We all procrastinate, it’s a fact.

Pushing the ‘top of the to-do list task’ further down the list and doing anything else, as long as it is not the one thing which really needs doing. For most of us, although frustrating, it’s not a major issue, but for some, procrastination can cause real problems, affecting lives and leading to anxiety, stress and guilt.

Dr Bruce Fernie

Dr. Bruce Fernie from Kings College London believes that treatment for sufferers of unintentional procrastination should be encouraged. He highlights the importance of recognising that some people intentionally procrastinate, leaving a task until later when they feel they will do it better, but for those who procrastinate unintentionally, the affect can be damaging, effecting performance in situations such as exams and interpersonal relationships. In his contribution to the Journal of Affective Disorders,  400 participants were recruited to test a metacognitive model of procrastination.

In a separate study, Alexander Rozental and colleagues from Stockholm University, Sweden recently researched the use of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help overcome procrastination in university students. “Everyone procrastinates, it’s an everyday phenomenon. Usually it doesn’t cause more than annoyance and frustration, but for people who procrastinate a lot it can affect their lives.”

Over a period of eight weeks two groups of students, whose procrastination levels were ranked higher than average, tested techniques to help manage their procrastination. The first group were given therapy online – reading materials, exercises and advice and the second received in-person group therapy every fortnight.

Both groups showed improvement at the end of the 8 weeks; their procrastination level scores dropped, and by the end of the treatment, 34% had similar scores to the ‘average’ person. Improvement was also seen in their academic performance, anxiety and stress levels.

Six months after the conclusion of the study students who received group therapy had improved their performance by a further 4 points, whilst those who had received treatment over the internet had dropped back towards their original scores. Rozental believes the group therapy proved more affective due to students sharing their experiences and supporting each other, and the student health centre where the experiment took place, has decided to continue offering CBT treatment to its students suffering from procrastination.

Read more in the New Scientist or tell us your suggestions for managing procrastination in the comments box below.