The tendency to procrastinate dates back to the very beginnings of civilization. As early as 1400 B.C., Steel told me, ancient Egyptians were struggling with basic time management. ‘Friend, stop putting off work and allow us to go home in good time,’ read some hieroglyphs, translated by the University of Toronto Egyptologist Ronald Leprohon. Six hundred years later, in 800 B.C., the early Greek poet Hesiod voiced a similar feeling, warning us not to ‘put your work off till tomorrow and the day after, for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work.’ In 44 B.C., Cicero deemed ‘slowness and procrastination’ always ‘hateful’….

In 2007, Steel finally published his dissertation research—’I joke that it took me ten years to write up a three-year project,’ he said—but in the intervening years he continued to pursue the link between procrastination and impulsivity. In study after study he found the same correlation: individuals who were prone to impulsiveness also tended to be excessive procrastinators. Steel summarized his conclusions in a meta-analysis of the literature, drawing from over two hundred studies. When he examined the data, he posited that the two traits may share the same genetic foundation. ‘All of these basic constructs, self-discipline, self-control, and on the other side, procrastination, are pretty much the same phenomenon,’ he told me.

Read more about the psychology behind procrastination at The New Yorker.

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