What is Procrastination?
“I’ll do it later.” We all put things off at times, but procrastination is when someone regularly avoids tasks and looks for distractions instead – organizing the desk, doing the dishes, or scrolling through social media. Procrastination is the act of setting aside tasks until the last minute or past their deadlines for any number of reasons. Whether it is putting off the essay that has been assigned for two weeks until the night before it’s due date or waiting until the eleventh hour to complete a presentation for your boss, everyone from students to business executives can fall susceptible to procrastination.
The Greek word akrasia is most commonly translated as “lack of self-control” or “doing something against our better judgment.” This self-awareness plays a pivotal role in the negative feelings and perceptions held towards procrastination. Procrastination is like doing mental gymnastics to balance two conflicting beliefs:
- I know I need to complete this task, and
- I can do it later; I’ll have plenty of time
So, then, why do we procrastinate if we know we really shouldn’t?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Have you ever thought, “Oh, I will have plenty of time to complete this project! I don’t need to start it now,” and proceeded to vacuum the whole house? Did you find that the project took a bit more time and effort to complete than originally anticipated?
Research has shown that procrastination is primarily about emotions. Delaying a task could be a way to cope with feelings of boredom, anxiety, frustration, and self-doubt that are brought about by the task itself.
Low self-confidence and anxiety tend to work together. The thought of not being able to complete a task can lead to anxious feelings associated with the task. Whenever the task comes up, anxiety increases in the individual, creating a cycle of avoidance.
Hopelessness, helplessness, and lack of motivation are common symptoms of depression. These emotions can make it difficult to start and finish even a simple task. When it is difficult to figure out how to even begin a project or feelings of inadequacy arise, it might seem easier to put something off and complete other projects instead.
Often, procrastinators are perfectionists; someone striving for nothing less than flawlessness. To a perfectionist, putting off the task rather than not doing it well is perceived as more favorable. Moreover, many people diagnosed with ADHD find themselves procrastinating. Struggling to remain focused due to external stimuli (e.g., people talking next to you) and internal thoughts (e.g., worry about a deadline) can make it difficult to begin working on a task, let alone completing one.
In the academic settings, procrastination is a major problem for students. Researchers have found that there are a few significant cognitive distortions that tend to lead to students procrastinating on assignments or coursework:
- Thinking they have more time to complete tasks.
- Underestimating of how long a task will take to finish.
- Overestimating one’s future motivation.
- Believing that one works better under the time pressure to complete a task.
- Feeling the need to be in the right mindset to get work done.
Mandap (2016) found a significant difference in procrastination scores between men and women in their study. The results showed that men tend to procrastinate more than women. A meta-analysis conducted by Lu, He, & Tan (2022) analyzed 193 studies, confirming that males tend to procrastinate more than females.
Types of Procrastination
There are two types of procrastination, both of which result in similar outcomes: delaying a task.
Delaying completing a task due to an inability to make a decision.
Purposely delaying working on a task because of the perception that working under pressure leads to increased motivation.
Within these types of procrastination, individuals who procrastinate may exhibit different behavioral styles of procrastination:
Putting off a task due to the fear that it will not be completed perfectly.
Putting off a task due to the inability to pay attention to detail.
Believing that no one should have the power to dictate another person’s schedule.
Putting off a task due to fearing change (e.g., leaving the comfort of what is “normal.”)
- Crisis Maker:
Putting off a task in order to purposely work under pressure.
Struggling to find time to start and complete a task due to taking on too many projects.
Impact of Procrastination
Relieving pressure in the moment rather than thinking about the long-term outcome can be consequential. Procrastination is a problem when it becomes chronic and interferes with daily life. To that end, chronic procrastination can have an impact on a person’s mental health, as well as social and professional well-being.
Chronic procrastination could lead to some of the following:
- Increased feelings of stress
- Increased chance of illness
- Strain placed on social relationships
- Feelings of resentment from the social circle, including family, friends, and work colleagues
- Delinquent bills
It is common for students who tend to procrastinate regularly to receive lower grades. Workers’ production quality tends to be lower when procrastination is a factor. One’s health and well-being can be impacted by habitual procrastination, including insomnia, weakened immune system, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease.
How to Stop Procrastinating?
As everyone procrastinates for various reasons and has different preferences, there is no one-size-fits-it-all intervention to stop procrastination. However, here are some tips that can counter procrastination.
Make, and stick to a to-do list
Lists help visualize and lay out what needs to be done and show how much (or little) time it takes to complete the task. When you have completed the tasks on your list, celebrate yourself and your accomplishments. Reward increases motivation to repeat this behavior.
Find what stimuli are taking your attention away from getting your work done. Accordingly, take notice when you find yourself in the act of procrastinating or becoming distracted! Learning what is taking your attention away from the task at hand can increase your awareness and help redirect focus. For example, if your phone is a distraction, place it further away, or even in another room.
Show empathy for your future self
You would not want to put those close to you in a bad situation, right? So, don’t do it to yourself! Set yourself up for future success.
If you find yourself procrastinating, remind yourself that you’re not being lazy though you may feel that way by not doing the task required. Everyone is prone to procrastination. However, some factors contribute to some people procrastinating more than others, such as low self-confidence, anxiety, perfectionism, and depression. If you recognize any one of these symptoms, it may be time to talk to therapist about it.
Connect with a therapist who’s specialized in women’s mental health today.
Cherry, K. (2020, May 30). The psychology of procrastination. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-psychology-of-procrastination-2795944
Lieberman, C. (2019, March 5). Why you procrastinate. (It has nothing to do with self-control). New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html
Lu, D., He, Y., & Tan, Y. (2022). Gender, socioeconomic status, cultural differences, education, family size and procrastination: A sociodemographic meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 1-15.
Mandap, C. M. (2016). Examining the differences in procrastination tendencies among university students. International Journal of Education and Research, 4(4), 431-436.
Psychology Today Staff. Procrastination. Psychology Today. Retrieved on April 21, 2022. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/procrastination
Scott, E. (2022, January 5). 10 signs you may be a perfectionist. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/signs-you-may-be-a-perfectionist-3145233