One in Five People Are Chronic Procrastinators

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Take a minute to ask yourself: What brought you here? Not here in any kind of metaphysical, soul-searching way, but literally here, to this specific page on New York Mag dot com? Be really, truly honest: Is it because you’re putting off something else you need to be doing?

It’s okay if it is! As the saying goes, let he who has never fallen into a procrastination-fueled internet rabbit hole cast the first stone. Besides, as procrastination researcher Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, has put it multiple times in past interviews: “Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.”

Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, is also the organizer of the Procrastination Research Conference, the most recent of which was held at DePaul earlier this month. In a recent New York Times dispatch from the conference, writer Heather Murphy explained exactly what that distinction means. To be a procrastinator, she wrote, entails much more than just putting off a task on occasion, and isn’t quite as widespread as you may think:

One out of five people, researchers have found, fall into a category they call chronic procrastinators or procs (rhymes with crocs). The proc consistently procrastinates consistently in multiple areas of his or her life — work, personal, financial, social — in ways that attendees describe as wreaking havoc, undermining goals and producing perpetual shame. Researchers have built scales to separate the true proc from the occasional procrastinator. They assess not simply how often, but also the severity of consequences with prompts like.

That 20 percent figure, by the way, seems to hold firm regardless of culture:

Pointing to a slide featuring Poland, Britain, Turkey and and Austria, Bilge Uzun, a research scientist at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, asked, “Where do you think we find the most procrastinators?”

It was a trick question. She and her co-authors found that all countries surveyed had the same percentage: 20 percent, a finding reinforced by dozens of others studies over the years in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Japan and beyond.

One Peruvian researcher in attendance, Murphy wrote, was convinced her country was the exception — “We thought, everything was so late there so the scales were not going to work,” she told the Times — but her own research brought her to, yep, roughly one in five. Take a sec and look at your four closest cubicle-mates: If all four of them seem to be focused and on-task, well, maybe it’s time for you to get back to work before you become a statistic.

One in Five People Are Chronic Procrastinators