Optimism Reduces Procrastination

Summary: People with an optimistic view of their future are less likely to be severe procrastinators. Researchers found that those who believe their stress levels will decrease over time tend to procrastinate less, while views on personal well-being had no significant effect.

The study surveyed nearly 300 young adults and highlighted the importance of future outlook in managing procrastination. The findings suggest that fostering a positive future perspective could help reduce procrastination and stress.

Key Facts:

  1. Optimistic individuals are less likely to experience severe procrastination.
  2. The study involved nearly 300 young adults in Japan.
  3. Positive future outlooks, not personal well-being, significantly affect procrastination habits.

Source: University of Tokyo

People with an optimistic outlook on the future are less likely to be severe procrastinators, according to new research at the University of Tokyo. While procrastinators often admonish themselves for their “bad habit,” it turns out that their worries for the future are more to blame.

Through a survey of nearly 300 young people, researchers found that those who had a positive view about their stress levels decreasing in the future, compared to the past or present, were less likely to experience severe procrastination.

Views on personal well-being didn’t appear to have an effect. Improving people’s outlook and readiness for the future could help them overcome procrastination and achieve a less stressful lifestyle. 

This shows yellow balls with smiley emojis painted on them.
Previous research has shown that a feature of procrastination is disregard for the future or difficulty linking present actions with future outcomes. Credit: Neuroscience News

How many times have you made a “to do” list, and although the most important task is at the top, you seem to be working your way up from the bottom or distracted by something else entirely? While we might chide ourselves for procrastinating, sometimes the more we try to overcome it, the more stressed we feel and the cycle continues.

That is how it was for graduate student Saya Kashiwakura from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo, so she decided to investigate why.

“I have struggled with procrastination since childhood. I would clean my room when I needed to study for a test and prioritize aikido practice over my postgraduate research. This habit of putting off important tasks has been a constant challenge,” said Kashiwakura.

“I wanted to change my behavior, as I realized that I was not confronting the future impact of my actions.”

This inspired Kashiwakura to examine the relationship between procrastination and the procrastinator’s perspective on time, particularly their view of the future. When she began researching procrastination, she was surprised to discover that many more people suffer from it than she had imagined and found it reassuring her problems were not unique.

Previous research has shown that a feature of procrastination is disregard for the future or difficulty linking present actions with future outcomes. However, the reasons for this have been unclear. Kashiwakura and co-author Professor Kazuo Hiraki, also from UTokyo, proposed that it might be because severe procrastinators have a more pessimistic outlook. 

The researchers surveyed 296 participants in Japan in their 20s for their views on stress and well-being, and importantly how these changed over time. This included asking about their experiences from 10 years in the past through to the present, and their expectations for 10 years in the future.

From the results, participants were clustered into one of four groups (for example, if they thought their situation would improve or would stay the same), and then each group was divided into severe, middle and low 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,” explained Kashiwakura.

“This finding helped me adopt a more light-hearted perspective on the future, leading to a more direct view and reduced procrastination.” 

It was not only the level of stress people experienced, but how their perception of it changed over the 20-year time period discussed, which influenced their procrastination habits.

Surprisingly, a relationship wasn’t found between procrastination and negative views on well-being, such as one’s attitude towards oneself, or not yet finding purpose and goals in life.

Using these results, the team wants to develop ways to help people nurture a more optimistic mindset and overcome procrastination.

“We hope our findings will be particularly useful in the education sector. We believe that students will achieve better outcomes and experience greater well-being when they can comprehend their procrastination tendencies scientifically, and actively work on improving them, rather than blaming themselves,” said Kashiwakura. 

“Thoughts can change with just a few minutes of watching a video or be shaped by years of accumulation. Our next step is to investigate which approach is appropriate this time, and how we can develop the ‘right’ mindset to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.”


This research was funded by CREST of JST, grant number JPMJCR18A4 and supported by JST [Moonshot R&D][Grant Number JPMJMS2293-04].

About this optimism, procrastination, and psychology research news

Author: Nicola Burghall
Source: University of Tokyo
Contact: Nicola Burghall – University of Tokyo
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Future optimism group based on the chronological stress view is less likely to be severe procrastinators” by Saya Kashiwakura et al. Scientific Reports


Future optimism group based on the chronological stress view is less likely to be severe procrastinators

Previous studies have shown that procrastinators tend to disregard the future. However, the “time view” of procrastinators, including their impressions of the future, has not been sufficiently examined.

Therefore, we introduced new indices, “chronological stress view” and “chronological well-being view,” which treat impressions of the past, present, and future (= time view) as time-series data via stress and well-being, respectively.

The results showed that the group that believed that stress did not increase as they moved into the future had a lower percentage of severe procrastinators. No relationship was found between the chronological well-being view and procrastination.

This result suggests that people who are relatively optimistic about the future based on the chronological stress view are less likely to be severe procrastinators.

This may suggest the importance of having a hopeful prospect in the future to avoid procrastinating on actions that should yield greater rewards in the future.

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