Leaving things to the last minute will be a hot topic at conference

Don’t delay. The 6th biennial Counseling the Procrastinator in Academic Settings conference is fast approaching – Aug. 4 and 5 at York – with a focus on the links between procrastination, stress and mental and physical well-being.

Participants will explore what is already known, what needs to be learned and what can be done to improve the well-being of procrastinators in academic settings and elsewhere. The first procrastination conference was held at York in 1999 and has since travelled to the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, the United States and Peru. Papers will be presented in Room 163 of York’s Behavioural Sciences Building on the Keele campus.

The conference’s first speaker, Piers Steel (right) of the University of Calgary, author of the forthcoming book The Procrastination Equation: Using Motivational Science to Maximize Your Health, Wealth and Happiness, will discuss how a clear definition and measurement of procrastination is lacking and the importance of having these definitions in place to properly study the issue.

“Procrastination is reported widely in the popular press, with hundreds of books published on the subject and millions of dollars in sales. Clearly there is an interest in the topic within both the academic and popular culture realms,” says Steel. “However, to properly research any phenomenon, there must first be a foundation of understanding and of measurement. For procrastination, this foundation is still uncertain as issues regarding definition and assessment have yet to be effectively resolved.”

In his presentation, Steel will clarify the definition of procrastination and review a meta-analysis conducted on measurement of procrastination. He’ll also discuss how the structure of procrastination can be clarified and provide guidance on how the study of this pathological delay can be improved.

Psychology Professor Timothy Pychyl (left), director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University, along with Kyle Simpson, a recent graduate of Carleton, will present “In Search of the Arousal Procrastinator: An Investigation of the Relation Between Procrastination, Arousal-Based Personality Traits and Beliefs About Procrastination Motivations”. They will challenge the belief that sensation seekers, extroverts and reducers – people who reduce incoming stimulation and pain – procrastinate because it places them in a stimulating situation, even if it’s a negative one.

In a separate paper, Pychyl and Carleton graduate student Eric Heward will look at “Emotional Intelligence, Self-Control and Procrastination”. In this study, they explored the role of emotional intelligence – the ability to accurately appraise, utilize and regulate emotions – in relation to self-control and procrastination.

York psychology Professor Gordon Flett (right), Canada Research Chair in Personality & Health, will address “Procrastination Cognitions in Stress and Distress”.

“Case accounts of distressed procrastinators often emphasize the negative internal self-talk that accompanies chronic forms of dilatory behaviour and associated deficits in cognitive-emotional regulation,” says Flett. His presentation will describe related empirical research on automatic thoughts as assessed by the Procrastinatory Cognitions Inventory (PCI), an 18-item measure of the frequency of such thoughts as “I can turn it in later,” “I need to start earlier” and “Why can’t I do what I should be doing?”

Flett will look at three studies, the first two conducted with undergraduates, the third with graduate students. In the first, analyses confirmed that procrastinatory thoughts were correlated robustly with the measures of perfectionistic automatic thoughts and depression. The second study found a strong association between the PCI and negative self-thoughts. The third study established that PCI scores were associated with substantially elevated levels of graduate student stress, writer’s block and impostor feelings.

“The findings highlight the potential usefulness of cognitive-behavioural interventions that target the automatic thoughts about procrastination and the negative self-thoughts of certain distressed students,” says Flett.

A paper by psychology Professor Fuschia Sirois (left) and graduate student Emrah Eren, both of the University of Windsor, will discuss “Knowing the Better and Doing the Worse: A Philosophical Analysis of Procrastination, Temptation and Making Healthy Changes”, while graduate student Emily Sumner and Distinguished Professor of Psychology Joseph R. Ferrari of DePaul University will present “Procrastination, Rumination and Savouring: An Exploration of the Cognitive Underpinnings of Task Delay”.

Doctoral candidate Lalin Anik of the Harvard Business School will present “Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait? Procrastination and Leading the Good Life”. “While procrastination is often perceived as a negative state – by both sufferers and observers – we explore whether the tendency to procrastinate may be associated with a world view that encourages engagement in activities known to be linked to higher well-being,” says Anik.

Clarry Lay, a York psychology professor emeritus and conference organizer, will explore “Moving Forward in Life: A Guide to Directed Everyday Living”.

“This presentation is an update and broadening of the original description of my own attempt to counsel procrastinators,” says Lay. “The overriding thesis, as before, is that directed everyday living, with its emphasis on the timely pursuit of one’s honourable intentions, constitutes the most elementary form of success in life and results in feeling good and feeling good about oneself. A general framework for directed everyday living is developed and ways to maximize its enactment are considered.”

Several other papers on procrastination will be presented at the conference, including a look at new perspectives on procrastination.

For more information, visit the Counseling the Procrastinator in Academic Settings Web site.