This post is the second of two posts on answers to the questions I have been asked most frequently over the past almost 40 years of studying the causes and consequences of chronic procrastination. Click here for part one.
Do you have any specific advice for working with adolescent boys who chronically struggle with procrastination?
Ah, the teen years.
I get this question often, and I say to remember that rebellion and even revenge may not be procrastination. That is, a kid might be procrastinating as a way to rebel against demands. In psychology, we call this the "reactance effect”: "Oh, yeah, I was going to do this but because you told me I have to or must do it, I’m not going to do it.” The person is reacting against believing their freedom is compromised, something we see adults in the U.S. do all the time. So, procrastination may not be a cause but a consequence of something else. Consider that possibility.
By the way, there is no significant gender difference in procrastination, so this question might also be asked of adolescent (or older) female procrastinators. We learn to procrastinate; we are not born this way, and we can unlearn the maladaptive strategy.
Do people with ADHD need a specialized approach for helping with procrastination?
This question is tricky, because I know many say that ADHD is linked to procrastination. Well, I don’t mean to upset you, but the only study to look at ADHD and procrastination found at best a low, weak link. (See Ferrari, 2000) That study used both “normal” and clinical samples. But that was only one published study, and it was done over 20 years ago, so before we change anything we need more research on ADHD and procrastination – and I am not familiar with many published studies extending that work. In the meantime, if someone is diagnosed with ADHD (not just boredom-proneness), then, yes, professional help may be effective.
For people who have a fear of failure/perfectionism underlying their procrastination, is it ever a good idea to have them deliberately fail something like an exam or assessment or not prepare? Or could this backfire somehow? Well, as my Italian nonna (grandma) would say, “For some people, they will not get off the beach until the water hits their behind.” So, you can warn and help people, but some will not take action until they see consequences.
Notice, she did not say drown; she said get wet. So, yeah, let the person fail, don’t give them an out, and when they are ready for change, they will change.
Any tips for teaching groups of children in a classroom setting how to keep on top of tasks?
This is a great question. I’ve worked with colleagues on research with college students, and others might have focused on procrastination in high-school students, but I am not aware of any published studies on grammar or elementary children. Here is a line of research for developmental and educational psychologists.
Remember, however, that procrastination is not poor time management or delay or waiting. It’s an active avoidance strategy that really is not productive. Perhaps you know that. I again ask, is the procrastination on a specific behavior (situational) or something you would label as part of the kids' lifestyle (dispositional)? These are related but very different.
Does the time of day affect procrastination?
Funny you should ask about the time of day. Check out research conducted by a colleague and a grad student at the time, with myself (Diaz-Morales, Cohen, & Ferrari, 2008), and you will see we did the only study on morning vs. evening proneness with procrastinators. What do you think we found? To me, it’s clear: Procrastinators are evening prone; they claim to work best at night. But do they?
For more on the causes and consequences of procrastination, I recommend my book, Still Procrastinating?
Diaz-Morales, J.F., Cohen, J. & Ferrari, J.R. (2008). Indecision and avoidant procrastination: The role of morningness-eveningness and time perspective in chronic delay lifestyles. The Journal of General Psychology, 135, 229 - 241.
Ferrari, J.R. (2000). Procrastination and attention: Factor analysis of attention deficit, baroness, intelligence, self-esteem and task delay frequencies. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 15, 185 - 196.
Ferrari, J.R. (2010). Still procrastinating? The no regrets guide to getting it done. New York: John Wiley & Sons.