The Relationships among Procrastination, Flow, and Academic Achievement

Article excerpt

Definitions of procrastination vary. Lay and Schouwenburg (1993) described procrastination as the unnecessary delaying of activities that one ultimately intends to complete, especially when done to the point of creating emotional discomfort. Solomon and Rothblum (1984) also suggested that because definitions of procrastination stress both behavioral delay and psychological distress, the degree of procrastination and the degree to which it presents a problem should be considered together. Schraw, Wadkins, and Olafson (2007) defined it as intentionally deferring or delaying work that must be completed. Schouwenburg (1995) suggested that procrastination referred to as postponing of tasks is inferred from the behavioral manifestations including lack of promptness either in intention or behavior. From these definitions, procrastination can be operatively defined on three dimensions: procrastination in intention; procrastination in behavior; and habitual procrastination. This is the sum of the degree of procrastination and the degree to which it presents a problem.

Although researchers have noted the negative effect of procrastination on learning and achievement, such as lower grades and course withdrawals (e.g., Beswick, Rothblum, & Mann, 1988; Synn, Park, & Seo, 2005; Tice & Baumeister, 1997; Van Eerde, 2003), cramming and staying up all night to complete assignments that are due are fairly commonplace among students (Conti, 2000; Saddler & Buley, 1999). Why do students procrastinate? One reason suggested by researchers is that people think procrastination behaviors do not always cause negative consequences (Alexander & Onwuegbuzie, 2007; Chu & Choi, 2005; Choi & Moran, 2009; Howell & Watson, 2007).

How can this happen? Some researchers found the answer in flow, which Csikszentmihalyi (1990) described as the state of total involvement in an activity that consumes one's complete attention. Csikszentmihalyi and other researchers have suggested that procrastination among successful college students may have little impact on performance because it allows them to achieve a sustained level of flow (Csikszentmihalyi; Lay, Edwards, Parker, & Endler, 1989; Schraw et al., 2007; Sommer, 1990; Tullier, 2000). Lay and colleagues found that procrastinators experienced a greater sense of challenge and peak experience immediately prior to examinations. Brinthaupt and Shin (2001) reported that crammers performed better on tests and reported higher levels of flow than did noncrammers. These authors argued that cramming increases flow because it increases the level of task challenge and demands a higher level of performance from the student. Schraw and colleagues (2007) suggested that peak work experience is one of the adaptive aspects of procrastination. In their study, respondents indicated that procrastination ultimately increases the likelihood of achieving a deep state of flow because procrastinators work under pressure for an extended period of time in which all of their resources are focused on one goal.

However, the finding that procrastination leads to the state of flow does not apply to all students. While time pressure resulting from procrastination can create a feeling of challenge for some students, for other students it can cause stress and anxiety (Choi & Moran, 2009) and can disturb flow (Lee, 2005; Messmer, 2001). Lee found that a high level of procrastination was associated with a low incidence of flow state. She argued that the more students procrastinate the less likely they are to experience the flow state in learning processes. Messmer suggested that one of the keys to performing an activity in a flow state is to avoid procrastination.

The findings gained in these studies give rise to two questions. First, does procrastination increase flow? Second, does flow protect procrastinators against low academic achievement. Although previous researchers have reported that procrastinators do not fail examinations because of their experience of flow, most of these studies depended for their data on self-reported procrastination or students were intentionally selected who viewed themselves as successful procrastinators (e. …