The science of procrastination: why ‘getting it done’ could improve wellbeing 


New research has revealed that nearly nine in ten respondents to a new survey delay doing one or more ‘life updates’.

This is despite the fact that overcoming the urge to procrastinate and getting on with our to-do lists could improve our wellbeing, while delaying them could be putting us at risk of serious consequences, such as cyber crime.

The most neglected life updates are changing service providers for our insurance, electricity or bank, going to the dentist for a regular check-up and installing the latest software and app updates as soon as they become available.

Top 10 list of life updates the public who were questioned delay:

  1. Changing service providers for our insurance electricity or bank
  2. Going to the dentist for a regular check-up
  3. Installing the latest software and app updates
  4. Doing the washing up
  5. Returning items purchased from a shop or online which you no longer want
  6. Making the bed
  7. Servicing the car
  8. Changing batteries in the fire alarm
  9. Returning something borrowed
  10. Doing a tax return

Many of us start with the best intentions – when asked why we tend to put off these tasks 31% of those of us who delay at least one task said they meant to do it but then got distracted. And once we start putting things off, it can be hard to stop – with the majority of respondents admitting they put at least one task off ‘for as long as possible’ despite the fact that many of the top ten tasks we put off could potentially lead to financial loss in the short or long term.

And despite their focus on ‘living their best life’ millennials were most likely to put tasks off, with 96% of 18-25 year olds delaying at least one or more tasks, compared to 84% of 45-75 year olds.

Dr Lewis Goodings, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, who conducted the research, explains the science behind why we procrastinate: “So why are we all so guilty of procrastinating? It’s partly because we are lured into a sense of comfort when we delay a task and no immediate negative consequences occur. However, if we delay when it comes to cyber security then negative consequences – such as a hacker accessing your device – can happen and you may not be aware of them until it’s too late and you’ve already become a victim of cyber crime.”

“Luckily if you do have a tendency to procrastinate then there are simple things you can do to make life easier for yourself like checking that software or app auto updates are turned on. And just getting on with it may even make you feel better about yourself –  we have a term in social psychology called ‘self-mastery’ which boils down to people feeling better when they complete something. Start with an easy life update to make you feel positive straight away and encourage you to work through your list – installing the latest software and app updates is really simple – and then you can relax while the hard work is done for you. We know cyber security is something people worry about so ticking this off will make you feel better and gives you the comfort of knowing you are making yourself more secure online.”

According to Cyber Aware, by not installing software and app updates as soon as they become available, we miss out on vital security updates which are designed to fix weaknesses in software and apps which could be used by hackers to attack your device and steal your identity. This can lead to lost time and potentially lost money.

Sarah Lyons, Deputy Director Engagement – Economy and Society, at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) explains that: “Installing the latest software and app updates is an essential ‘life update’ that helps you protect yourself online. Software updates are designed to fix weaknesses in software and apps, helping secure your device against attacks from hackers. All you have to do is check that auto-updates are turned on and turn them on if they’re not. Updates don’t have to get in the way – you can set them to run overnight, when you’re not using your phone.”