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We all have struggled with procrastination at some point in our lives. This delaying or postponing, often accompanied by the knowledge that it could be to our detriment can be a difficult behaviour to shake. And a group of researchers has found that significant levels of procrastination may be linked to negative health outcomes.

In a new study, more than 3,000 university students were monitored for a year. At five different points in time, a series of health markers were assessed for each student (things like depression, anxiety, pain, sleep quality and drug & alcohol use). They also completed a ‘Pure Procrastination Scale’ questionnaire – a series of questions asking them to identify whether certain scenarios represented them (such as putting off tasks or handing in work late). That survey was used to give participants a procrastination score out of 25, with high scores signifying significant procrastination. About two thirds of the participants were women and the average age was 25.

The researchers found that the average level of procrastination was 13 out of 25, indicating moderate levels of procrastination in the study population. But for each standard deviation increase in that score, there were significant associations with higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress, as well as poor sleep quality, physical inactivity and loneliness. The authors suggested that procrastination may be a driver of these health outcomes, and not the other way around, given the multiple measurements made over time.

For chronic procrastinators, the authors suggested cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as the gold-standard treatment for procrastination. It typically involves becoming more aware of, and changing thoughts and behaviours that are ingrained. Other advice centred on tweaking one’s environment to remove distractions and allowing focus to develop – which usually means mobile phones and other screens should be put away.

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