We are all procrastinators but we each have our style. That is why there are no strategies that work for everyone or magic solutions that can be applied in any case, although there are some recommendations that can help in the short term.
To find a useful solution to the bad habit of leaving everything to the last moment, it is necessary to know what kind of procrastinator each worker is. Also, take into account some notions of recent studies that point out that certain brain structures are different in the brains of procrastinators.
The doctor in clinical psychology Ellen Hendriksen has studied this issue for years, analyzing the behaviour of who procrastinates and the peculiarities of each.
In conclusion, Hendriksen classifies them into three different groups, which makes it easier to understand the reasons for their behaviour and to find more personalized strategies that help correct it.
Some people procrastinate to avoid the negative consequences of their actions, such as feeling anxious, bored, overwhelmed or sad.
Emotional blockages, such as fear of failure, excessive perfectionism or low self-confidence are other causes very frequent, but not always conscious.
This is joined by mental mechanisms such as the Zeigarnik effect, the tendency to remember unfinished or interrupted tasks more easily than those that have been completed.
This avoidance strategy is not always successful, according to Hendriksen, because the very act of procrastinating can lead the person to feel negative emotions such as the stress of having to do all the work in less time.
Let’s do it for pleasure!
We are biologically programmed to look for pleasant sensations and avoid pain. When this is taken to work, it can be one of the causes of procrastination.
There are employees who don’t do what they owe until they really feel like doing it. In this case, it is not so much about avoiding a specific task but about wanting to deliberately choose something they like best.
Why worry? Everything will be fine!
They are victims of the so-called planning fallacy, which is related to predictions about how much time it will take to complete a future task.
Different studies support this bias and confirm that humans are too optimistic when they calculate the time it will take to complete a specific task. Further investigations identified optimism as a key feature among those who are always late.
It’s in the grey matter
There are different investigations that study the causes of these behaviours. One of the most recent ones has found that there are certain structures that are different in the brains of procrastinators.
A team of researchers from the University of Ruhr has been dedicated to analyzing how the brain behaves in people who tend to postpone tasks instead of directly addressing them.
Using magnetic resonance imaging, the team identified two areas whose volume and connectivity are linked to an individual’s ability to control their actions and, therefore, to decide when to carry them out.
In a research published in the journal Psychological Science, the team concludes that people who do not sufficiently control their ability to act; that is, who know they should do their homework but are not able to do it, have a larger tonsil.
These people may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action: they tend to doubt and postpone things.
In addition, the connection between the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex is less pronounced. The main function of the amygdala is to evaluate different situations and warn us about the possible negative consequences of each action.
The anterior cingulate cortex uses this information to select what actions are to be taken. Due to a low connection between the two, negative emotions may not be sufficiently regulated and affect the ability to initiate the action.
Future studies will have to show whether the ability to decide on one’s actions can be modified by specific training or brain stimulation.
For now, it seems that procrastinators are not people who are lazy or way too relaxed with responsibility, but who have anatomical differences that cause their procrastination. It is not clear, however, if procrastinators are born with these anatomical differences or whether the brain changes as a consequence of being a procrastinator.
Although there are some strategies that can work in the short term. When the habit of leaving everything for the last moment affects the well-being of the worker, his productivity or the relationship he has with his coworkers, professional intervention is necessary.
A meta-analysis of 24 studies tested the effectiveness of different interventions. It concluded that cognitive behavioural therapy reduced procrastination more intensely than other types of interventions, including self-regulation or interventions focused on the resources and strengths of individuals.