Procrastinators' Joys Today Can Bring Tomorrow's Woes

December 03, 1996

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.


Contact: Susan Griffith, 216-368-1004,

-- Toni Ferrante-Searle (
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

Case Western Reserve University

Related Stress Articles from Brightsurf:

Stress-free gel
Researchers at The University of Tokyo studied a new mechanism of gelation using colloidal particles.

Early life stress is associated with youth-onset depression for some types of stress but not others
Examining the association between eight different types of early life stress (ELS) and youth-onset depression, a study in JAACAP, published by Elsevier, reports that individuals exposed to ELS were more likely to develop a major depressive disorder (MDD) in childhood or adolescence than individuals who had not been exposed to ELS.

Red light for stress
Researchers from the Institute of Industrial Science at The University of Tokyo have created a biphasic luminescent material that changes color when exposed to mechanical stress.

How do our cells respond to stress?
Molecular biologists reverse-engineer a complex cellular structure that is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS

How stress remodels the brain
Stress restructures the brain by halting the production of crucial ion channel proteins, according to research in mice recently published in JNeurosci.

Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.

How plants handle stress
Plants get stressed too. Drought or too much salt disrupt their physiology.

Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.

Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.

Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.

Read More: Stress News and Stress Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to