Cognitive Daily

When I was in college, I put off everything until the last possible instant: I got out of bed just moments before class started; I finished papers minutes before they were due. But I rarely actually missed a deadline for a paper. Now most of my deadlines aren’t nearly as firm as they were in college — if I really need more time to complete a project, I can usually reason with my client and get more time.

Just one deadline seems set in stone: the April 15 Income Tax deadline (though this year it’s actually April 17, since the 15th is a weekend day). In fact, you can actually file for an extension, which is automatically granted, with a catch: you still have to pay the taxes you think will be due. Not much mercy from the IRS.

Greta, on the other hand, faces more deadlines now than she ever did in college: she must be prepared for teaching a class nearly every day. In college, she typically finished papers several days before they were due, unlike her future husband.

So this got us thinking about how people handle the Income Tax deadline and how it relates to their other procrastinatory behavior. Do all procrastinators procrastinate equally for everything, or do we pick and choose what we procrastinate about? Now’s our chance to find out. This week’s study asks a few questions about what you put off and for how long. Next week, we’ll see if we can find any patterns in the data.

Click here to participate

As always, you have until 11:59 Eastern Daylight Time on Wednesday, April 19 to participate, or until we have 250 responses, whichever comes first. The survey will take less than a minute of your time.


  1. #1 coturnix
    April 14, 2006

    Should there have been a question: do you expect to pay taxes or to get a tax return?

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    April 14, 2006

    I tried to cover that in one of the responses, but yeah, that might have helped: I think people definitely tend to file sooner when they’re expecting to get money.

  3. #3 coturnix
    April 14, 2006

    Yup, I have already spent it an forgotten all about it!

  4. #4 John Wilkins
    April 14, 2006

    I will get around to doing this survey, sometime.

  5. #5 not telling
    April 14, 2006

    What does it say about me that I
    a) have not finished my taxes
    b) have a major assignment due tomorrow afternoon that I only just started
    c) have another major paper worth half of my grade due Monday that I’m still researching (nothing written)

    yet I’m still filling out this survey?!

    In all honesty, I think I’m one of those polar people in terms of procrastination. In some ways (waking up in the morning, for one) I never procrastinate. Other things, like taxes, I’m worse than average. For school work I’m sometimes insanely ahead of the game and sometimes (like now!) very last-minute.

  6. #6 Gordon Worley
    April 15, 2006

    I’m not sure how my results will appear in the study. I finished my taxes a few weeks ago (already got my refund), so in that way I’m not a procrastinator, but when it comes to major projects in college I often finish them within a few hours of the deadline. This isn’t really the result of procrastination, though, just good time budgeting such that I finish the project at the appropriate time. I work on it as needed and it gets done when it needs to get done. I only occasionally have to crunch, usually because of something beyond my control (like the time my fiancee was hospitalized for respiratory distress), and in all my years of schooling I can remembering only one time I didn’t get an assignment done (my first semester of grad school; I wildly underestimated the workload).

    I’ll be interested to see how the last question works out. What kind of behavior does being organized correlate with.

  7. #7 Ducktape
    April 15, 2006

    I’m a terrible procrastinator, but I’m not sure you can pick it up from my answers. I think there are a couple of different types of procrastication (for me, at least). One is for the things that I put off because I don’t want to do them — taxes and laundry fall into that (those are also the things I hire other people to do when I can). The other is things that I do want to do — but there is a “deadline adreneline” that always has me running right up to the last second, and also taking on too many of them.

  8. #8 Zs
    April 15, 2006

    I wonder how will/can you generalize from tax filling procrastination to general, or other specific procrastination?
    I paid to have my taxes done two weeks ago. But I am a bad, bad procrastinator when it comes to my tasks. I finish papers in the last night before deadline. Why? I wonder.

    And what about changes across time and procrastination?
    I used to plan my trips a month in advance and make reservations; and start packig at least 4-5 days before I leave. Lately (an year or so) I plan at the last minute, make reservations when I pay more since I don’t find cheaper, and make my suitcase in the night before I leave early morning.
    I am very curious to read your results and comments.

  9. #9 Eva
    April 16, 2006

    Canadian taxes are not due for another two weeks, but I finished them last month, as soon as I got all my tax slips, because I was getting a return! I noticed a few years ago that if you wait until the deadline, it takes MUCH longer to be processed than if you do it 6 weeks earlier, when they’re not so busy yet.

  10. #10 Jenny
    April 17, 2006

    In college, I was the queen of the all-nighter. Interestingly, taxes are the ONLY thing I DON’T still procrastinate doing. This is largely because I’m looking forward to the return money.

    Also, my taxes are fairly straightforward – maybe 3 forms. Using TurboTax, it takes me maybe a half-hour to file online. I imagine if I had to do a Schedule C or something more complicated, I would put it off.

  11. #11 Scott Belyea
    April 17, 2006

    A few years back, I was one of two people who did a sizable internal study for our employer on workload management and work-life balance, driven by increasing employee whining and sniveling on “satisfaction” surveys. We contracted with an industrial psychologist to do some survey and “focus group” work for us, and also to help us analyze the results.

    One of our better recommendations (from which I still benefit) was always to procrastinate. Not to extremes, of course, but in many cases, there’s little or no benefit and often some risk in completing things “too early.”

    One example (common in a business context) is not to prepare a presentation until “the last minute.” If you’re ready a week ahead, then something’s almost bound to change that will require rework.

    Essentially, we said to:

    * Estimate how long the task in question is worth. (Not everything is worth doing perfectly; lots of things may not be worth doing more than competently.)

    * Schedule your “work time” for the task as close to the due date as is practical, recognizing that unexpected interruptions happen.

    * Decide what the worst is that can happen if things go wrong and you miss the deadline. When you look at it critically, there are lots of cases where the worst isn’t all that bad. But if it is, start a bit earlier.

    To many people, this is “counter-intuitive” and not at all what your parents kept pushing you to do. (“Why don’t you just get it done and then you can stop worrying about it??”) It can take a while to get your mind around. However, we had considerable feedback on the positive value of this simple approach and its positive contribution to the whole issue of “workload management.”

    As I said, I still benefit from this. I’d benefit even more if I did it consistently! 🙂

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