If you always put things off, are late for every meeting or appointment, and find yourself unable to get yourself organized, you’re probably already aware that you’re a procrastinator. Or perhaps someone you know is prey to this bad habit. For example, you’ve asked a colleague to send you a report by 3:30 and at 3:29 you still haven't received it. Now you’ll have to find it yourself. Maybe it's your partner or roommate who always holds things up: The vacuuming was supposed to be done an hour before your party, but there's still cat hair all over the place 10 minutes before your guests are supposed to show up, so you have no choice but to do it yourself (again).
Procrastination can lead to stress, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a quick and easy way to beat it? The Procrastination at Work Scale (PAWS), devised by Utrecht University’s U. Baran Metin and colleagues (2016), can help you tackle procrastination, one bad habit at a time.
PAWS was intended to identify the ways in which people kill time at work, making themselves late or having to rush to complete their duties, but it applies to other realms of your life as well, including the work you do at home to manage your family, household chores, and obligations such as bill-paying. The Utrecht team wanted to validate their new scale, and in the process of doing so, they showed the one, key factor that seems to lie behind most of the reasons people procrastinate in the first place. (You'll learn about that shortly.)
First, let’s be clear on how to define procrastination. In Metin et al.’s words, it’s best thought of as a “self-regulatory failure in volitional action and self-discipline, resulting in needlessly and irrationally delaying intended tasks in different walks of life” (p. 255).
Now let's identify which of the 12 types of procrastination you (or someone you know) engages in. Here are the items from the PAWS. How do you rate on each? Give yourself a score of 1 to 7, with higher numbers reflecting the habits you're most likely to fall prey to:
If you rated each on the 1 to 7 scale (with 7 being “always”), a score of 36 or above is on the high side, based on the results reported by Metin and colleagues. However, the scale breaks down into two parts: soldiering, or avoidance of work tasks; and cyberslacking (self-explanatory). The first eight questions measure soldiering and the remaining four, cyberslacking.
In the Dutch study, the one key factor predicting procrastination was boredom. Work that was under-stimulating and didn’t provide enough mental engagement was most likely to create conditions ripe for procrastination.
The good news is that procrastination may be seen as a product not just of an individual’s tendency to slack, but of a problem in the individual’s environment. If you want to avoid procrastinating, try to place enough demands on yourself so you can resist the temptation to delay, distract, and divert.
With this in mind, here are the 12 items on the PAWS turned into practical steps for implementing change:
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Metin, U. B., Taris, T. W., and Peeters, M. W. (2016). Measuring procrastination at work and its associated workplace aspects. Personality and Individual Differences, 101, 254-263. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.06.006
Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2016