A November article in Scientific American magazine explored the topic of procrastination in its controversial article “Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit.” The article concludes, as the subtitle of the article aptly states, “although biology is partly to blame for foot-dragging, anyone can learn to quit.”
The most promising advice it gives to getting past the procrastination habit is to plan time-specific actions into your schedule:
Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer of New York University and the University of Konstanz in Germany advises creating “implementation intentions,” which specify where and when you will perform a specific behavior. So rather than setting a vague goal such as “I will get healthy,” set one with its implementation, including timing, built in—say, “I will go to the health club at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.”
Setting such specific prescriptions does appear to inhibit the tendency to procrastinate. In 2008 psychologist Shane Owens and his colleagues at Hofstra University demonstrated that procrastinators who formed implementation intentions were nearly eight times as likely to follow through on a commitment than were those who did not create them. “You have to make a specific commitment to a time and place at which to act beforehand,” Owens says. “That will make you more likely to follow through.”
The article also includes some startling information about the percentage of adults who regularly put off tasks:
Almost everyone occasionally procrastinates, which University of Calgary economist Piers Steel defines as voluntarily delaying an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay. But like Raymond [an attorney who is a self-proclaimed procrastinator], a worrisome 15 to 20 percent of adults, the “mañana procrastinators,” routinely put off activities that would be better accomplished ASAP. And according to a 2007 meta-analysis by Steel, procrastination plagues a whopping 80 to 95 percent of college students, whose packed academic schedules and frat-party-style distractions put them at particular risk.
What strategies do you invoke to keep from procrastinating? Share your tips in the comments.
This article has been updated since its original publication in 2009.