Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 422–437 | Cite as

It’s in the means: Process focus helps against procrastination in the academic context

Original Paper

Abstract

Two studies tested the hypotheses (1) that focusing on the process of goal pursuit is associated with lower levels of procrastination and (2) that this relationship is moderated by fear of failure and task aversiveness. Study 1 used a between-subjects design with hypothetical scenarios (N = 92). Study 2 used a 5-week longitudinal within-subject design in a real-life context (N = 50). Both studies found converging evidence for the main-effect hypothesis, that is, process focus is negatively associated with procrastination in the academic context (e.g., studying for an exam). Process focus was also negatively related to task aversiveness and fear of failure. However, findings regarding moderation effects of fear of failure and task aversiveness were mixed. Taken together, findings support the hypothesis that the cognitive representation of a goal primarily in terms of its means (i.e., process focus) versus its outcome is related to less procrastination: Focusing on the process of a task can help to reduce procrastination.

Keywords

Procrastination Goal focus Motivation Self-regulation Fear of failure Task aversiveness 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Project “Process and outcome focus—The role of age,” ID: 100014-116528; PI: Alexandra M. Freund) and by a grant from the “Stiftung Hans und Suzanne Biäsch für Angewandte Psychologie” (Project “The role of goal focus for changes in procrastination across the life-span” PI: Kathrin Krause). The authors would like to thank the members of the "Developmental Psychology: Adulthood" team at the University of Zurich for helpful discussions of the work reported in this paper, Matthew J. Kerry for his feedback and for carefully editing this manuscript, and Ruth Kanfer, Frithjof Nussbeck, and Ralf Schwarzer for their valuable input. Kathrin Krause is an alumna of the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE).

References

  1. Aitken, M. (1982). A personality profile of the college student procrastinator (Unpublished Dissertation). University of Pittsburgh.Google Scholar
  2. Arbuckle, J. L. (2006). Amos (Version 7.0) [Computer Program]. Chicago: SPSS.Google Scholar
  3. Ariely, D., & Wertenbroch, K. (2002). Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: Self-control by precommitment. Psychological Science, 13, 219–224. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00441.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Blunt, A. K., & Pychyl, T. P. (2000). Task aversiveness and procrastination: A multi-dimensional approach to task aversiveness across stages of personal projects. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 153–167. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00091-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blunt, A. K., & Pychyl, T. P. (2005). Project systems of procrastinators: A personal project-analytic and action control perspective. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1771–1780. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2004.11.019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bryk, A. S., & Raudenbusch, S. W. (1992). Hierachical linear models in social and behavioral research: Applications and data analysis methods (1st ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  7. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the self-regulation of behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Enders, C. K., & Tofighi, D. (2007). Centering predictor variables in cross-sectional multilevel models: A new look to an old issue. Psychological Methods, 12, 121–138. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.12.2.121.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Fishbach, A., & Choi, J. (2012). When thinking about goals undermines goal pursuit. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 118, 99–107. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.02.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Flett, G. L., Blankstein, K. R., & Martin, T. R. (1995). Procrastination, negative self-evaluation, and stress in depression and anxiety. In J. R. Ferrari, J. L. Johnson, & W. G. McCown (Eds.), Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 137–167). New York, NY: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Freund, A. M., & Hennecke, M. (2012). Changing eating behavior vs. losing weight: The role of goal focus for weight loss in overweight women. Psychology and Health,. doi:10.1080/08870446.2011.570867.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Freund, A. M., & Hennecke, M. (2015). On means and ends: The role of goal focus in successful goal pursuit. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 149–153. doi:10.1177/0963721414559774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Freund, A. M., Hennecke, M., & Mustafic, M. (2012). On means and ends: Process and outcome focus. In R. Ryan (Ed.), Oxford handbook of motivation (pp. 280–300). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Freund, A. M., Hennecke, M., & Riediger, M. (2010). Age-related differences in outcome and process goal focus. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7, 198–222. doi:10.1080/17405620801969585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fujita, K., Trope, Y., Liberman, N., & Levin-Sagi, M. (2006). Construal levels and self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 351–367. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.90.3.351.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Gollwitzer, P. M. (2014). Weakness of the will—Is a quick fix possible? Motivation and Emotion, 38, 305–322. doi:10.1007/s11031-014-9416-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haghbin, M., McCaffrey, A., & Pychyl, T. A. (2012). The complexity of the relation between fear of failure and procrastination. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy,. doi:10.1007/s10942-012-0153-9.Google Scholar
  18. Haycock, L. A., McCarthy, P., & Skay, C. L. (1998). Procrastination in college students: The role of self-efficacy and anxiety. Journal of Counseling & Development, 76, 317–324. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1998.tb02548.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heckhausen, H. (1989). Motivation und Handeln [Motivation and action]. Berlin, Germany: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Helmke, A., & Schrader, F. W. (2000). Procrastination im Studium: Erscheinungsformen und motivationale Bedingungen [Procrastination at college: Manifestations and motivational conditions]. In U. Schiefele & K. P. Wild (Eds.), Interesse und Lernmotivation: Untersuchungen zur Entwicklung, Förderung und Wirkung (pp. 207–225). Münster: Waxmann.Google Scholar
  21. Hennecke, M., & Freund, A. M. (2014). Identifying success on the process level reduces “coasting” during a low-caloric diet. Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, 6, 48–66. doi:10.1111/aphw.12021.Google Scholar
  22. Hofer, M., Kuhnle, C., Kilian, B., & Fries, S. (2012). Cognitive ability and personality variables as predictors of school grades and test scores in adolescents. Learning and Instruction, 22, 368–375. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2012.02.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Howell, A. J., & Watson, D. C. (2007). Procrastination: Associations with achievement goal orientation and learning strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 167–178. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.11.017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6, 1–55. doi:10.1080/10705519909540118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Katz, I., Eilot, K., & Nevo, N. (2014). “I’ll do it later”: Type of motivation, self-efficacy and homework procrastination. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 111–119. doi:10.1007/s11031-013-9366-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Klassen, R. M., Krawchuk, L. L., & Rajani, S. (2008). Academic procrastination of undergraduates: Low self efficacy to self-regulate predicts higher levels of procrastination. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33, 915–931. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2007.07.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klingsieck, K. B. (2013). Procrastination: When good things don’t come to those who wait. European Psychologist, 18, 24–31. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Krause, K., & Freund, A. M. (2014a). How to beat procrastination: The role of goal focus. European Psychologist, 19, 132–144. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Krause, K., & Freund, A. M. (2014b). Delay or procrastination: A comparison of self-report and behavioral measures of procrastination and their impact on affective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 63, 75–80. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kruger, J., Wirtz, D., Van Boven, L., & Altermatt, T. W. (2004). The effort heuristic. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 91–98. doi:10.1016/S0022-1031(03)00065-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kruglanski, A. W. (1996). Goals as knowledge structures. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior (pp. 599–618). New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
  32. Kruglanski, A. W., Shah, J. Y., Fishbach, A., Friedmann, R., Chun, W. Y., & Sleeth- Keppler, D. (2002). A theory of goal-systems. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 331–378. doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(02)80008-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lay, C. H. (1986). At last, my research article on procrastination. Journal of Research in Personality, 20, 474–495. doi:10.1016/0092-6566(86)90127-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Li, F., Harmer, P., Duncan, T. E., Duncan, S. C., Acock, A., & Boles, S. (1998). Approaches to testing interaction effects using structural equation modeling methodology. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 33, 1–39. doi:10.1207/s15327906mbr3301_1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. McCrea, S. M., Liberman, N., Trope, T., & Sherman, S. J. (2008). Construal level and procrastination. Psychological Science, 19, 1308–1314. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02240.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. McDonald, R. P., & Ho, M.-H. R. (2002). Principles and practice in reporting structural equation analysis. Psychological Methods, 7, 64–82.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Moon, S. M., & Illingworth, A. J. (2005). Exploring the dynamic nature of procrastination: A latent growth curve analysis of academic procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 297–309. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2004.04.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pham, L. B., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). From thought to action: Effects of process- versus outcome-based mental simulations on performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 250–260. doi:10.1177/0146167299025002010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pychyl, T. A., Lee, J. M., Thibodeau, R., & Blunt, A. (2000). Five days of emotion: An experience sampling study of undergraduate student procrastination. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 15, 239–254.Google Scholar
  40. Raudenbusch, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierachical linear models (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  41. Rogers, W. M. (2002). Theoretical and mathematical constraints of interactive regression models. Organizational Research Methods, 5, 212–230. doi:10.1177/10928102005003002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sansone, C., & Thoman, D. B. (2005). Interest as the missing motivator in self-regulation. European Psychologist, 10, 175–186. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.10.3.175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schouwenburg, H. C. (1992). Procrastinators and fear of failure: An exploration of reasons for procrastination. European Journal of Personality, 6, 225–236. doi:10.1002/per.2410060305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schouwenburg, H. C. (1995). Academic procrastination: Theoretical notions, measurement, and research. In J. R. Ferrari, J. L. Johnson, & W. G. McCown (Eds.), Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 71–96). New York, NY: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schouwenburg, H. C., & Groenewoud, J. T. (2001). Study motivation under social temptation: Effects of trait procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 229–240. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(00)00034-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schraw, G., Wadkins, T., & Olafson, L. (2007). Doing the things we do: A grounded theory of procrastination. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 12–25. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.99.1.12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schumacker, R. E., & Lomax, R. G. (2004). A Beginner’s guide to structural equation modeling (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.Google Scholar
  48. Senecal, C., Lavoie, K., & Koestner, R. (1997). Trait and situational factors in procrastination: An interactional model. Social Behavior and Personality, 12, 889–903.Google Scholar
  49. Sirois, F. M. (2015). Is procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 38(3), 578–589. doi:10.1007/s10865-015-9629-2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Sirois, F. M., & Pychyl, T. A. (2013). Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7, 115–127. doi:10.1111/spc3.12011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sirois, F. M., van Eerde, W., & Argiropoulou, M. I. (2015). Is procrastination related to sleep quality? Testing an application of the procrastination-health model. Cogent Psychology,. doi:10.1080/23311908.2015.1074776.Google Scholar
  52. Sniehotta, F. F., Schwarzer, R., Scholz, U., & Schüz, B. (2005). Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: Theory and assessment. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 565–576. doi:10.1002/ejsp.258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Solomon, L. J., & Rothblum, E. D. (1984). Academic procrastination: Frequency and cognitive-behavioral correlates. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31, 503–509. doi:10.1037//0022-0167.31.4.503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65–94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Steel, P., Brothen, T., & Wambach, C. (2001). Procrastination and personality, performance, and mood. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 95–106. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(00)00013-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Steel, P., & König, C. (2006). Integrating theories of motivation. Academy of Management Review, 31, 889–913. doi:10.5465/AMR.2006.22527462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Steyer, R., Schwenkmezger, P., Notz, P., & Eid, M. (1997). Der Mehrdimensionale Befindlichkeitsfragebogen (MDBF). Handanweisung. Göttingen: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  58. Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health. The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8, 454–458. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00460.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. van Eerde, W. (2003). Procrastination in academic settings and the Big Five model of personality: A meta-analysis. In H. C. Schouwenburg, C. H. Lay, T. A. Pychyl, & J. R. Ferrari (Eds.), Counseling the procrastinator in academic settings (pp. 29–40). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  60. Vansteenkiste, M., Sierens, E., Soenens, B., Luyckx, K., & Lens, W. (2009). Motivational profiles from a self-determination perspective: The quality of motivation matters. Journal of Educational Psychology, 3, 671–688. doi:10.1037/a0015083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Walter, S. (2009). Zielfokusveränderung in der aktionalen Handlungsphase beim Schreiben einer schriftlichen Arbeit [Change in goal focus during the actional phase while writing a term paper] (Unpublished master’s thesis). Zurich, Switzerland: University of Zurich.Google Scholar
  62. Whisman, M. A., & McClelland, G. H. (2005). Designing, testing, and interpreting interactions and moderator effects in family research. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 111–120. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.19.1.111.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Wild, K. P. (2000). Lernstrategien im Studium: Strukturen und Bedingungen [Study strategies in college students: Structures and conditions]. Münster: Waxmann.Google Scholar
  64. Wohl, M. J. A., Pychyl, T. A., & Bennett, S. H. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 803–808. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wolters, C. A. (2003). Understanding procrastination from a self-regulated learning perspective. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 179–187. doi:10.1037//0022-0663.95.1.179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wolters, C. A. (2004). Advancing achievement goal theory: Using goal structures and goal orientations to predict students’ motivation, cognition, and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 236–250. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.96.2.236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations