LIFE BEYOND INEFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT
Joseph R. Ferrari1
Department of Psychology, DePaul University, 2219 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago,
Republished with permission of Nova Science Publisher, from Joseph R. Ferrari, "Chro
nic Procrastination: Life Beyond IneffectiveTime Management" from Time Management, ed.
by Anna P. Varga, Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2011, pp. 83–
91; permission conveyedthrough Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.
Many people delay tasks, but research indicates that globally a high percentage of per
sons are chronic procrastinators, individualswho frequently delay the start or completion of
tasks for irrational reasons. Research suggests that chronic procrastinators view timedime
nsions differently than nonprocrastinators, ruminating about past failures and regretting things that they missed. Chro
nicprocrastinators would not benefit from time management classes, since their tendency t
oward excuse making might trivialize the trainingprocess. In short, time management woul
d not be a treatment alternative of choice for handling chronic procrastination.
"I'm Late, I'm Late for a Very Important Date"
White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland
In the famous story by Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, the White Rabbit is seen ru
nning and running, looking at his watch, andsaying "oh my, I'm late." He runs, but never see
ms to get there. Was it a problem of poor time management for the White Rabbit? If so, the
ntime management classes or a life coach who would teach him to schedule things effective
ly might have worked.
Alternatively, one wonders if the White Rabbit was frequently late for things in his pr
ivate life as well as in his professional dutieswithin the Royal Court of the Queen of Hearts.
Was he late showing up for croquet events held in the Court, or maybe missed them alltoge
ther because he never purchased a ticket to the event? Was he known by his family and frie
nds as someone who missed deadlines, orworked on tasks at the last minute just before thi
ngs were done?
It is unknown what the answers are to these questions, but if the White Rabbit met all
his life situations frequently, persistently,chronically intending to delay the start or finish o
f tasks, then socialpersonality psychologists would label him a chronic procrastinator.Chronic procrastination
may be defined as a needless, irrational delay of a relevant and timely task, characterizing a
s many as 20% of Northand South American as well as European and Middle Eastern men a
nd women (Ferrari, O'Callahan, and Newbegin, 2004; Ferrari, DíazMorales, O'Callaghan, Díaz, and Argumedo, 2007; Ferrari, Özer, and Demir, 2009). Chronic
procrastination is related to a host of traits,including low states of self-confidence and selfesteem and high states of depression, neurosis, selfawareness, social anxiety, forgetfulness,disorganization, noncompetitiveness, dysfunctional impulsivity, behavioral rigidity, and lack of energy (e.g., Bes
wick, Rothblum, and Mann,1988; Ferrari, 2004; Ferrari, Johnson, and McCown, 1995; Senec
al, Koestner, and Vallerand, 1995). Reviews of the literature suggested thatprocrastination i
s related to low conscientiousness related to low self-esteem and selfefficacy (van Eerde, 2003; 2004).
People who report frequent, chronic procrastination engage in selfsabotaging behaviors (Ferrari and Tice, 2000), fraudulent excusemaking (Ferrari, 1993), po
or selfregulation of their performance skills within limited time frames (Ferrari, 2001), and attrib
ute task delaysto factors other than their own performance (Ferrari et al., 1995). Although
different motives have been identified to procrastinate (Ferrariand DíazMorales, 2006), fear of failure may be a primary motive for procrastination (Solomon and R
othblum, 1984) and people reportthey delay more on tasks they perceive as unpleasant, bo
ring, or difficult (Milgram, Sroff, and Rosenbaum, 1993). In short, procrastinationis comple
x relating to a variety of different personality variables and involving more than ineffective
time management (cf., Ferrari et al.,1995; 2010; Steele, 2007).
Some chronic procrastinators say, "I just don't have the time to start or finish all the t
asks that I have to do." However, they have thesame amount of time as nonprocrastinators, raising the question—
can we really "manage time"? There are so many selfhelp books forsale that try to teach us to be more productive and more efficient. Of course,
one can invest in a BlackBerry or a planner and keep track ofdaily activities. But, will that gi
ve the person more time? Time is constant. We all have the same amount of time each week
(see Vanderkam,2010). There are 168 hours in a week—
60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day, 7 days to a week, 4 weeks to a month, 12 months t
o ayear. For centuries we used this daily measurement as our criteria for time (except The
Beatles, who sang a famous song from the late1960s about "8 Days a Week"). If you sleep fo
r eight hours a night and work 40 hours a week, that leaves 72 hours a week to engage inta
sks. We can't stop time, we can't control time—
it is like a stream, constantly flowing. Chronic procrastinators blame their inability or lack o
fwillingness to complete tasks on a lack of time (Sirois, 2009).
If we can't manage time, can we manage ourselves to learn to be more efficient with t
he time we have? How do we handle waiting forthings in life to happen? I propose it is not t
ime we need to manage, it is our self than needs to be managed more effectively (Ferrari, 20
10).The White Rabbit needed to manage his lifestyle more effective and not focus on the lac
k of time he was experiencing.
The author Bertram Russell once said, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted tim
e." For the chronic procrastinator, this statementimplies not to view time as being wasted.
Don't confuse procrastination with waiting. With chronic procrastination, a person is worki
nghard to not have something happen. With waiting, the person prepares for the next step
working toward a goal, not avoiding one. Waitingis actively preparing for things that will ha
ppen. Chronic procrastinators need to reframe thoughts and enjoy the time off from workin
g ona task; do something fun with the time off from working on a task that we have. The chr
onic procrastinator does not need to considerwaiting as wasting time; instead, frame it as a
time waiting for something to happen and in the meantime making one's wait time product
ive.Time is finite. Like the White Rabbit, we don't really manage time—
we manage our activities within the time we have.
TIME PERCEPTION BY PROCRASTINATORS
It may not surprise anyone that adult chronic procrastinators more often claim they a
re "night" people, preferring to work on socialor individual activities after dark (Ferrari, Ha
rriott, Evans, LecikMichna, and Wenger (1997). Ferrari et al. surveyed several hundred USparticipants and fou
nd procrastinators are indeed "creatures of the night." Chronic procrastinators reported th
ey enjoy shopping, eatingout, seeing a movie, pleasure reading, exercising, spending time w
ith friends, working on a hobby, and playing group sports—
all at night. Ina second study, chronic procrastinators and nonprocrastinators recorded in a daily diary over the course of six days all the activities theyw
including the time of day (Ferrari et al.). Hundreds of tasks were recorded, but there was n
o significant difference betweenchronic procrastinators and nonprocrastinators on the number or quality of tasks. Nevertheless, procrastinators were more
likely to listtheir tasks as started or completed in "the pm"—
at night. These results were replicated with an international sample of participants adecade
later (Diaz-Morales, Cohen, and Ferrari, 2008).
Specter and Ferrari (2000) explored the time preferences of procrastinators. Adult m
en and women from the USA who reportedchronic procrastination rates were less likely to
ponder the future and more likely to focus on the past; procrastinators did not consider the
present time. In other words, chronic procrastinators focused on the past, were less likely t
o focus on the future, and the present did notseem relevant. In fact, upon closer examinatio
n it was found that for chronic procrastinators, time perspective was associated negatively
with the present and seemed fatalistic in orientation. In a survey of Spanish speaking adults
, DiazMorales et al. (2008) found that chronicprocrastinators had a hopeless attitude toward the
future and life in general. Their time perspective was associated positively with thepresent
but more hedonistic, reflecting a risktaking attitude toward time and life. Chronic procrastinators perceived reflecting on the fut
McCrea, Liberman, Trope, and Sherman (2008) with German adult men and women f
ound that for chronic procrastinators tomorrowwas believed to be a better day to get thing
s moving forward than today. According to their model, events and tasks that are in the dist
antfuture were more abstract for procrastinators, because they could not see these events
happening today or even tomorrow. Consequently,they procrastinated. In contrast, those ta
sks that were more concrete and seemed to be due in the near future (like tomorrow) was f
ocusedon and completed.
Taken together, these studies suggest that chronic procrastinators from many countri
es about the world focus frequently on the past,or on the distant future, without considerin
g the present, thinking that tomorrow is always better than today. Unfortunately, these beli
efsare not always adaptive, they will not help the procrastinator enjoy what is happening at
the moment. The chronic procrastinator will missthe simple joys of what is around you at a
ny given point in time. Of course, the chronic procrastinator must monitor him/herself that
theyonly see life as "fun" and a chance to take risks and live life on the edge. Perceiving the
present as all fun is as maladaptive as believing it isfatalistically because there is nothing yo
u can do to change your destiny, or feeling helpless will not help you enjoy life.
RUMINATION ABOUT THE PAST, OR SAVORING THE GOOD TIMES FROM THE PAST?
Reminiscing about the past can result in inertia if one recalls failures and regret, or it
can be a healthy process in which one savorsthe good times (Ferrari, Barnes, and Steel, 200
9). In a set of unpublished data from our lab, Sumner (2009) examined whetherprocrastina
tors, when they focus on their past life events, engaged in "ruminating about failures" or "sa
vor the good times." We thought thatperhaps chronic procrastinators can't get themselves
moving forward because all they do is remember . . . when they made a decision oracted in
a timely way it resulted in "failure"—
ruminating about failures and regrets. Using two separate samples of adult chronicprocrast
inators and nonprocrastinators, Sumner found that rumination about negative events were more prominen
t for procrastinatorsthan the savoring of positive events. Still, some procrastinators did sav
or the "happy moments" they recalled. They wrote about childhoodand adult episodes that
were personal or involving others (listing over 1700 past "good time moments" for their lif
e in only 3–
4 minutestime!). Given that procrastinators regret past life events they never completed or
finished (Ferrari et al, 2009), it seems they also ruminateabout failure when they think or r
ecall their past.
There is a myth that some chronic procrastinators claim, such that they need to start
a task close to deadline in order to get motivatedby working against the clock (Ferrari et al.,
1995). However, if they started a task on time their attitude toward the job will change. On
cethey start, procrastinators will see the task is not so bad (see Ferrari and Pychyl, 2000). P
sychologists found that people feel good whenthey make progress toward reaching goals. C
onsequently, if one is happier about reaching goals, then individuals such as procrastinator
sshould be more likely to work on the tasks to meet that goal. There is only so much time in
a day, and procrastinating does not lead to moretime. Instead of trying to manage their tim
e chronic procrastinators need to manage their responses to schedules, timeframes, anddea
Chronic procrastination is not adaptive—it is selfhandicapping (Ferrari and Tice, 2000). Procrastinators who frequently delay acrosssituatio
ns and tasks will not benefit from time management training. They will generate excuses w
hy the training might work for others butnot themselves (Ferrari et al., 1995; Schouwenbur
g et al., 2004). Instead, these individuals need to change their affective, behavioral, andcogn
itive responding to tasks and time. Procrastinators fail to focus on the now, on present life e
vents. They need to work on what is beforethem that needs their attention. (See Ferrari, 20
10, for suggested interventions.) Working on a "now" for procrastinators will add to theira
bilities to succeed. Living life as the White Rabbit (always late for an important date) will n
ot promote a successful lifestyle. Instead, thechronic procrastinator will ruminate about fail
ure and recall with regret what they never accomplish.
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Address correspondence to the author at: Department of Psychology, DePaul University, 2219 North Kenmo
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