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Want to stop procrastinating at work? Try being more optimistic

The key may lie in being optimistic about the future

Published: Jun 14, 2024 12:38:38 PM IST
Updated: Jun 14, 2024 01:26:01 PM IST

Previous research has shown that procrastinators have a disregard for the future or difficulty linking their present actions to future outcomes. Image: ShutterstockPrevious research has shown that procrastinators have a disregard for the future or difficulty linking their present actions to future outcomes. Image: Shutterstock

Replying to emails? Tomorrow. Filling out that Excel spreadsheet for accounting? Maybe later. Many people have a tendency to procrastinate at work, which can sometimes be detrimental. Fortunately, researchers in Japan may have found out how to combat this tendency to keep putting things off.

The key may lie in being optimistic about the future. Indeed, previous studies have shown that procrastinators put everything off until tomorrow because they live in the moment. They do everything they can to feel good right now, which leads them to postpone any task that seems unpleasant to perform. Moreover, they have a certain disregard for the future, and how their actions might affect future outcomes, because it all seems so far away in time.

A research team from the University of Tokyo therefore wondered whether procrastinators would stop putting this off if they had a more positive frame of mind towards the future. The researchers tested this theory with 296 people in their 20s. They asked them about their experiences over the past 10 years, and their expectations for the next 10 years. The academics used the volunteers' answers and outlooks to classify them into four groups, in turn subdivided into three categories of individuals (severe, moderate or low-level procrastinators).

The benefits of a positive attitude


It turns out that people with a generally positive attitude towards the future are less likely to be major procrastinators. "Our research showed that optimistic people -- those who believe that stress does not increase as we move into the future -- are less likely to have severe procrastination habits," says study co-author Saya Kashiwakura from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo, quoted in a news release.

And that's not all. Saya Kashiwakura and colleagues found that optimism influenced not only the level of stress felt by volunteers, but also their procrastination behavior over a 20-year period. In other words, people who are not stressed about the future are less likely to put off what they could be doing today.

Surprisingly, the authors of this research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found no direct link between procrastination and a negative perception of personal well-being, such as low self-esteem or a lack of purpose in life.

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Procrastination may therefore be linked to a fear of the future, and not to a lack of organization, as we often hear. Nurturing optimism means no longer being afraid of tackling all those little professional tasks that seem boring or difficult to achieve. As such, it's important to have confidence in your ability to succeed now and in the future, so you don't get overwhelmed at work. Maybe that's how we'll finally manage to tick everything off our to-do lists.