Researchers Suggest Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Procrastinators


If you’re a whiz at wasting time, you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to redirect your mojo to something useful.

A new study found that procrastinators who teamed up with a psychotherapist to reorient their meandering ways were better able to focus, direct their energy and accomplish their goals.

Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

“Everybody procrastinates,” Alexander Rozental, lead author of the study and a researcher at Stockholm University in Sweden, told New Scientist.

The researchers assessed a group of students who were self-reported prodigies at procrastination and split them into two groups – 48 students received internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy, including reading materials and self-guided exercises, while another group of 44 students attended group therapy sessions led by two therapists.

Overall, all participants of the therapy sessions, including both the internet and in-person groups, showed significant improvement in their ability to focus and stop putting things off. Before the sessions started, the students ranked their procrastination levels on a scale of one to 60, and the researchers assessed those with a score of 40 or more. After the therapy sessions, those scores were much lower.

“We saw large effects,” Rozental told New Scientist. “Their scores dropped by around 10 points, and by the end of the treatment, 34 percent had scores similar to the average population.”

Related: Computer-Based Therapy Helps College Students Drink Less

While the internet-only group achieved reduced procrastination levels, the in-person sessions showed an even greater effect.

“Group therapy may be more effective because it helps to hear from and support others who have had similar experiences,” Rozental said.

Because procrastination can impede a person’s wellness, the new study may help chronic time-wasters improve their outlook.

“This can affect exam performance and interpersonal relationships. It is important to treat this type,” Bruce Fernie of King’s College London shared with New Scientist.

Defining Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to redirect unwanted behaviors and turn them into something positive.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy),” describes the Mayo Clinic. “You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”

This type of therapy can improve depression scores and is generally thought of as an effective tool to reduce stress.

That’s Not All: Lessons for Perfectionists

While the Swedish researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy can help procrastinators stay focused for a year or longer, they also discovered it can mitigate the unintended effects of something known as “clinical perfectionism.”

“Being highly attentive to details can be a positive feature,” report the researchers in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy. “However, for some individuals, perfectionism can lead to distress and is associated with many psychiatric disorders.”

Nearly half of patients who took part in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions over a two-month period showed improved functioning and lower distress from their pursuit of being perfect.

Talking out your stressors and redirecting your energy, the studies show, can help you focus and remove unapproachable ideals of perfection from your stressed-out mind.

Related: The Science Behind the Chocolates That Combat Fatigue and Stress