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Review

Procrastination during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Scoping Review

by
Alejandro Unda-López
,
Gabriel Osejo-Taco
,
Andrea Vinueza-Cabezas
,
Clara Paz
and
Paula Hidalgo-Andrade
*
Escuela de Psicología y Educación, Universidad de Las Américas, Quito 170124, Ecuador
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Behav. Sci. 2022, 12(2), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/bs12020038
Submission received: 3 January 2022 / Revised: 20 January 2022 / Accepted: 25 January 2022 / Published: 6 February 2022

Abstract

:
Procrastination involves voluntarily or habitually delaying unpleasant tasks for later. It is characterized by short-term benefits and long-term costs. The COVID-19 pandemic set specific circumstances that may have influenced procrastination behavior. This scoping review identified the existing peer-reviewed literature in English or Spanish about procrastination during the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2020 to April 2021) in six electronic databases. To conduct the review, a five-step methodological framework, as well as established PRISMA guidelines, was followed. A total of 101 articles were found. After removing duplicates and reviewing the articles, only 13 were included in the review. Findings indicate that procrastination was studied mostly in academic contexts in various parts of the globe. Procrastination behavior was related to anxiety, distress, time management, self-control, and other variables. There is limited information about interventions to prevent or decrease procrastinating behaviors in the context of confinement or in the living conditions generated by the pandemic. Future research should consider how procrastination evolved during the pandemic using longitudinal methodologies. Individual differences related to procrastination also should be identified, and the evaluation of the efficacy of existing interventions is still needed. This information might help in the creation of appropriate interventions that target detrimental procrastination behaviors.

1. Introduction

In December 2019, the presence of a severe respiratory infection was detected in China. The disease, named “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19) [1], spread rapidly outside of China; by 11 March 2020, it was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization Director, Dr. Tedros Adhanom [2]. To preserve the health of the population and avoid contagions, several countries adopted restriction measures. Mostly, those measures promoted closing country borders, home confinement, and social distancing [3]. All these restrictions affected the way people developed their daily activities such as working, studying, and leisure. These activities changed abruptly to remote settings, helped by the Internet and communication technologies.
The changes in daily activities provoked the presence of emotional distress [4], amplified also by the uncertainty of living in a pandemic [5]. To deal with these situations, people engaged in activities, mostly in front of screens [6] and, in some cases, procrastinated on some other compulsory tasks.
Procrastination is a psychological term that involves voluntarily or habitually delaying unpleasant tasks for later; it is characterized by short-term benefits and long-term costs [7,8,9]. Procrastination has been studied in different contexts, including academic [9,10,11], work [12], daily life [13], and health [14].
Academic procrastination refers to deliberate and unnecessary delay in completing academic tasks for no reason. It leads to painful feelings and negative learning experiences [9,11]. Several studies suggest that academic procrastination is a consequence of a self-regulation deficit in students [15,16]. Likewise, evidence indicates that personality traits, such as neuroticism and extraversion, are associated with procrastination [17].
Furthermore, procrastination at work is defined as delaying work activities by performing non-work-related actions during working hours, with no intention of harming the employer, employee, workplace, or customer. There are two subtypes of procrastination at work: (1) soldiering, which refers to the avoidance of performing work tasks for more than one hour per day without intent to harm others, and (2) cyberslacking, which is when employees may give the impression that they are working on their computers, but they may be performing other personal activities such as shopping online, using social networks, etc., incurring high costs to companies [12]. In the workplace, organizations have concerns about employees sometimes engaging in non-work-related activities during working hours. In a study conducted by Metin et al. [18] using a sample of 380 white-collar full-time employees in The Netherlands, the authors found a negative correlation between work engagement and procrastination; this means that people with elevated levels of commitment clearly did not spend much time on non-work-related activities during working hours. Hence, procrastination and performance were negatively related.
On the other hand, procrastination of everyday life is the extent to which people perform routine life tasks on time or late, differing according to personal time orientation [13]. This domain can include delaying various kinds of activities, such as filing income tax returns, performing household duties, engaging in hobbies on a regular basis, visiting parents, returning a phone call, writing an e-mail, or meeting friends [19]. In a study in the US, carried out by Ferrari et al. [20] using three different adult samples, findings suggest that procrastination of everyday tasks can lead to problems with clutter in older adults. This is important because these problems related to clutter can reduce a person’s general satisfaction with life.
Meanwhile, procrastination of health behavior is a delay in seeking treatment or postponing treatment [14]; for example, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or implementing wellness behaviors. In a study conducted by Sirois et al. [21] using a sample of 122 university students in Canada, results showed that the relationship between procrastination and health is mediated by health behaviors. In addition, the higher levels of stress experienced due to this behavioral style increase the risk of disease. In fact, procrastinating can further negatively impact health status.
Everyone tends to procrastinate at various times in their lives. Some people tend to procrastinate most of the time, and others tend to procrastinate in specific situations [15]. Several variables related to procrastination have been identified, such as academic anxiety, self-handicapping, and COVID-19 fear in students. An explanation is that students could only study online given the imposed lockdowns, thus providing a more favorable context to procrastinate [8,10,11,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29].
The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented event that changed the daily activities of most of the world’s population [7]. There is evidence that procrastination during this period may present positive benefits such as an opportunity to “redefine career goals, rethink relationships, relook at personal philosophies, and re-explore passions” [30], whereas other studies have analyzed the negative effects including difficulties in distance learning [29], the perception that time is moving faster [28], an increase in Internet use [10], excessive use of social media [26], general distress [23], higher levels of depression, and decreased academic performance [31].
Currently, people are experiencing circumstances that have not been observed in the past, and research related to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on procrastination is still in its initial stages. The existing findings are mixed, which suggests the need for a careful review of the literature to attain a holistic understanding of the results, identification of caveats in knowledge, and recognition of existing interventions. Unlike systematic reviews, scoping reviews allow us to examine emerging evidence and provide an overview of it [32]. Thus, for this article’s objectives, a scoping review was a more valid approach.
In this study, we sought to contribute to the existing literature for the development of future theoretical and empirical research. The aims of the current review were the following aspects:
  • To recognize the psychological variables associated with procrastination during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • to map the contexts in which procrastination was studied;
  • to identify the sociodemographic characteristics of the involved participants;
  • to analyze the changes in the procrastination levels due to the pandemic and whether any type of intervention has been conducted to address it;
  • to identify the instruments used for the study of procrastination.
The results of this review will provide a reference