Procrastination is a pervasive problem in college settings that encompasses needless delay of the initiation or completion of crucial tasks. Academic procrastination constitutes a dispositional trait of a student who nearly always delays performance of academic tasks and decisions and exhibits problematic levels of anxiety related to the procrastination. The endemic procrastination within the academic domain undermines productive study and leads to low academic performance. Research on procrastination, especially on factors that generate and perpetuate the behavior, is necessary since procrastination can adversely impact learning, achievements, quality of life, and academic self-efficacy.
Research on procrastination has been carried out in various fields including psychology, education, economics, sociology, and political science. The bulk of the research has focused on the examination of the phenomenon within academic settings where a debate lingers regarding the nature, outcomes, and causes of procrastination. According to Park and Sperling, close to 50% students procrastinate in a constant and problematic fashion (12). The paper explores the conceptual underpinnings of procrastination, especially the connection between procrastination and self-efficacy.
Procrastination has been a common phenomenon throughout the human history. Hence, the belief that procrastination is a contemporary phenomenon is unfounded. In the distant past, procrastination was perceived neutrally and interpreted as a smart course of action and inaction. Today, procrastination is barely tolerated since the modern society values self-reliance and accomplishment. Academic procrastination remains one of the biggest causes of poor academic performance. Although the optimal objective of schooling centers in aiding students establishes in-depth understanding of diverse content domains, the soaring levels of academic procrastination may render this noble goal an illusion.
The psychological characteristics of the procrastinators including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem can be conceptualized as personality factors related to the fear of failure. It is essential to highlight that other motivational factors, in addition to fear of failure, may contribute to the problem of academic procrastination. The understanding of the root causes underpinning procrastination is central in finding valuable solutions to contain the rising tide of procrastination among the students.
Procrastination represents the act or practice of routinely delaying performance of tasks until the last minute. Procrastination represents a frequent failure to carry out tasks on time typified by an absence of self-regulated performance occasioned by weak or absent motivation. Procrastination may appear in the form of tasks delay and misplaced assignments that undermine the study process. Procrastinators manifest a gap between action and intention, which implies that procrastinators are highly inclined to postpone study tasks. Procrastination stems from weak levels of motivation towards learning, which contrasts with the functional motivational variables (Steel 65). Procrastination qualifies as a self-regulation failure occasioned by the incapability of procrastinators to cope with stress and high cognitive burdens.
A quick review of the literature demonstrates that procrastination is an object of low scientific research. Academic procrastination transpires when students without cause delay the completion of school projects, assignments, or academic-based activities. Academic procrastination correlates with reduced academic grades, high-stress levels, and poor well-being. Some of the studies have demonstrated that academic procrastination positively aligns with both anxiety and depression propelled by negative beliefs on self-worth (Klassen, Krawchuk, and Rajani 915). Solomon and Rothblum pioneering study on procrastination examine the incidence of academic procrastination among University students and evaluated the extent to which students view it as a problem. The study also examines the motives for procrastination to better comprehend the cognitions that contribute towards the behavioral pattern. Lastly, Solomon and Rothblum compare the self-report of procrastination to behavioral and cognitive measures of procrastination such as depression, anxiety, and self-esteem (Klassen, Krawchuk, and Rajani 916). The research study has unearthed that procrastination stemming from task aversiveness correlates with the study habits, as well as cognitive and affective components. Consequently, procrastination should be considered as a behavioral, emotional, and cognitive phenomenon. Therefore, to disregard either of three would be myopic.
Types of Procrastinators. Procrastination may fall into two categories: chronic procrastination and non-chronic (temporary) procrastination typified by a low frequency. Arousal (thrill-seeking) procrastination involves instances in which individuals wait until the deadline is near so as to derive the thrill-seeking experience tied to the last-minute dash. Avoidance procrastination (fear of failure) occurs when individuals delay carrying out tasks so as to minimize possible disclosure of personal inabilities (Steel 65). Decisional procrastination (indecision) represents instances in which individuals act indecisively as to whether or when to carry out the tasks.
Implosive procrastinators fail to pick up cues from the environment or delay gratification of pleasure. Implosive procrastinators may also show a lack of self-control, weak motivation for attaining targeted goals, and an enhanced level of disorganization. As a result, the implosive procrastinators encounter challenges in perceiving and estimating time. Perfectionist procrastinators show a heightened readiness to work but regularly postpone owing to the concern that he or she cannot undertake the task perfectly. Perfectionist procrastination is drawn from cognitive distortions or faulty thinking where the procrastinators are overly conscious and inclined to fear success or failure, which eventually leads to neurotic avoidance. Perfectionist procrastinators lack self-efficacy and self-esteem and are usually self-critical and self-conscious (Steel 65).
Overall, academic procrastinators manifest four cognitive dimensions which perpetuate and reinforce their task avoidance. First dimension is over estimation of time left to carry out tasks. Second, academic procrastinators tend to under-estimate the time needed to undertake tasks (Weiten, Dunn, and Hammer 122). Third, academic procrastinators tend to overestimate the future motivational states, and, lastly, academic procrastinators tend to insist on the requisite of emotional congruence to succeed at a task informed by the conviction that working out of mood is sub-optimal.
Causes of Procrastination. Academic procrastination represents a schism between the objectives and actions of college students since their objective of completing college education is hampered by their action of procrastinating on assignments. Students procrastinate through a myriad of ways including late submission of assignments, inability to meet schedules, and postponing writing of notes until assumed convenient time. Largely, the assessment of academic procrastination has centered on the appraisal of study habits including aspects such as lessons completed and minutes spent studying and attitudes toward studying (Rabin, Fogel, and Nutter-Upham 344). However, procrastination also involves other aspects beyond deficient time management and study skills.
Procrastinators may postpone tasks for a range of motives such as frustration tolerance, fear of failure, task aversiveness, social prescribed perfectionism, evaluation anxiety, and low self-esteem. The existing research also highlights the potential role of an unstable self-concept (Rabin, Fogel, and Nutter-Upham 345; Thakkar par. 2). As such, insecure students who despite possessing the knowledge and skills to perform well may view themselves as incapable of meeting the needed standards, which ultimately yields to procrastination.
Perfectionism qualifies as the first and biggest motive for procrastination among students. Although a majority of procrastinators do not view themselves as perfectionists, the tendency to seek perfection yields to “starts and spurts” performance whereby the procrastinator attacks the task at hand with great energy and then relapses due to low motivation or alienation (Wohl, Pychyl, and Bennet 803). Perfection presents a form of rigidity characterized by insistent attitude in which a procrastinator would not even start writing an assignment due to the perception that he or she cannot do it well. In some cases, chronic procrastinators tend to link their difficulties to personality flaws such as laziness, indiscipline, and poor organization and time management (Steel 66). Trait procrastinators are perceived to involve in dilatory behavior for several reasons such as protection of self-esteem via self-handicapping, avoidance of aversive tasks and anxiety, and demonstration of autonomy.
Procrastination may also stem from the lack of confidence, which hampers the capability of the students to carry out tasks they would ordinarily be capable of doing. Academic procrastination among college students is dominated by lack of initiative and incapability to behave consistently with goals or attitudes (Klingsieck 24). As such, procrastination may act as a device for averting big decisions and big actions. Academic procrastination may hinge on the task at hand; for instance, students report higher procrastination when writing term paper compared to when writing weekly assignment. Students may procrastinate owing to negative feelings or conflicted feelings regarding the different courses they undertake.
Lastly, procrastination may be fuelled by the students’ characteristics. Students manifest a broad range of characteristics and vary from unconcerned students to passionate and target-oriented students. Unconcerned students may only be interested in passing class tests, pursue the easiest way of studying, and tolerate apathy (Park and Sperling 13). Unconcerned students may also exercise destructive behaviors such as little studying or reading, as well as affinity for the last minute dash.
Characteristics of Procrastinators. Procrastinators manifest a myriad of characteristics including low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, irrational anxiety over success or failure, and heightened self-critical behavior. Self efficacy represents capacity to organize and execute courses of action needed to accomplish the designated forms of performances (Park and Sperling 13). Self-efficacy strongly impacts the choices and efforts that people make, as well as the time they persist in the face of the challenge. As such, the manner in which people act can be predicted by their confidence in their capabilities.
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In most cases, chronic procrastinators exhibit a limited view on the distinction between urgency and priority. Procrastinators mostly focus on “comfort tasks” considered as most convenient, within reach, or attractive (Steel 65). Theorists suggest that those bearing an unstable self-concept engage in procrastination owing to the fear that they will fail to meet the set standards (Wohl, Pychyl, and Bennet 803). Chronic procrastinators manifest a self-concept typified by a significant number of adverse and procrastination-based attributes, significant levels of fear of adverse evaluation, severe symptoms of depression, and decreased levels of self-concept clarity, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Procrastinators are also highly self-critical and publicly self-conscious. The self-critical behavior may make the procrastinator numb to the extent that the procrastinator falters when starting to deal with the task. Procrastinators may also manifest an irrational fear of success or failure. Procrastinators may show traits of being overwhelmed, highly emotional. They also demonstrate less attachment to cognitive complexity and a tendency to link success to external and unstable factors (Richards 113).
The relative scarcity of research on procrastination implies that overarching theory of procrastination does not exist, and multiple measurement strategies are utilized to gauge the susceptibility to procrastination. The research relating to self-concept in academic procrastination is largely correlational, which limits the strength of such theories. Chronic procrastinators show reluctance to tarnish their self-presentational image and strategically procrastinate to avert appraisals of their capabilities.
Self-determination Theory. Multiple studies have shown that the assurance of the external reward for carrying out certain job may help the subject to find the assignment interesting. Self-determination theory highlights the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, in which the former is more potent compared to the latter. The self-determination stresses the value of ensuring that people rely on intrinsic motivation and not merely depend on external reward. In the early years of schooling, students write their homework because their parents pressure them to do so (Levesque 2181). By contrast, education during senior years necessitates that students find their studies imperative and rewarding. As students fully internalize their behavior, they acquire a greater sense of self-initiation or autonomy. Autonomous behavior varies from non-self directed behavior in the sense that it yields to the enhanced task initiative, positive feelings, and augmented consistency between actions and objectives.
Self-determination theory stipulates that there are five categories of self-regulation structured along the continuum of autonomy, namely: intrinsic regulation, amotivation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, and external regulation. The first category of self-regulation, amotivated behavior, manifests the least degree of independence since there is little anticipation of reward. Students who lack motivation also illustrate a poor sense of purpose and low capability to decipher opportunities to modify the course of events (Levesque 2182). The external regulation characterizes the behavior directed via the use of rewards or constraints externally exerted by other people. Third, introjected regulation encapsulates the internalized behavior but not wholly recognized as flowing from the self.
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Fourth, the identified regulation embodies a situation in which the person admits that the performance is central to the attainment of personal values and goals. Hence, the individual embraces the behavior as stemming from the self. Intrinsic motivation represents actions that individuals are engaged in due to the pleasure and satisfaction that the performance of the assignment brings. The efficacy of intrinsic motivation is exemplified by the fact that intrinsically motivated students mostly find their school projects captivating, gratifying, and worthy of learning. Indeed, students who enjoy high levels of self-efficacy for self-regulated learning direct their endeavors in a way that augments academic accomplishment (Levesque 2182). Students who enjoy high self-efficacy regularly set elevated ambitions and look for help when needed. The capacity to seek help when needed demonstrates that the students can accurately appreciate the difficulty of the task, which is pertinent in remedying the problem.
Self-motivation theory directs that autonomous modes of self-regulation diverge from the non-autonomous forms of self-regulation in three ways. First, when individuals have self-directed motives for involving in an activity, they demonstrate greater initiative and persistence as compared to the cases when the student feels controlled. Moreover, when individuals engage in an activity based on autonomous reasons, they are more probable to experience widely positive emotions such as enjoyment and interest. By contrast, the non-autonomous modes of self-regulation are more likely to be connected to adverse and conflicted sentiments. Lastly, the autonomous forms of self-regulation are linked to integrated and consistent behaviors as compared to other types of self-regulation. Intrinsic forms of self-regulation enhance enjoyment of academic activities and improved feelings of competence, increased grades, better concentration, and more time spent on academic tasks (Klingsieck 24).
Critique of the Model. Critics of the current models of procrastination that describes procrastination as primarily a problem of deficit in self-regulation highlight that confidence in self-regulating is more crucial as compared to knowledge of self-regulation strategies. Self-regulation relates to the manner in which individuals exploit internal and external cues to initiate, sustain, and terminate their goal-inspired actions. Critics contend that present interpretation of procrastination is simplistic and ignores the central role played by confidence or self-efficacy in directing cognitive and metacognitive functioning (Levesque 2183). The restrictive view of procrastination holds that the downgrading on the priority of certain tasks does not constitute procrastination. The other conceptual divide relates to those who define procrastination via certain behaviors versus those defining procrastination in terms of personality traits that ought to be displayed habitually across diverse contexts. Critics also contend that referencing of self-regulation is restrictive since it disregards the function that motivation plays in the adoption of crucial metacognitive strategies. Indeed, for the most procrastinators, knowing what to do is not necessarily the issue since performance failures are mostly the outcome of absence of motivation.
The phenomenon of procrastination is firmly established anecdotally and empirically in academic settings, especially among college and university students. The core reason on why procrastination studies have centered on scholastic settings are connected with the adverse learning implications that may stem from the destructive behavior. Procrastination relates to motivation variables including self-efficacy for self-regulated learning. Some researchers have conceptualized procrastination as a persistent and destructive form of self-regulatory failure. Research studies have established that procrastination is a prominent predictor of success in college and the establishment of a scale, to gauge upon which could be beneficial for college and universities. Procrastination is measured extensively via self-report measures intended to appraise academic or everyday procrastination (Balkis 57). The measures of academic procrastination explore such aspects as academic self-esteem, academic self-efficacy, anxiety, and depression.
Motivation versus Task Characteristics, A myriad of psychological variables and task characteristics have been explored widely to investigate why students procrastinate on academic tasks. Task aversiveness is a positive predictor of procrastination fuelled by the perception of tasks as unpleasant, complex, or tedious. In some instances, prior knowledge may impact procrastination behavior in the sense that course demanding less background knowledge may yield to higher levels of procrastination. Furthermore, the time allotted to undertake a task (considered as rewards and punishment) may influence the phenomenon of procrastination (Seel 2698). Students are less probable to procrastinate as deadline nears since the positive or negative repercussions of undertaking an assignment become more significant and immediate.
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The temporal motivation theory incorporates the self-efficacy and self-regulatory aspects. Students who possess intrinsic motives for pursuing their studies are more likely to delay the completion of school assignments as compared to those showing less motivation. Research studies indicate that students with built-in motivation for pursuing academic tasks usually procrastinate less as compared to the students with less autonomous motives (Seel 2698). As such, procrastination can be regarded as a motivation problem that encompasses more than poor time management skills or laziness. Students who lack enthusiasm in the regulation of academic behavior procrastinate at a higher rate as compared to the students showing intrinsic motivation. The less autonomous modes of motivation are connected with increased levels of procrastination, as well as less persistence, inconsistency between behaviors and attitudes, and negative emotions (Klassen et al. 361).
The phenomenon of procrastination provides insights into the association between performance and motivation. Principally, self-regulation remains a powerful predictor of procrastination as compared to self-esteem. Overall, there exists a rich body of evidence illustrating that lower levels of self-regulating behavior breeds enhanced levels of procrastination, and that self-regulation is pertinent to the understanding of the phenomenon of procrastination (Seel 2699). Some research studies have explored the situational or instructional conditions impacting on procrastination such as promptness of assignment submission, the anticipations of the teacher on work quality, and teacher organization. Teachers who are known to provide vague directions to their students and harbor low expectations for their work may reinforce procrastination among the students.
Academic procrastination yields to negative outcomes such as lower grades, increased course withdrawals, poor classroom attendance, and increased student expels. Procrastination also bears an emotional component in the sense that procrastinators report feelings of inadequacy, guilt, embarrassment, tension, panic, embarrassment, self-deprecation, and anxiety. Largely, the bulk of emotional consequences of task delay stems from a cognitive component referred to as “self-downing” or a “pattern of doubting one’s capabilities yielding to hesitations, self-doubt, second-guessing, and sense of worthlessness. The pattern of “self-downing” may orchestrate feelings of worry, depression, helplessness, hostility, frustration, and irritation. The low frustration tolerance and the stress emanating from task avoidance may also act as a catalyst in the collapse of self-control.
Adaptive versus Maladaptive Reasons. One of the lingering questions regarding procrastination centers on whether it is, in some instances, adaptive, strategic, or beneficial. Some studies hold that some students view procrastination as a positive strategy that can enhance cognitive efficiency. Active procrastination represents a more positive, purposeful, and less incapacitating mode of procrastination in which students intentionally delay academic activity, yet meet the deadlines and deliver satisfactory outcomes. Students who possess high self-efficacy learning master to direct their learning processes by setting suitable goals for themselves and enlisting self-regulative influences that stimulate and guide their behavior. By contrast, students who procrastinate and display avoidance coping behavior, encounter numerous challenges that may undermine their academic performance (Babadogan 3263).
Some students gain from working under time pressures and actively pursue procrastination to exploit the thrill brought by time pressures. Other studies have also shown that student procrastinators experience less stress and illness relative to non-procrastinators early in the academic semester perhaps owing to the temporary relief of academic anxiety (Olubusayo 205). However, studies showing positive outcomes of procrastination are in the minority. Largely, the phenomenon of student procrastination comes out through the behavioral manifestations. Procrastination among students may be exhibited by the lack of intention or promptness in performing classroom projects. Academic procrastination may also be displayed by a preference for competing activities in abandonment of the crucial school assignments (Babadogan 3264). Lastly, academic procrastination among college students stems from discrepancy between intention and behavior. Procrastination is repeatedly associated with negative behaviors and such results as exploitation of self handicapping approaches, underachievement, adverse mental health effects including heightened anxiety and depression, anxiety over failure, and tendency to hand in late assignments (Grunschel, Patrzek, and Fries 841).
Procrastinating students fail to complete the task in time and may consequently feel overwhelmed, which creates tension and anxiety (Jiao, DaRos, Collins, and Onwuegbuzie 119). In the academia world, self-efficacy is a strong predictor of academic performance which manifests inverse relationship to procrastination. Self-efficacy represents an individual’s belief in his or her capability to accomplish a task at hand. Procrastination, a problem of epidemic proportions among college students, adversely influences students’ psychological adjustment and academic performance. Multiple research studies have established that procrastination is connected with higher course withdrawals. High self-efficacy for the self-regulated learning powerfully predicts strong performance while low self-efficacy for self-regulated learning predicts poor academic performance (Jiao, DaRos, Collins, and Onwuegbuzie 120). Chronic academic procrastinators receive significantly lower paper and examination grades as compared to the students who finish school-based activities on time.
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Cognitive, Affective, and Motivational Aspects of Procrastination. The construct of procrastination is multi-dimensional in nature since it encompasses behavioral, cognitive, and affective components. Research studies indicate that procrastination draws from poor self-regulation rendering it difficult for students to control thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Self-regulated students readily cope with the tasks at hand by planning actions and adopting a suitable strategy. Poor self-regulation can also be linked to low self-efficacy whereby procrastinators report being lazy and have reservations about their skills. Self-handicapping can be cited as the core source of procrastination (Onwuegbuzie and Jiao 145). The bulk of individuals who procrastinate are usually less confident in deriving positive outcomes. As a result, the students are highly irritable and anxious about their failures. Academic procrastination can be defined as a behavior product such as emotional upset. The cognitive component of procrastination draws from a discrepancy between intentions and actual behavior. Most students instinctively recognize procrastination as a form of “anti-motivation” that is widespread and may serve as an obstacle to the attainment of valued objectives (Onwuegbuzie and Jiao 146).
Procrastination may be propelled by a fear of failure grounded in the notion that the work that an individual undertakes dictates the individual’s capacity and ultimately self-worth. Procrastinators self-handicap in an effort to avert disapproval occasioned by a sub-par performance. Self-handicapping represents the actions carried out by students that serve to weaken their own capacity to perform at optimal levels (Sirin 447). For instance, when a chronic procrastinator fails at a certain task, the procrastinator can attribute the failure to not possessing sufficient time instead of an intrinsic incapacity. Procrastinators blame their failure on their lack of trying rather than lack of capability.
Strategies Oriented towards Sustaining Engagement and Learning Intentions. Procrastination is not merely a deficit of time management and study habits, but rather it involves an intricate interaction of cognitive, behavioral, and affective components. In exceptional circumstances, procrastination is deliberately planned, adaptive, and beneficial, which contrasts with the normative view of procrastination as maladaptive and characteristically involuntary. Considering academic procrastination as a self-regulation failure helps in constructing interventions tailored to distinct needs of procrastinating students. Since academic procrastination is not simply a time management issue, clinical interventions should be structured and implemented based on cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The core objective of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to improve the awareness of irrational beliefs so that they may be challenged and adjusted to mirror more accurate, adaptive, and reality-based thinking (Tan et al. 135). Hence, the interventions should tackle such aspects as low frustration tolerance, overgeneralizations, and entertaining unrealistic expectations. The strategies may center on controlling thoughts of self-efficacy and exploiting self-directed language grounded in positive self-affirmation (Tan et al. 136). The strategies may also be directed towards enhancing extrinsic motivation, promising the procrastinator rewards after completion of a task. The strategies to enhance intrinsic motivation may be designed to render the task more interesting while strategies to enhance task value may highlight the value and usefulness of the task for the future.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Academic procrastination represents a widespread and principally maladaptive behavior typified by behavioral disposition to postpone the performance of an assignment or decision. Procrastination may emanate from low self efficacy and low self-esteem propelled by the fear and anxiety over failure. The manner in which students regulate their behavior can have significant impacts on academic outcomes including performance, learning, curiosity, persistence, and self-esteem. Studies on academic procrastination show that students who procrastinate report a reduced school performance. Procrastinators manifest trait depression and anxiety, which undermines self-esteem. Although students identify a number of reasons for procrastinating, the bulk of the motives hinge on the fear of failure occasioned by performance anxiety, absence of self-confidence, and perfectionism.
The strategies to maintain engagement and learning intentions among procrastinators are centered on controlling motivation to ensure that the procrastinator completes the tasks at hand, especially when the student views the tasks as tiring, boring, or difficult. For groups of procrastinators that report fear of failure, the intervention strategies should address anxiety, low self-confidence, and perfectionism. The affective strategies intended to augment the cognitive strategies encompass building confidence and preserving a positive attitude. Other measures that can be implemented to minimize the impacts of academic procrastination encompass the instructors exploiting measured approaches towards class assignments to ensure that students have reduced the opportunities for academic procrastination. Although procrastination is pervasive and known to cause adverse health and educational outcomes, the empirical basis of procrastination research is less established as compared to those of other psychological constructs. Cleary, extra research on situational and chronic procrastination is required. Future research should attempt to integrate procrastination into the broader theory of learning. It should concentrate on integrating a model of the procrastination process into the existing models of motivation and learning.