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Strategies for reducing procrastination

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Abby's summary of Intervention Strategies for Procrastination

Are You A Procrastinator?

Procrastination is a complex problem occurring throughout society, manifesting itself in both the general public and the academic environment (Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995). The majority of the research that has been carried out has focused specifically on academic procrastination (McCown & Roberts, 1994). The results of numerous studies indicate that academic procrastination is widespread among students, with a large number of them indicating on self-report scales that they suffer from problematic procrastination. Estimates of academic procrastination range from a low of approximately 25% to a high of 70% of college students (e.g., Aitken, as cited in Ferrari et al., 1995; Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).

Researchers have identified a number of different types of academic procrastination, such as low conscientiousness and anxiety-related procrastination (e.g., Ferrari et al.,1995) . Although all of the various types are of interest in understanding students' experience of procrastination, it is beyond the scope of this web page to review each individually. Instead, we focus on the treatment of anxiety-related procrastination. Despite this seemingly narrow focus, the treatment strategies that we discuss are applicable to all types of academic procrastination.

A key element in both understanding academic procrastination and its treatment is the cognitive component of procrastination. Academic procrastinators typically make five cognitive distortions which promote and maintain their task avoidance. According to Ferrari et al. (1995), these five cognitive distortions are :


overestimation of time left to perform tasks,


underestimation of time required to complete tasks,


overestimation of future motivational states,


misreliance on the necessity of emotional congruence to succeed at task, and


belief that working when not in the mood to work is suboptimal.

These cognitive misconceptions are not necessarily causal, they may be covariates of procrastination. More research is required to address this issue. Regardless of the cause, by changing the cognitive distortions, researchers argue that there is likely to be a change in behaviour. The typical treatment, in fact, employs this strategy with a cognitive-behavioral focus as well as an emphasis on time-management skills.

This approach has been used by Ferrari and his colleagues (e.g., Ferrari et al.,1995) who have developed an approach to the treatment of academic procrastination known as "Doing It Now." In this program, the goal is to teach students how to cope with cognitive distortions involving self efficacy (e.g. it's hopeless, too late, not smart enough) and avoidance (e.g. I'll do it later, I perform better under pressure). The focus is to change cognitive misconceptions by having students challenge their cognitive distortions (e.g. irrational thoughts and fears) in either an individual or a group format. This is achieved through the use of cognitive self-statements, relaxation therapy, and visualization geared towards increasing the frequency and concentration of the academic effort.

Another method used in conjunction with the ones previously stated is to have the procrastinator develop a task plan and assign concrete deadlines for task completion.

Although Ferrari et al. have recently used the "Doing It Now" approach, the term has a history in the work related to procrastination. According to Dr. William Knaus (personal communication), the earliest reference to the term in print is by Alan Lakein (How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life). In 1979, Dr. Knaus published a self-help book titled Do It Now: How to Stop Procrastinating. This book is has recently been updated and republished. Based on Dr. Knaus's clinical and cognitive orientation, the latest release of his book takes more of an awareness-action position. He uses a five-stage change process that describes the process often followed by people involved in a cognitive therapy (Knaus, personal communication). (Access other work by Knaus)

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PRG Copyright 2001, Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, Carleton University
Updated January 14, 2002 12:36 AM