We are often asked for help to improve procrastination. An excellent study from the University of Colorado recently examined some of the drivers of putting things off. To do this the researchers compared similarities in executive function performance, procrastination proneness and goal failures between identical and non-identical twins.

In this study the tendency to procrastinate was found to be partly inherited (although some of this variability was explained by gene-environment interactions), and also correlated with overall executive function ability – that is, people who said they procrastinated more tended to achieve an overall poorer score on the executive function tests.

However, procrastinators did perform better on the ability to shift mind-sets or demonstrate mental flexibility.

This study does help to tease out some of the drivers of procrastination. “At a genetic and behavioural level, they show that a tendency to procrastinate tends to go hand in hand with an ability to manage goals, and mostly a poorer ability to control one’s own mind, in terms of inhibition and juggling information”.

The researchers do also provide practical advice from their findings:

“Training (people) on how to set good goals may improve their ability to manage these goals and avoid procrastination … Moreover, helping (people) retrieve their important long-term goals and use those goals to avoid getting side-tracked by short-term temptations (e.g. developing implementation intentions) might also be effective at reducing procrastination.”

Note: An implementation intention is an ‘if-then’ plan, which is rehearsed mentally on a regular basis. For example: “if it is Wednesday afternoon, then I will go for a walk, since I want to be fitter for my summer holiday”.

Gustavson, D., Miyake, A., Hewitt, J., & Friedman, N. (2015). Understanding the Cognitive and Genetic Underpinnings of Procrastination: Evidence for Shared Genetic Influences With Goal Management and Executive Function Abilities. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General DOI: 10.1037/xge0000110