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Procrastination. What Effect Does It Have On Us…If Any?

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Procrastination, avoidance, bludging, hibernation, chilling. I’ll do it tomorrow.

We’ve all been there countless times if we’re honest with ourselves, but regardless which slang we use, is there an outcome for us and our lives?

Getting the momentum to do something big/scary/unpleasant is hard. It just is. And overcoming inertia (aka getting unstuck) can be even more difficult. The couch is oh so comfy, facebook is like the friend that’s always there, and browsing for online shopping can be delightfully satisfying.

At times, it can feel quite rewarding to savour the minutia of completing low priority tasks, one by one and in often in a totally random order, a bit like relishing our favourite variety of potato chips, morsel by morsel from the bag. (Yum!) But in the long-term, does procrastination end up being a behaviour empty of value, just like potato chips are merely empty calories?

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Mark Twain

Dietary preferences aside, in other words Mr Twain seems to be a big fan of the approach of getting the hardest and/or least enjoyable task done and out of the way first, then tackling other tasks.

"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."

Mark Twain

Easier said than done.

In a study from Seoul National University, researchers differentiated between two types of procrastinators. They discovered passive procrastinators who postpone tasks until the last minute because of an inability to act in a timely manner, and active procrastinators, who they found actually prefer the time pressure and purposely decide to delay a task, however are still able to complete tasks before deadlines and achieve satisfactory outcomes. [1]

According to Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, and not a time management problem.”

In a 2013 study, Dr. Pychyl found that procrastination is about being more focused on “the immediate urgency of managing negative moods” than getting on with the task. Particularly he mentioned negative moods induced by certain tasks like boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment and self-doubt. [2]

The question begs to be asked, can “eating that frog” and getting right onto the hardest task have any effect on countering or improving these negative moods?

In a study from Florida State University, psychologists examined procrastination among students. They discovered that earlier in the semester, procrastinators reported slightly lower stress and less illness than non-procrastinators, but that later in the term, procrastinators reported much higher stress and far more illness. [3]

“Throughout my career, I have discovered and rediscovered a simple truth. The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well, and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life.”

Brian Tracy

In his book aptly titled Eat That Frog, Brian advises: “Spend Your Most Valuable Time on Your Most Valuable Activities and You’ll Change the Trajectory of your Life”

Wise words.

So, who knows what’s possible for different individuals in various situations? Why not test it out for your self? Try eating the frog (not literally) and see what you notice in terms of mood, energy and motivation, and see what your friends and loved ones notice about you too.


[1] Angela Hsin Chun Chu & Jin Nam Choi. Rethinking Procrastination: Positive Effects of "Active" Procrastination Behavior on Attitudes and Performance, The Journal Of Social Psychology, Pages: 245-264

[2] Sirois, F. and Pychyl, T. (2013) Procrastination and the Priority of Short-Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7 (2). 115 - 127. ISSN 1751-9004

[3] Roy F. Baumeister et al Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life, The Journal of Positive Psychology , Pages 505-516

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