Monday, February 26, 2018

Waiting until the last minute may create more stress and produce inferior work.
"Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is an old expression that warns against procrastinating.  Critics of procrastination tend to believe that waiting until the last minute doesn't provide enough time to do quality work and actually creates more stress for the worker.  Procrastinators defend themselves by pointing out that if two people put the same amount of work into a project, when they do their work doesn't matter.  Procrastinators also tend to believe they work best under the pressure of a looming deadline; therefore they see procrastination as a superior strategy that produces higher quality work.  To try and determine which view was more accurate, Researchers from Case Western Reserve University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
Sixty students in a psychology class participated in the study.  At the beginning of the semester the class was given a due date for a term paper.  One month into the semester, all the participants completed a questionnaire that measured their attitudes toward procrastination.  The researchers used this questionnaire to classify each participant as either a procrastinator or a non-procrastinator.  For the next month all participants completed weekly questionnaires that measured stress-related physical symptoms, number of visits made to the health-care center and the overall amount of stress experienced.  Later, during the last week of class, the participants again completed these same questionnaires so the researchers could assess the long-term effects of procrastination.
The results showed that early in the semester, procrastinators suffered less stress and fewer stress-related physical symptoms than non-procrastinators did.  These short-term benefits of procrastinating, however, reversed as time went on.  At the end of the semester, procrastinators reported higher levels of stress and stress-related physical symptoms.  To make matters worse, procrastinators' levels of stress and stress-related physical symptoms were higher at the end of the semester than those experienced by non-procrastinators at the beginning of the semester.  In other words, waiting until the last minute didn't just shift when procrastinator's experienced their stress, it actually increased how much stress and symptoms procrastinator's experienced.  In addition, procrastinators received lower grades on their term papers and exams than non-procrastinators did.  Thus, procrastination also seems to decrease rather than increase the quality of work performance.
Why should it matter to me?
Although it may be easy to put off working on a project until later, remember that you pay a price for procrastinating.  In the long run you are likely to experience more stress and physical symptoms if you wait until the last minute.  More importantly, your work probably won't be as good if you wait until just before a deadline.  Instead of procrastinating, it may be better to try and spread your work out over a period of time.  By spreading out your work you won't feel overwhelmed by the project and can keep your stress level lower.
Source: Tice, Dianne M., & Baumeister, Roy F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8, 454-458.