The Staggering Cost of Procrastination
One thing that annoys me is that procrastination is often treated as a joke. While we may not dare, for instance, making fun of memory loss in the presence of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, we are quick to make light of procrastination, a behavior that can deeply impact anyone’s life and the life of those around them.
But as I decided to write about the negative consequences of procrastination, I set out to make an exhaustive inventory of the costs of putting things off, and the more I searched, the more staggering it looked. I will try to summarize here what I found.
It will cost you money
In 2013, consumers paid $12 billion in credit card late fees, estimated R.K. Hammer, a credit card advisory firm. Some 40% of Americans wait until the last minute to file their taxes, costing people $400 on average. You know that when you buy your spouse an anniversary present the day before, you never get the better deal. It is no secret that you have to book your airline flight weeks-if not months-in advance in order to get the best rates. Finally, one of the largest money loser is the simple delay in putting money on a retirement account. Waiting to take advantage of the magic of compound interest can result in regrets later in life:
“Over the long term that number becomes even more substantial, due to compound growth. A 3% contribution matched by your employer means you net $3,000 per year toward retirement. If you started saving today, rather than two years from now, in an account that earned 6% per year, you’d have more than $63,000 extra in your account in 40 years!” (Forbes, 2014)
It will cost you happiness
The Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Canada conducted an informal online poll of students and general public alike, asking the simple question “To what extent is procrastination having a negative impact on your happiness?” Some 9,000 people had responded between 1999 and 2005, with 94% indicating that procrastination had some negative effect on their happiness, and 18% saying that the effect was extremely negative. If procrastination tends to be harmful to your wealth, it is not the only reason why it makes you less happy. It may lead you to postpone looking for a better job, hindering your career. It may delay getting a degree, keeping future life plans on hold. It may result in letting go of the ideal mate, who gets tired of waiting. And it even impacts others around you:
“It shifts the burden of responsibilities onto others, who become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.”
-Hara Estroff Marano
It will cost you your health
A study by professor Fuschia Sirois, of Bishop’s University, found that procrastination is associated with higher stress, more health problems, and less self-care. The impact is either direct: the stress itself is harmful to our health; or indirect: as we procrastinate, we don’t brush our teeth as regularly, or get less frequent medical check-ups. In the end, putting off a visit to the doctor may lead to a shorter life, because of a serious condition that was not caught in a timely fashion.
I am fully aware that presenting the negative does not necessarily encourage anyone to engage in a positive behavior. Not any more than presenting the effects of lung cancer convinces smokers to quit. However, there are positive counterparts to the costs I described above: a happier life, better relationships, healthier body, and more peaceful retirement. Keeping those in mind will give your future self approach goals.
Now, that reminds me that I should be scheduling my colonoscopy…
- 8 Common Ways Procrastination Costs You Big-Time, by Molly Triffin. Forbes (2014).
- The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure, by Piers Steel.
Psychological Bulletin (2007).
- Procrastination: Ten Things To Know, by Hara Estroff Marano. Psychology Today (2003).
- “I’ll look after my health, later”, by Fuschia M. Sirois. Personality and Individual Differences (2007).