I often say on my radio program that we spend millions of dollars each year in research studies to validate what most mothers already know. That is certainly the case with the studies attempting to explain why certain people procrastinate.
Andrew Santella writes about this in his book, Soon: An Overdue History of Procrastination, From Leonardo and Darwin to You and Me. He explains “The Real Reason You Procrastinate” in a recent article in Time magazine.
People who procrastinate often postpone projects in order to have a self-serving excuse. If they wait until the last minute, and do a poor job, they can always say they could have done better if they hadn’t run out of time.
Psychologists have a term for this practice. They call it “self-handicapping.” It is a strategy where people are actually sabotaging their own efforts. It is protection against the ego-crushing consequences of failure. It is worth mentioning that self-handicapping can take many other forms, like substance abuse or lousy sleep habits. But it shows up most prominently when people postpone work on a project.
Psychologists have found that self-handicapping shows up in other ways. For example, students are more likely to postpone studying for a test when they are told that it is a meaningful evaluation of their abilities. They did not exhibit the same behavior if they were told the test was meaningless and was being taken only for fun. Consider this contrast. When the test counted, students procrastinated. When it didn’t count, they diligently prepared.
Procrastination appeals to some because it provides a way of controlling life that seems too chaotic and unmanageable. But it is helpful to note that often procrastination adds to the chaos. It is better to buckle down and get started on the project.