Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Procrastination

Everyone puts things off sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and may deliberately look for distractions. Procrastination tends to reflect a person’s struggles with self-control. For habitual procrastinators, who represent approximately 20 percent of the population, "I don't feel like it" comes to take precedence over their goals or responsibilities, and can set them on a downward spiral of negative emotions that further deter future effort.

Procrastination also involves a degree of self-deception: At some level, procrastinators are aware of their actions and the consequences, but changing their habits requires even greater effort than completing the task in front of them.

Understanding Procrastination

Procrastinators are often perfectionists, for whom it may be psychologically more acceptable to never tackle a job than to face the possibility of not doing it well. They may be so highly concerned about what others will think of them that they put their futures at risk to avoid judgment.

Some procrastinators contend that they perform better under pressure, but while they may be able to convince themselves of that, research shows it is generally not the case; instead, they may make a habit of last-minute work to experience the rush of euphoria at seemingly having overcome the odds.

Why do I procrastinate?

Procrastination is driven by a variety of thoughts and habits but fundamentally, we avoid tasks or put them off because we do not believe we’ll enjoy doing them, and want to avoid making ourselves unhappy, or we fear that we won’t do them well. People may also procrastinate when they are confused by the complexity of a task (such as filing one’s taxes) or when they’re overly distracted or fatigued.

What are the psychological roots of procrastination?

Psychologists have identified various drivers of procrastination, from low self-confidence to anxiety, a lack of structure, and, simply, an inability to motivate oneself to complete unpleasant tasks. Research has also shown that procrastination is closely linked to rumination, or becoming fixated on negative thoughts.

article continues after advertisement

The Consequences of Procrastination

Procrastination may relieve pressure in the moment, but it can have steep emotional, physical, and practical costs. Students who routinely procrastinate tend to get lower grades, workers who procrastinate produce lower-quality work, and in general, habitual procrastinators can experience reduced well-being in the form of insomnia or immune system and gastrointestinal disturbance. Procrastination can also jeopardize both personal and professional relationships.

Is procrastination bad for my health?

Procrastinating when it comes to one’s health—putting off exercise and checkups, and failing to commit to healthy eating—can lead to a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Procrastinators are also more likely to engage in self-blame and disengage from wellness advice, suggesting that cultivating greater self-compassion could help such individuals begin taking better care of themselves.

Is there a link between procrastination and depression?

Procrastination, avoidance, and rumination are all common symptoms of depression. People with depression may struggle to plan ahead, lose confidence in their ability to follow through, and adopt “what’s the point” thinking. The treatment approach known as behavioral activation, in which one schedules enjoyable activities that provide a sense of mastery or accomplishment, may help alleviate some of these effects.

How to Beat Procrastination

It's possible to overcome procrastination but it takes considerable effort. Changing a habitual behavior consumes a lot of psychic energy, but engaging in highly structured regimen of cognitive behavioral therapy is one approach that has worked for many. In the short term, some cognitive tricks can help people complete discrete tasks.

How can I stop procrastinating?

Studies based on The Procrastination at Work Scale, which identifies 12 common forms of workplace procrastination, have highlighted some potential solutions, such as adopting timelines that build in time for delay, but not too much; making a personal challenge out of mundane tasks; breaking large jobs into achievable chunks you can celebrate completing; and limiting your access to online news and social media.

How can a procrastinator change their mindset?

When people procrastinate, their present self benefits by avoiding unpleasant work, but their future self pays the price in stress or punishment. Developing empathy for one’s future self as one would for a close friend, then, can be an important first step to ending the habit, because we’re less willing to put a good friend in such a disadvantaged position.

Essential Reads

Recent Posts