When an important task requires your attention, do you get right to it or do you put it off? When you’re faced with a paper to write, a report to review, or a memo that needs a detailed response, does the laundry—or the latest YouTube video—suddenly emerge as a more interesting alternative? Procrastination is an occasional challenge for many of us. But chronic procrastination can be a real problem for students, significantly affecting their academic success.
In a study published recently in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology*, authors Laura Rabin, Joshua Fogel, and Katherine Nutter-Upham look at procrastination and its connection to the self-regulatory processes that make up executive function.
Dr. Rabin and her colleagues examined nine clinical subscales of the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning–Adult Version (BRIEF-A) in a sample of more than 200 college students. These subscales include measures of impulsivity, self-monitoring, planning and organizing, ability to “shift” behavior or mindset when necessary, initiative, task monitoring, emotional control, working memory, and organization of materials. The authors found that all nine of the clinical subscales measured by the BRIEF-A showed a significant correlation with higher academic procrastination.
What can be done to help students whose procrastination is hindering their success? In his Psychology Today blog “Don’t Delay: Understanding Procrastination” (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay), Timothy A. Pychyl describes implications of the Rabin, Fogel, and Nutter-Upham study, summarizing some key strategies for students who struggle with procrastination. They include:
- setting proximal sub-goals along with reasonable expectations about the amount of effort required to complete a given task;
- using contracts for periodic work completion;
- requiring weekly or repeated quizzes until topic mastery has been achieved;
- using short assignments that build on one another with regular deadlines and feedback;
- focusing on the problem of “giving in to feeling good” by developing an awareness of the problem and its subversive effects on achievement;
- developing volitional skills, such as managing intrusive negative emotions and controlling impulses;
- establishing fixed daily routines;
- blocking access to short-term temptations and distractions such as social media; and
- using peer monitoring and self-appraisal methods to improve academic conscientiousness.
Pychyl’s blog includes a podcast interview with Laura Rabin in which she describes how a neuropsychological perspective can inform our understanding of the role of executive function in procrastination. To listen to Dr. Rabin’s interview now, click on http://iprocrastinate.libsyn.com/a-neuropsychological-perspective-on-procrastination.
To learn more about how the BRIEF measures executive function, visit the PAR Web site (www.parinc.com) and navigate to the BRIEF product page.
*Rabin, L. A., Fogel, J., & Nutter-Upham, K. E. (2011). Academic procrastination in college students: The role of self-reported executive function. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 33, 344-357.