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Preparing Now Can Save Money, and Stress, Later—So Why Don’t We?

Why do we procrastinate when it causes negative consequences, and what can we do about it?

Being proactive early can give you stress-free time to do what you'd like later.

Procrastinating is a common bad habit among students, with estimates showing that approximately half do so. Unfortunately, it’s not a habit that everyone grows out of, with about one in five adults continuing to procrastinate. The short-term negative impacts of procrastination can look fairly minor, such as if you put off cleaning the house for a day just a little extra dust and mess will build up.

This “short-range hedonism” as it’s called in REBT, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, can lead to larger-scale problems if you continue with it over time. In order to stop yourself from taking procrastination too far, causing stress and negative consequences, it’s important for young adults to learn good habits early and practice them regularly.

Impact of Procrastination

Procrastination might feel good initially, but it often leads to higher levels of stress and guilt, as well as poorer performance and worse levels of mental and physical health. There are also tangible negative effects. Something as simple as not packing a bag lunch and having to pay for a lunch at work quickly adds up to hundreds or thousands of dollars per year. And not preparing early when the consequences are potentially devastating is common, even though it may not seem rational.

As an example, news headlines have been filled with tragic reports about damage from storms and hurricanes recently. However, a recent survey indicated that over half of Florida homeowners have not taken preventative measures to protect their homes from such disasters. The mid- and longer-term benefits of hurricane preparedness are clear, from preventing costly damage to your home to lower property insurance rates, which already average over $2,800 in the state. The risk of storms is evident, just as we often know the risk and potential costs of procrastination, yet without good habits around preventing problems early, people will put off even critical steps.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

In addition to short-range hedonism, or focusing on the benefits of doing what you want in the present instead of what will help you most in the future, there are a number of reasons researchers have found people procrastinate. It may be that you think a task needs to be done perfectly and the high standard prevents you from simply getting started. Or, maybe you had role models with bad habits themselves that you’ve mirrored.

Alternatively, you might not have a mental block, but just aren’t interested in the subject at hand. This is a common issue for students, as you might have to attend and complete coursework for a class that isn’t of interest, even though you need the credits to graduate. But it’s also one of the more frequent situations you’ll encounter as an adult. There are some lucky people that are engaged and interested in maintaining their homes, paying their bills and handling chores, but that’s not always the case.

So, How Do We Form Better Habits?

The best solution to cut down procrastination varies depending on both the problem and the person, since your reasons are part of the equation, so it’s good to have multiple tools on hand. Some ways to start motivating yourself can include focusing on the benefits of getting a good solution complete in a timely manner, as opposed to a perfect solution, which can feel harder to approach. You should also look to new proactive role models, and try giving yourself small rewards for successfully starting early and finishing on time.

For larger projects, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stress of approaching a problem, it can help to break the task down into smaller pieces. In the example of hurricane-proofing your home, you can start with a simpler step, such as gathering basic emergency supplies, before working up to installing storm-resistant doors and windows. Alternatively, if you’re trying to start a healthier or money-saving routing, like packing a bag lunch or going to the gym, you can ease in by performing the behavior one to two times per week and rewarding yourself in between.

In some cases, particularly if you aren’t interested in a project, you’ll sometimes have to “just do it.” It’s not an ideal solution and, if you’re able to motivate yourself in a more positive way, that would likely be the better place to start. But it’s more critical that you don’t let procrastination take over and cause lasting harm, such as it might if you put off paying bills or saving for retirement. And hopefully you can better enjoy your time without the guilt and stress that procrastination brings.

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