Without further ado: the science of procrastination

Is it possible that Scarlett O’Hara, the main character of Gone with the Wind, was a procrastinator herself, especially when she dramatically declared “Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do. I’ll think about it tomorrow”? Putting things off  is a sin of which everyone is guilty. But being a serial procrastinator is very different from occasionally postponing unwanted tasks. In my personal ranking of procrastinators the winner is, without doubt, Victor Hugo, the famous author of Les Miserables. Apparently he was so plagued by stalling that he asked his servants to leave him cold and naked until he finished his writing. 

Some people declare that they perform better under pressure: the adrenaline of the deadline gives them the energy and the motivation to burn the midnight oil to get their job done. But is it really true: can people find the right push from being late?
According to several studies in procrastination this formula works only if the goal is to perform worse and be way more stressed (by the way I discovered that a lot of academics are really researching the topic!). Obviously, the benefit is more free time at the beginning, but both performance and mental health might suffer especially if this is your way of life. Although everybody procrastinates, this does not mean that everyone is a procrastinator. Research has shown that 20% of healthy adults have this problem and procrastinate no matter what. 

The Procrastination Formula

The University of Calgary researched the chronic pushbackers and concluded that the main reasons for procrastination falls into poor time management or mood regulation (or maybe both). In the book The Procrastination Equation, the author explained that inaction is defined by this formula:

(Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay) = Procrastination

The factors that influence actions are the first two: Expectancy is how confident you are about completing the assignment, value is how much the job is important to you. 

What can instead hinder the completion of an action is impulsiveness (how likely you are to follow your immediate need or desire) while Delay is how close you are to your deadline. But in order to jumpstart motivation (expectancy and value) it’s obvious that the ability to regulate your own mood and emotion control is pivotal. If something makes us feel dreadful it’s totally understandable that we try to avoid it.

Procrastination antidotes

The good news is that there are several strategies to ditch the problem.
Here are some ways to stop procrastination that have proved effective for me: 

  1. Clean your space from distractions and focus. 
  2. Identify the best moment of the day for you: are you working better in the morning or in the afternoon?
  3. Set a clear plan of what you have to do: break the task into very small actions, if necessary.
  4. Celebrate your wins and make steps to create fun while doing the job. 
  5. Be understanding with yourself: you are working hard to change a habit; that’s never easy, but every little step can help you progress and change how your brain works. 

Are they working? Let me know what works best for you. 


  1. Cat

    Thank you so much for breaking the science of procrastination up so nicely!
    So, if delay is how close one is to the deadline: the closer one is to the deadline the higher the hindering denominator??
    I also see procrastination as a habit, and if we look at it as a habit loop like in the “power of habit” book, the adrenaline and sense of adventure is the reward for me to keep that habit up. So I’m thinking that if I want to break the habit of procrastination I also need to find alternative ways for me to reward myself with adventure:)

  2. Fran

    Hi Cat,
    thanks for your message: it’s so, so interesting and kind!
    So, the closer one is to the deadline the higher is the risk to fail in delivering a good job. This is what I meant. Is it different for you?

    I find it so interesting that you find that feeling rewarding. For me is so painful: I feel incredibly anxious and unmotivated because I know I can’t succeed. It’s how I work. I know that I need time to go perform and organise myself. No adrenaline and reward for me. I am not saying that this is the right way at all, because sometime I quit before even starting missing up some good and feasible tasks… Maybe a mix would be the optimum: bit or adrenaline rewarding and a bit of planning? But I think our brain needs to be trained for that. What do you reckon?


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