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The Cause of Procrastination

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

Whether it be a school project put off to the last minute, a test you had to cram all night for, a project with a “fuzzy” deadline, a diet that you’ll “start next week,” or a goal that you’ll “get to eventually,” almost everyone has succumbed to the power of procrastination.

When it comes to procrastination, there is an interesting case of “the chicken versus the egg.” What comes first – the act of procrastinating, or the affect or laziness and negativity? In other words, does feeling negative lead us to procrastinate, or does putting something off actually cause us to feel more and more down about our lack of productivity?

The College of New Jersey conducted a two-phase study to tackle this question, and looked at longitudinal data to explore the relations between affect (feelings) and procrastination. Interestingly, it found that while negative affect did predict next-day procrastination, procrastination did not predict next-day negative affect. Basically, it’s difficult to pursue goals when we’re not feeling great.

The lesson we can learn from this study? Next time you find yourself putting off something important, perhaps don’t immediately focus on faults in your time management techniques or prioritization. Instead, start on how you’re feeling, and what you can do to increase your internal affect and intrinsic motivation!

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