Can procrastination be bad for your health?

How and why situational and dispositional procrastination impact health and well-being is the focus of this research stream. Procrastination can be described as a type of self-regulation failure characterized by the delay in the start and/or completion of necessary and important tasks. Although most people procrastinate from time to time, Dr. Sirois's research program has found that individuals who chronically procrastinate and/or who procrastinate on important health behaviours may be at greater risk for health problems compared to non-procrastinators.

Research with both student and community-dwelling adults has demonstrated that chronic procrastination confers risk for health problems through both direct and indirect routes. The direct route involves the generation of unnecessary stress due to procrastination accompanied by negative changes in immune system functioning, and the indirect route involves a behavioural pathway whereby health promoting behaviours are delayed and health risk behaviours are indulged.

Why do people procrastinate on positive health behaviours?

But why is it then that people procrastinate when it comes to engaging in health promoting behaviours? Is it a case of good intentions that are not followed through, or does the volitional breakdown occur in the formation of intentions? And why do people continue to procrastinate on these behaviours when they are well aware of the consequences for their health? Dr. Sirois' research suggests that for some procrastinators it is simply a case of weak intentions, and that not feeling confident in one's ability to perform or follow through with necessary health behaviours (health self-efficacy) may be the reason for these weak intentions. For people who are committed to making healthy changes, social temptations to engage in behaviours that put them off course are a key barrier to following through with their intentions.

Other research suggests that procrastinators may not learn from the consequences of delaying important health behaviours because they focus on outcomes that promote emotional but not behavioural self-regulation. Instead of looking at how things could have been better by acting in a timely manner, procrastinators prefer to focus on how things could have been worse to minimize the emotional impact of delaying and improve their self esteem. It is this difficulty in regulating immediate mood that makes procrastinators particularly vulnerable to temptations (and especially social ones, e.g. "It's just one donut, live a little.") that take them off course from their health goals.

Recent and current research projects focus on understanding the factors that may interfere with following through on intentions to make healthy changes, such as temptations, self-perceptions, and wishful thinking for unrealistic resources to help make changes. Dr. Sirois is also very interested in the intra-personal and emotional regulation processes that contribute to procrastinators' difficulty in following through with their intentions.


Procrastination and Health Research Reports

Click pdf for a summary report of the study: Exploring the Link Between Personality and Preventive Health Behaviours in a Community Sample.

Procrastination and Health Publications

Sirois, F. M., & Kitner, R. (accepted). Less adaptive or more maladaptive? A meta-analytic investigation of procrastination and coping. European Journal of Personality (IF = 2.21).

Sirois, F. M., & Pychyl. T. A.  (in press). Procrastination. In H. Freidman (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2nd edition.

Sirois, F. M. (in press). Out of sight, out of time? A meta-analytic investigation of procrastination and time perspective.European Journal of Personality. abstract.

Sirois, F. M. (2014). Procrastination and stress: Exploring the role of self-compassion. Self and Identity, 13 (2), 128-145. abstract.

Sirois, F. M. & Pychyl, T. (2013). Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2),7(2), 115-127. abstract.

Sirois, F. M. & Tosti, N. (2012). Lost in the moment? An investigation of procrastination, mindfulness, and well-being. Invited paper for a special issue of the Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy., 30 (4), 237-248. abstract.

Sirois, F. M. (2007). "I'll look after my health, later": A replication and extension of the procrastination-health model with community-dwelling adults. Personality and Individual Differences. abstract

Sirois, F. M. (2007). Procrastination and motivations for household safety behaviors: An expectancy-value theory perspective. In L. V. Brown (Ed.) Psychology of Motivation, Nova Science Publishers, pp. 153-165. abstract

Sirois, F. M.(2004). Procrastination and counterfactual thinking: Avoiding what might have been, British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 269-286. abstract

Sirois, F. M. (2004). Procrastination and intentions to perform health behaviors: The role of self-efficacy and the consideration of future consequences. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(1),115-128. abstract

Sirois, F. M., Melia-Gordon, M.L., & Pychyl, T. A., (2003).  "I'll look after my health, later": An investigation of procrastination and health. Personality and Individual Differences, 35(5), 1167-1184. abstract


Recent and Upcoming Presentations on Procrastination and Health

Sirois, F. M. (2012, September). What was, is, and will be: Temporal holism, well-being, and the pursuit of goals. Paper presented at the 1st International conference on Time Perspective, Coimbra, Portugal.

Sirois, F. M. (2012, September). Procrastination and the consideration of future consequences: Exploring the role of self-control. In F. M. Sirois & T. Pychyl (chairs) Procrastination and perceptions of time: Implications for theory and practice. Paper presented at the 1st International conference on Time Perspective, Coimbra, Portugal.

Sirois, F. M., & Pychyl, T. (2012, June). Procrastination, the temporally-extended self, and self-regulation failure over time. Paper presented at the 73rd Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, NS.

Sirois, F. M. (2011, July). Procrastination, stress, and health: Exploring the role of self-compassion. Paper presented at the 7th Biennial Conference on Procrastination, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Sirois, F. M. , & Eren, E. (2011, July). Procrastination and mentally simulating the what, where, and when, of academic tasks: Implications for health and well-being. Paper presented at the 7th Biennial Conference on Procrastination, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Sirois, F. M. , & Stout, D. (2011, July). When knowing better doesn't mean doing better: Understanding the roles of procrastination and self-blame in the health and well-being of nurses. Paper presented at the 7th Biennial Conference on Procrastination, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Sirois, F. M. & Tosti, N. (2010, May). Lost in the moment: Low mindfulness explains the link between procrastination and poor health. Paper presented at the 22nd Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, Boston, MA.

Eren, E. & Sirois, F. M. (2009, August). Knowing the better and doing the worse: A philosophical analysis of procrastination, temptation, and making healthy changes. Paper presented at the 6th Biennial conference of Counselling the Procrastinator in Academic Settings, York University, Toronto, ON.

Sirois, F. M. (2009, August). Blame it on time: A new perspective on procrastination, perfectionism, and task performance. Paper presented at the 6th Biennial conference of Counselling the Procrastinator in Academic Settings, York University, Toronto, ON.

Sirois, F. M., Voth, J., & Pychyl, T. A. (2009, August). "I'll look after my health, later": A prospective study of the linkages of procrastination to health and well-being in undergraduate students. Paper presented at the 6th Biennial conference of Counselling the Procrastinator in Academic Settings, York University, Toronto, ON.

Sirois, F. M. & Voth, J. (2009, June). Social cognitive predictors of health behaviour changes: What's style got to do with it? Paper presented in the invited faculty symposium for the CPA Social and Personality Section, 70th Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Montreal, Que.

Sirois, F. M. (2008, June). Wishful thinking or necessary resources: What do procrastinators think they need to help them make healthy changes? Paper presented at the 69th Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, NS.

Voth, J. & Sirois, F. M. (2008, June). Not enough hope: Procrastination and intentions to perform health behaviours. Paper presented at the 69th Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, NS.