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Procrastination Can Be Viewed Two Ways

Putting off what you should do vs. putting off what you like to do

Are you someone who is more likely to put off what you “should do” or what you’d “like to do?” Sometimes there are personality traits that influence such tendencies. For example, overly conscientious people seldom put off what they should do—frequently at the expense of what they’d like to do. On the other hand, irresponsible people aren’t that concerned about putting off what they should do; and, if they are self-centered, they are likely to indulge themselves by doing what they want to do.

Are these types of people procrastinators? According to Steel (2007), procrastination is defined as, “to voluntary delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.” (p. 66). Do conscientious and self-indulgent individuals put off doing something they intend to do knowing that they will be worse off for it? It’s possible they may have no intention of doing either what they’d like to do when they “meet their obligations” (i.e., the conscientious person) or what they should do when they choose the more self-indulgent course. Or, if either of them do have these intentions, they may not believe that delaying them will result in a sufficiently “worse off” situation.

Most people, however, are not so clearly categorized; they tend to fall somewhere in between. Therefore, they might be meeting Steel’s definition of procrastination when they know their delay in doing something will harm them. Generally, it’s more likely that procrastination occurs in situations of not doing what we should do as opposed to what we’d like to do. Klingsieck (2013) found that procrastination was “more typical for the academic and work, everyday routines and obligations, and health domains than for the leisure, family and partnership, and social contacts domains.” (p. 181).

Most people enjoy leisure, family, and social activities, possibly even more so than academic, work, everyday obligations, and health activities. So, what about the people who put off doing them by choosing to do work or everyday obligations because they believe these activities should not be delayed? Do such individuals appreciate that delaying the activities which they “like to do” can have an increasingly harmful effect?

There is a common saying, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This could well refer to doing what you should do and not what you’d like to do; thus, resulting in an uninteresting person and life. In a competitive society or one that emphasizes material success, the person who strives to achieve this may view engaging in leisure or familial/social activities as luxuries that can wait. Is this a good thing?

Matt has always been a conscientious individual who takes his responsibilities seriously. Currently, he wants to make a good living to support his wife and very young children as well as to pay back his student loans as soon as possible. He has been working long and hard hours and is often out of town. He genuinely loves the company of his family and their social life, but he rationalizes his hard work. He believes that when he is more financially secure, it will alleviate a great deal of his stress and worry, and then he will work fewer hours and spend more time at home with his loved ones doing the things he “wants to do.” Matt isn’t sure when he will reach his “financial security,” but hopes he can maintain this pace until he does.

Unfortunately, Matt may not have taken into consideration the long-term consequences of his behavior. The future thinking he engages in has more to do with his financial state and less so with his absence from his family. He is missing out on his children’s critical developmental milestones as they are missing out on having an involved father. It’s also possible that there may be burgeoning marital issues, given the amount of time he is away and its impact on his wife. Matt may also be jeopardizing his physical and mental health by working so hard.

The belief that there is “always tomorrow,” without actually considering the various scenarios of what “tomorrow” may be like given how one is acting today, is playing a game of chance that could have significant repercussions. Perhaps if Matt thought more specifically about the effect his delay in participating in family activities would have on him and his family, his decisions and behavior might be different.

We should take a considered approach to doing what we should do and what we would like to do. Achieving a physically and psychologically healthy state involves doing both. It is a balancing act that can be more enlightening if the impact of doing one over the other is thought out and evaluated. Procrastinating or delaying either one is inevitable; the critical question is for how long and at what cost. These dilemmas require an informed choice.


Klingsieck, K. B. (2013). Procrastination in different life-domains: Is procrastination domain specific? Current Psychology, 32, 175–185. DOI 10.1007/s12144-013-9171-8

Rebetez, M. M. L., Barsics, C., Rochat, L., D’Argembeau, A., & Van der Linden, M. (2016). Procrastination, consideration of future consequences, and episodic future thinking. Consciousness and Cognition, 42, 286-292. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2016.04.003

Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65-94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65