What part of knowledge workers procrastinates on average? It’s a simple question. But until now, no one provided an answer.
Research has only focused on the procrastination behavior of college students. It doesn’t require much research to answer that question. Students are notorious for procrastinating.
And yet, most scientific studies didn’t do a good job in capturing how many students actually procrastinate. One study estimated that “25 to 75 percent of college students procrastinate on academic work.”
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That’s a useless statement. Is it 25% or 75%? That’s a huge difference. Also, scientists often surveyed only a hundred people or less. While research into the consequences of procrastination has been solid, there are no strong results that show how many people actually procrastinate.
Another issue I have with scientific studies is that students don’t represent the workforce. Students don’t have the same urgency and responsibility that professionals have. That’s why I set out to discover how many professionals procrastinate in my own study.
2,219 people participated in this survey
The survey I conducted had one goal. I wanted to know what percentage of the workforce admits to procrastinating on an average day. I didn’t pose a long list of questions to establish whether someone procrastinated or not.
The respondents of this survey are conscientious people who read articles on productivity and habits. My expectation is that the people who participated are more motivated than average professionals, simply because they are interested in improving themselves. In the study, I ask two questions:
- How many hours did you procrastinate yesterday?
- What describes your situation best?
Why did I ask how much someone procrastinated yesterday? Well, take a look at what you did today or yesterday. It’s highly likely that today looked a lot like yesterday, and that yesterday looked like the day before.
We’re creatures of habit. Today, we do the same things we did yesterday. If we were productive today, we’re probably productive tomorrow. The same is true for procrastination. If you putt off work until tomorrow, you will probably repeat that behavior when tomorrow comes.
That’s the background of this study. 2,219 people responded to the survey. To my knowledge, that’s the biggest survey ever conducted on procrastination.
You can download a presentation of the findings here.
If you want check the raw data, here’s the Excel file.
A widespread issue
With 88% of the workforce admitting that they procrastinate at least one hour a day, it’s safe to say this is a widespread issue. This result is also in stark contrast with previous research that showed 25% – 75% of people procrastinate. It’s more common than we assume.
“But I only procrastinate a bit.” Doesn’t matter, my friend.
A person who only procrastinates 1-2 hours a day is not better than someone who does it for 5+ hours. Procrastination is procrastination.
I’m speaking from experience. In college, I procrastinated for weeks. Years later, when I had a job, I procrastinated 1-2 hours a day (sometimes more). In both cases, I didn’t achieve my full potential. That’s the bottom line.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you why we procrastinate; that was also not the purpose of this study. But I have some hypotheses:
- Too many distractions—Too many workplaces harm our productivity. We are interrupted all the time. That makes it impossible to do focused work. On top of that, our smartphones are a big source of distraction. With so many distractions, procrastination becomes easy.
- Inner conflicts—Many of us are stuck at jobs that don’t align with our skills and values. That causes inner conflict and lack of motivation. As a result, knowledge workers are more likely to put off work.
- Lack of productivity skills—Knowledge work is complex and requires a significant effort from our brains. If we don’t know how to get work done, how can we expect to achieve results? Organizations and entrepreneurs should take their productivity training seriously. It’s like physical exercise—you need to repeat the basics to keep your strength.
The reasons why we procrastinate remains complex. It’s up to each individual to figure out why they put off important things.
The good news about the causes is that we can overcome them all. Procrastination is dangerous behavior. Most people recognize that. But no matter how intelligent people are, most of them underestimate the frequency of their procrastination.
I firmly believe we can all procrastinate less. We can be more productive (here’s what I do to overcome procrastination). We can get our work done without wasting time. And we can also make more time for things that matter to us.
For years, many knowledge workers have been proposing shorter workdays. The proposition is attractive: Simply do your work, don’t waste time, get results, and when you’re done, call it a day.
That’s easier said than done. The reality is that we’re not yet capable of such a thing. We need more self-regulation and discipline to beat procrastination. But once we accomplish that, I do think we can achieve the same results in less time. In that case, we will have more freedom.
A productive knowledge worker who doesn’t procrastinate can decide between two options:
- Achieve the same results in less time (and work less)
- Achieve more in the same time
That will improve the quality of work and life. But it all starts with overcoming procrastination. Not just for a day. But every day.
This article originally appeared on Darius Foroux.