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Procrastination at the top level

How top managers use their time

National Research University Higher School of Economics

A study by psychologists from the Higher School of Economics has proven that top managers use their time more effectively than middle managers. They have lower procrastination levels and focus more on the future.

Alla Bolotova and Anastasia Chevrenidi from the HSE School of Psychology compared time perspectives, procrastination levels and life-purpose orientations in top and middle managers working in Moscow.

The study involved 120 participants. The top management group included 30 males and 28 females aged 38 to 55 with a university degree and 6 to 21 years of work experience in top managerial positions.

The group of middle managers consisted of 27 men and 35 women aged 31 to 52, with a university degree and 3 to 17 of work experience in a managerial position.

Time Perspectives

To evaluate the time perspective, the researchers used an inventory developed by P. Zimbardo and J. Boyd. Individuals were suggested to evaluate the level of their agreement with 56 statements based on their relations to time. Each of the answers diagnosed the respondent's relations to the past, the present and the future identifying the following indicators:

Negative past

An individual's past causes disgust, pain and disappointment. An example of a statement on this scale: 'I often think about what I should have done differently.'

Positive past

Any experience is perceived as contributing to development and leading to today's state. An example of a statement on this scale: 'I'm happy thinking about my past.'

Hedonistic present

A perspective when the present time is seen detached from the past and the future, with the only purpose being pleasure in the present. An example of a statement on this scale: 'I often forget about time listening to my favourite music.'

Fatalistic present

The present is regarded as independent from the will of the individual as initially predetermined, while the personality is a hostage of fate. An example of a statement on this scale: 'If something is destined to happen, it does not depend on my actions.'

Future

The presence of a person's goals and plans for the future. An example of a statement on this scale: 'I believe that every morning a person should plan his or her day.' The results of this test showed that top managers usually focus highly on future time perspectives and the positive past, while groups of middle managers they focus on hedonist present and rely on their fate more often.

Procrastination Levels

Procrastination levels were assessed with the use of General Procrastination Scale developed by C. Lay and adapted by O. Vindeker and M. Ostanina. The questionnaire consisted of 20 statements that were to be evaluated on a 5-point scale. Examples of statements on this scale: 'I usually make decisions as quickly as possible'; 'I usually do everything that was planned for the day'; 'I always say: I will do it tomorrow.'

The results showed that the level of procrastination in top managers is lower (53.45) than in the group of middle managers (57.2).

Life-purpose orientations

In conclusion, the respondents were offered The Purpose-in-Life Test (PLT) developed by J. Crumbaugh & L. Maholick and adapted by D. Leontiev. The test helps evaluate the 'source' of the meaning of life that can be found by a person either in the future (goal), in the present (process), in the past (result), or in all three components of life.

Generally, top managers demonstrated higher life purpose indicators than those in the middle management group. The most significant differences were on the following scales: Aims in life (35.28 vs. 29.90), Process of life (34.38 vs. 27.70) and Performance of life (28.38 vs. 24.10). The received data illustrates major differences in leading components of personal potential while planning and building up one's career, which become a basis for career achievements.

Looking at the respondents' cumulative results in all the three tests, the researchers notice correlation between the levels of procrastination and the time perspectives. High levels of procrastination of middle managers may be explained by the influence of their attitude to the past: they are full of memories of the past and do not pay enough attention to their future time orientation. Middle managers also tend to have fatalist perceptions of the present. Top managers have lower levels of procrastination, reflecting their ability to self-regulate and set targets when building their careers.

The researchers concluded that individuals inclined to procrastination are less able to control the situation and deter the decision-making process.

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