Our Work

Overcoming procrastination

One of the most frequent sentences among people that have to deal with a certain situation is “I’ll do it tomorrow”. Students often use this excuse to avoid engagement in studying in the present, even when they are not busy and when the task doesn’t require so much effort and time to be completed. However, this behavior is not necessary the same as laziness.[1] In fact, sometimes you might postpone doing a certain task, but in the meantime you do not stay on the couch watching Netflix all day, but you prefer instead to take care of other less unpleasant and less urgent tasks.

To make another example, it is common to take advantage of free trial periods for sites like Amazon, Netflix, and Eurosport but, when it is the moment of cancelling the subscription, one does not do it. This activity requires less than five minutes, nevertheless, a relevant percentage of people continue to postpone this activity and a lot of them end up paying the month and in the worst cases an entire year subscription.

This non-activity is also called procrastination and, as said by Piers Steel, Professor at the University of Calgary, it affects 95% of people. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, procrastination could be defined as a way “to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring”.[2]

Numerous biases are involved is such behavior. The most prominent one is the “present bias”, which involves the over-weighting of short-term gains compared to long-term gains.[3] This means that we tend to give more importance and weight at what happens and what we have to do in the present and, symmetrically, we give less importance to future tasks and awards which entails that the perception of the commitment that we have to put into a future action is distorted by time.

An useful example to understand this concept is the one from Loewenstein and Prelec’s study, “Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation”.[4] The two economists noticed that in offering people £100 today or £110 tomorrow the majority of them tends to prefer the first option, i.e. the immediate utility. Therefore, in their minds waiting a day is worse than losing £10. At the same time, when offered £100 one year into the future or £110 in one year and one day into the future, people change their minds and tend to prefer the second option. Thus, in this setting, losing £10 is harder than waiting for one additional day. Therefore, waiting for the same amount of money is less painful if it is postponed in the future.

There are different ways to avoid procrastination:

  • One is the use of “trigger points”, which consist in making a plan for a future activity that a person must do, as it has been proven that making a plan increases the likeliness that individuals will stick to their tasks.[5] In fact, once you have made a small step towards an action – even just the planning of it – you feel more motivated to continue in that direction. This is also called the “goal gradient” effect, which entails that people are motivated by how much is left to reach their target, not how fare they’ve come in absolute terms.[6]
  • Chunking can be a good technique whenever the task that one has to complete can be divided in different sections. Chunking could be used by student for example when they have to write their thesis, as they can in fact define sub-goals that they have to reach in order to deliver the final paper on time. It can also be used in daily studying by dividing the effort in different intervals of predefined length. The most famous one is “Pomodoro technique”, that uses 25 mins intervals.
  • A more pragmatic way to overcome procrastination is the use of a procrastinator’s clock.[7] When we have to finish a task, let’s say, at 4pm, we tend to save energy and finalize most of the work as the 4pm approaches. This can be very risky and sometimes we end up completing the task just a couple of minutes before the deadline, or worse, we do not respect the deadline at all. Setting our clock ahead by a certain amount of time does not help us, because we can easily calculate the real hour by subtracting what we have added at the beginning. The procrastinator’s clock can instead help, because it is up to 15 minutes ahead but it speeds up and slows down in an unforeseeable way, so that one cannot trust it to be reliable.[1] Therefore, one must take into account that there is a probability that it is not showing the real hour, and so one will probably finish your task before 4pm… or exactly at 4pm.

To conclude, it is important to notice that procrastination is everywhere in our daily lives. Although most of the time it concerns irrelevant tasks, it can become a serious problem and end up affecting relevant aspects of our life. For this reason, it is important to recognize it and limit it as much as possible.


[1] Retrived from:

 [2] Retrived from:

[3] Retrived from:

[4] Retrived from:

[5] Retrived from:

[6] Retrived from:

[7] Retrived from:

[8] Loewenstein, G. and Prelec, D. (1992), Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s