Public Release: 

Procrastinators' Joys Today Can Bring Tomorrow's Woes

Case Western Reserve University

CLEVELAND -- Do you put off until tomorrow what's important to do today? Getting started on a work project? A heart-to-heart talk with your spouse? Making life-altering decisions? Or carrying out a New Year's resolution?

You may be in trouble, according to Dianne Tice, associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University. Procrastination may have its short-term rewards, but when a deadline looms, some unforeseen event may prevent you from completing the task or the stress may simply make you sick. And the work quality suffers, too.

Tice, who researches moods and self-control issues, found this happened to CWRU students who participated in two procrastination studies during courses on health psychology. She called the studies "The Agonies and Ecstasies of Dawdling."

Nonprocrastinators generally view procrastinators as lazy and self- indulgent. "Procrastinators usually defend the practice by saying they work better under pressure," stated Tice.

Having observed how some students never seem to finish papers or course work on time, Tice was interested in the impact of procrastination on health, performance, and stress.

She assigned a class paper with a specific deadline and followed the psychological and physical costs to the students as the deadline approached by regularly administering standardized tests to gauge procrastination.

In her first study, Tice found that dawdlers actually fared quite well early on, in that they were enjoying video games, movies, dates, and other pleasures, while nonprocrastinators hard at work were feeling some stress and low-level health problems like colds.

Then Tice thought that maybe "procrastinators suffer later, whereas the others suffer early; but the total amount of suffering could be the same, or it could even be that procrastinators suffer less, because they compress the stress into a short period."

Because the first study ended midway through the semester, Tice continued the research with a subsequent study, tracking students through the end of the semester.

She found that procrastinators indeed paid a price for delaying work:
* Putting off the assignment sent more procrastinators to the health center for headaches, stomach pains, colds, and other health problems. The nonprocrastinators may get sick, but not as severely as those who now had an additional pile of work on top of feeling miserable.
* Just as the work piled up at the end of the semester, the procrastinators faced some unforeseen problems, such as a computer failure, a roommate breaking up with a boyfriend, or family problems outside the procrastinator's control that interfered with completion of the task.
* Third, some people cannot handle the stress of working under pressure.

"What makes procrastination so habitual is that for many people it works most of the time, and they feel good early on," said Tice.

She suspects that if the procrastinators' grades were studied over their four years at the University, their grades might be lower than nonprocrastinators, because of those few semesters where outside forces interfered with the school work.

Tice said most people procrastinate in one way or another and that procrastination only becomes an issue when it comes to the important things in life.

"People tend to put off doing things like mowing the lawn which might irritate a neighbor, but when procrastination takes place at work or school, it can have costly consequences," she said.

Tice offers a few suggestions on how to develop the internal strength to overcome procrastination:
* When making New Year's resolutions, decide what changes you want to make. Start with one change in January and add another change each month. Internal strength gets stronger as it is practiced, Tice said.
* Set a goal, but add flexibility. Instead of telling yourself that this will be done on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Tice suggests targeting the task for three days of the week. This allows flexibility in overcoming unexpected barriers.
* To get started on project, Tice recommends establishing a time period to work. If you work during the established time, follow it with a reward.

Tice plans to continue her studies by examining the impact of good and bad moods on procrastination. She will look at whether bad moods cause the loss of self-control, while positive emotions recharge an individual.

But the next time Tice is tempted to say "not now, I'll do it later," she says she will try to do it now rather than later, after reviewing her studies' findings.

-CWRU-

Contact: Susan Griffith, 216-368-1004, sbg4@po.cwru.edu

-- Toni Ferrante-Searle (amf2@po.cwru.edu)
Editor, "Campus News," Case Western Reserve University
14 Adelbert Hall, 10900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106-7017
216-368-4443 voice, 216-368-3546 fax

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