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Passive Vs. Active Procrastination

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Modern life is full of important tasks and responsibilities. Work, study, family, friends, and physical health constantly compete for our time and energy. In some cases, certain assignments can seem overwhelming, leading to delaying actions that need to be completed.

But is procrastination always a bad thing? While the term procrastination typically carries a negative connotation, could there be a form of active procrastination that actually improves performance?

This article is a helpful guide for the procrastinator. It will explain the causes and consequences of procrastination and distinguish the different types of procrastination. It will also provide helpful techniques for overcoming this habit to become happier and more productive.


What is procrastination?

The simplest definition of procrastination is ‘an unnecessary delay of an intended action.’ In the scientific literature, there are certain distinguishing features of procrastination:

  • Delaying an actProcrastination doodles in white chalk on a chalkboard
  • The act is intended to be done
  • The act is necessary or important
  • The delay is self-imposed and voluntary
  • The delay is unnecessary or irrational
  • The delay happens despite negative consequences
  • The delay causes discomfort or negative feelings

Procrastination is a relatively common phenomenon. Prevalence rates are reported to be as high as 20-25% in the general population, reaching as high as 70% in groups such as university students. Typical examples of activities for procrastinators include browsing social media, watching films or TV, and sleeping.

Of course, any activity done in place of the desired task can be a form of procrastination. Such distractions can account for more than a third of daily activities.

Research has explored the relationship between procrastination and personality traits. Factors such as extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability can impact a person’s likelihood of being a procrastinator.

Another perspective on procrastination looks at the situational aspect. Features such as perceived difficulty or attractiveness of the task are thought to influence the likelihood of procrastination.

Everyone puts things off occasionally. But when delaying necessary tasks and responsibilities becomes a habit, procrastination can become a more serious issue.


Negative effects of procrastination

Procrastination is considered a dysfunctional behavior and is associated with various adverse outcomes. These can manifest in physical health, mental health, academic success, and financial well-being.

Ironically, procrastinating with activities that are supposed to be enjoyable may increase the adverse effects; this is due to the feelings of guilt that arise when avoiding the task one should be doing.

On the more serious end of the scale, there are several signs that procrastination may indicate a clinically significant psychological issue. For example, procrastination lasting more than six months, taking up more than half of a typical day, and resulting in multiple physical or psychological complaints may require professional consultation.

So far, we have established a definition of procrastination and why it may be something to address if it is a common occurrence in daily life. But emerging research has been uncovering new pieces of the procrastination puzzle.


Are there different types of procrastination?

Passive procrastination

Passive procrastination is what most people may think of when referring to the general phenomenon of procrastination. A passive procrastinator can become paralyzed by indecision and often fails to deliver expected deadlines. In addition, a lack of self-belief in their ability causes the work they produce to suffer in quality.

Passive procrastinators sometimes procrastinate without meaning, simply delaying action due to an inability to quickly and effectively make decisions. They can also allow approaching deadlines to create feelings of pressure, leading to pessimistic thoughts and self-doubt.

Passive procrastination can create a negative cycle of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Low self-esteem can lead to delaying important tasks, chasing distractions, and getting further and further behind in life.

This form of procrastination is something to address in order to create a healthier, more productive lifestyle. But there may be cases where ‘procrastination’ can be a sign of psychological well-being.

Active procrastination

Active procrastination may be considered a form of strategic or functional delay. This type of procrastination differs from the passive form in that there is a lot more purposeful use of time, higher self-efficacy, and stronger performance outcomes.

Active procrastination clock with time's running outActive procrastinators prefer time pressure and find motivation in approaching deadlines. They may intentionally delay action in order to spark efficient action when it becomes essential.

One personality trait of more active procrastinators is higher agreeableness, meaning they may be more considerate of others who are dependent on them to complete specific tasks. They also experience less stress than passive procrastinators and are better at time management.

In practical terms, think of active ‘procrastination’ as strategically delaying an important task to work on another, high-priority activity while still planning to complete the delayed task by an appropriate deadline.

In cases where procrastination manifests as the passive kind, it is necessary to address this to become more self-sufficient and achieve more in different areas of life.


How to beat passive procrastination and become more productive

While passive procrastination is a problem for many people, there are ways to overcome it. Here are a few evidence-based strategies to beat procrastination:

Emotional intelligence: Procrastination can often be caused by underlying issues, research topics such as problem-solving strategies, time management, decision-making, and intrinsic motivation. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional, as procrastinating is a common issue, and you may need someone to nudge you in the right direction.

Create a contract: Structuring a meaningful, behavioral contract can be an effective tool for stopping procrastination. Find someone who can hold you accountable, and sign a contract stating the activity you will complete and the desired deadline. The contract needs to have meaningful outcomes for meeting requirements, whether that be reward or consequence.

Develop a diary: An everyday activity planner has been shown to reduce procrastination significantly. In the evening, write a plan for the following day. Include all required tasks, including everything that needs to be completed that day. The next evening, write a list of what you did. If the day didn’t match the plan, the key is to identify why and develop a concrete solution for fixing it the next day.

Rest and recover: Chronic procrastinators have poor sleep routines in almost all cases. This can have a highly detrimental effect on energy levels, mood, and concentration. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine or excessive use of electronic devices in the evening, ensure adequate sleep every night, and optimize temperature and light levels in your bedroom to help maximize recovery and productivity.


From procrastination to productivity!

We hope this article has helped explain the differences between active procrastination and passive procrastination, and also provided some ideas for minimizing it. Let us know your experience with procrastination (and your best tips to beat it) in the comments!

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