you can see that the knock-on effects have repercussions for the lecturer and their time. What if your lecturer decided to procrastinate when it comes to marking your final assignments or thesis before you can graduate? Would this be acceptable behaviour?

Time affects us all, and has done even before we invented it.

An example that I often use to illustrate the point to my students is a TED Talk given by Tim Urban (see for more). Tim suggests that we all procrastinate to some degree, especially if we do not have deadlines that have to be met – I am sure that most would agree. However, there are also those that constantly procrastinate because giving themselves shorter deadlines and time constraints put them under a little stress and they can sometimes crave that stress like an addiction, sometimes even producing better results than if they had got on with the task from the start. As Tim jokingly explains, first that his thesis written in just 48 hours was “one of the best they [the university] had ever seen.” He then admits that it was in fact one of the worst!

So, whether you feel you procrastinate or not, a little or a lot, think about the consequences and repercussions if you do – whether they affect yourself or someone else.