Please Explain: Procrastination

Friday, October 29, 2010

Putting thing off until the last minute is a compulsion many people share. On this week’s Please Explain, Dr. George Ainslie, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Cape Town, in South Africa, and Dr. Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University, tell us what causes us to procrastinate, how it affects productivity, and methods for ending procrastination. Dr. Ferrari is the author of Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. Dr. Ainslie is the author of Breakdown of Will and Picoeconomics.

Do you have methods to overcome procrastination?


George Ainslie and Joseph Ferrari

Comments [37]

claudia from Montreal, qc

the early bird catches the worm, but the early worm will get eaten first!

Dec. 01 2011 03:12 PM

The woman who called up about her husband and not filing taxes for years could find help for her husband and herself at a debtors anonymous meeting -

Oct. 29 2010 05:30 PM
anna from new york

"Do you have methods to overcome procrastination"
I think the Nazis had some good methods. Why reinvent?

Oct. 29 2010 04:10 PM
anna from new york

"I take it back--listening to your show is not procrastinating--it's a great learning experience!

"I am a professor and was inspired by the segment. From now on, I am going to REWARD my students for giving in their homework EARLY"
Inspired by corporate garbage about proscrastination? Marching to some Orwellian tunes of eternal optimism and pomposity? I rightly tend to repeat that geeks shouldn't be allowed to vote.
dr anna

Oct. 29 2010 03:55 PM

i totally agree with CHfromNYC. it is upsetting to the point of insanity to deal with someone with serious procrastination issues and you try to get them motivated by coaxing, cajoing, begging, pleading, knowing you will eventually have to deal with the fallout, which is inevitable

Oct. 29 2010 03:42 PM
sandra from nyc

Dear Leonard,

I take it back--listening to your show is not procrastinating--it's a great learning experience!

I am a professor and was inspired by the segment. From now on, I am going to REWARD my students for giving in their homework EARLY!!! Hopefully, this will cut down on late assignments, which is always a burden.

Well, I think I'll call the station NOW to add to my pledge! : )

p.s. I teach math--sorry to hear you don't feel adept in this area--I'll help anytime you wish!

Oct. 29 2010 02:07 PM
Margery from NJ

Procrastination is often because of fear- that you will be be unable to do it or not do it well. So you put it off until the deadline, thus in a way, dooming yourself not to do it well. It has taken me years to finally force myself, after an initial procrastination, to do the task in time, and then I have learned I feel so much better!

Oct. 29 2010 02:02 PM
Angelica Smith from Westchester

Here is a poem I wrote about that early bird thing:

"The early bird catches the worm";
Or so it is I've heard;
But isn't it the early worm
That's caught by the early bird?

Oct. 29 2010 01:56 PM
Deb from Larchmont

Procrastination is linked to ADHD in that waiting until the last minute creates a 'high-stimulation' environment for the ADHD brain. High-stim environments trigger the ADHD brain to function better - more dopamine! That's why we wait until the last minute - it feels good to work under that pressure. ADHD meds will not deliver the same effect, so cannot replace the high-stim of 'the last minute'.

Oct. 29 2010 01:54 PM
Sara B from nyc

I'm a procrastinator, and my sig. other is not. I realized in the first year of our relationship that we would break up if I was always late for things (he thought my lateness was a sign that I didn't care enough to show up on time). He gave me a phrase that helped a lot when I am planning to get somewhere: "It's okay to be early." Sometimes when I am getting anxious about getting places, and what train to take, etc I have to remind myself: "It's okay to be early."

Oct. 29 2010 01:54 PM
maggie from nj

good grief. Being early is fine for MOST situations, but early to a party or dinner at a friends home id downright rude. Ask any host or hostess.

Come early and wait outside to ring the bell.

Also procrastination is a common well known symptom of ADD. Just heard it mentioned: what a poor explanation! Please procrastinators research this for yourselves..

Oct. 29 2010 01:53 PM
Patricia from New York City

My teenager is a terrible proscrasinator. He's applying to college this year but has done very little on his applications, one of which is due on Monday! What do I do? Nag him, bribe him, or just let him be and sit back and if he gets into college next year?

Oct. 29 2010 01:51 PM
Natasha from Astoria

Nothing cured my procrastination better than having my children (now 1.5 and 3.5) - no one is more demanding than someone who is willing to throw a tantrum because you didn't get the food/toy/diaper/bath/etc on time (= their schedule). I wouldn't recommend this as a cure, but once someone is completely dependent on you and quick to punish you, it's a whole new ballgame!

Oct. 29 2010 01:50 PM
Roger from Astoria

How much do you think procrastination has to do the procrastinators lack in self-confidence regarding their ability to handle the task at hand?

Oct. 29 2010 01:49 PM
jj from nyc

The issue isn't only thrill-seeking. In some cases concentrating work into smaller time-frames, with time-pressure playing a role, allows absolute concentration for extended periods of time.

Oct. 29 2010 01:49 PM
Elizabeth from Hoboken, NJ

Early is not always better. I work in an area where rate and flow are important. One part of the work that is early results in waiting for the next area to take the finished product or for the incoming work to arrive. It's waste.

I think on time is the point at which to strive. Early is waste in many, many areas.


PS: If you are showing up for a party at my house and you're early you will not be invited again or I will lie about the time the thrash is starting. Being early to a party is plain rude!

Oct. 29 2010 01:49 PM
Amy from Manhattan

One of the guests called procrastinating a choice, but it doesn't *feel* as if I'm choosing to put things off.

Oct. 29 2010 01:49 PM

Are there studies of the rewards of non-procrastinators that may be instructive.

Oct. 29 2010 01:48 PM
Lori from Brooklyn

PLEASE discuss how to overcome it!

Oct. 29 2010 01:47 PM
Joanna Depue from NY

I have chronic clinical depression and significant brain damage in the area of the brain used for executive functioning. I am an ongoing procrastinator ... and can use all the tips and suggestions you may have about finding ways to help me out of the fog ....

Oct. 29 2010 01:45 PM
Gary from Long Island

I had a friend who used to procrastinate and then I found that she was dyslectic and had trouble ordering items and referencing time. Another friend procrastinated and he explained he was a perfectionist and couldn't move forward until the item he was working on was perfect, so I have found many reasons for procrastinating. In today's world were we are overwhelmed, people tune out and don't get to things. I some times have short term memory loss, so I do things immediately or else I forget them and never get to them, so I am the anti-procrastinator, except for the things I forget - so you can work around things if you know your short falls.

Oct. 29 2010 01:44 PM
CH from NYC

Hell is having to work downstream of a procrastinator (or waiting to clean up after one).

Oct. 29 2010 01:44 PM

Isn't this classic add? No focus until diaster.

Oct. 29 2010 01:42 PM
Mike from Tribeca

Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.

Oct. 29 2010 01:41 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Can you discuss procrastination in the light of delayed gratification?

Oct. 29 2010 01:39 PM
Brad from East Village

Having severe depression, procrastination is a really anxiety provoking part of my life--yet I can't shake it. There are times I wish for death rather than start a new project, even though I know it will be done soon. Like my Halloween costume. It took all of 2 hours of work but I put it off for a full year!

Oct. 29 2010 01:33 PM
Susan from Gainesville, Fl

I am a chronic procrastinator and I suffer the consequences. I am almost always late; I ask for extensions on papers, etc. It's not a matter of time management: I know what needs to be done and how long it takes to be get done. However, I still just don't do things on time.

I thought it was related to my A.D.D. (inattentive type) but even with medication I procrastinate. It is very frustrating and ends up complicating my life more and more.
---What can chronic procrastinators do to STOP procrastinating?

p.s. I am a member of WNYC.

Oct. 29 2010 01:32 PM
Richard Levy from nyc

Procrastinate now, don't put it off !!!

Oct. 29 2010 01:27 PM
Mary Herzog from Brooklyn

I have heard that in some cases procrastination is linked to ADHD or ADD. In the absence of an inherent interest in a topic or task, the ADD affected brain must resort to the anxiety of a looming deadline for its neurons to fire. Please comment. thanks

Oct. 29 2010 01:26 PM
Marisa Catalina Casey from Brooklyn, NY

I run a community-arts center in Brooklyn where we work with 10-19 year old youth in the media arts and entrepreneurship. I think it's essential that especially in the artistic process there is room for procrastination. As much as we teach our students to be responsible with getting in homework on time etc. we also allow them the creative freedom and open space to prime themselves as artists. Often, I get my best ideas for art projects while I am procrastinating and allowing my mind to wander. It can be difficult to be creative on command and that kind of space is needed. Let's not forget that there are positive reasons to procrastinate on a small scale too!

Oct. 29 2010 01:26 PM
Melody from Brooklyn

Why is being early desirable? Just to play devil's advocate...Being on time is excellent, but being early is not always so. I have had guests show up early for a party, and it's awkward for everyone involved. Isn't the belief that being early is better actually an attitude, not a fact?

Oct. 29 2010 01:21 PM

Someone who is a known procrastinator. What are some of the things they can do to improve there time manage?

Oct. 29 2010 01:19 PM
anna from new york

The real question is" "How low (both intellectually and ethically) can Americans go?"
Now, in the middle of depression? recession? whatever? some retards psychobabble about time management(!!!!????)

Oct. 29 2010 01:18 PM
Mike from Tribeca

I'm sure megacorporations would love to be rewarded for paying their taxes early, which would most probably increase everyone else's taxes.

Oct. 29 2010 01:16 PM
art525 from park slope

Boy this is a waste of time.

Oct. 29 2010 01:15 PM
sandra from nyc

I use listening to the Leonard Lopate show as my main means of procrastinating while working from home, such as I am supposed to be doing today!

Maybe I'll call the show LATER...

Oct. 29 2010 01:01 PM
Mike from Tribeca

I don't know, maybe I'll get around to listening to this segment tomorrow.

Oct. 29 2010 12:25 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.