Why Do We Procrastinate And How Can We Stop It?

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6 min read

procrastination man with watch and laptop

“Why do I keep procrastinating even when I know it is bad?” is a question we — especially professional “deadline fighters” — have asked ourselves at some point in our lives.


Even if you are well-organized and diligent, you may have found yourself putting off tasks and idling time away on social media or online shops before. If you struggle with chasing tight deadlines, the guilt and stress of not starting sooner, chances are that you don’t thrive under pressure and “the art of delay” is just not for you.


In this article, you will find out all the answers you need to beat your tendencies to procrastinate, find a way out and get back on track!


What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the practice of unnecessarily delaying decisions or leaving tasks until the last minute or even past the deadline. It is also a form of failure in self-regulation characterized by the unreasonable postponement of tasks despite foreseeable negative consequences. For instance, you probably have experienced the magnetic pull of Facebook and Instagram that took your attention away from the assignment at hand.


Procrastination is detrimental to our productivity and ability in accomplishing any attainable goals. Studies portrayed that procrastination is associated with lower grades at school and lower salaries at work. Besides, it is related to various mental issues, including but not limited to aggravating stress and worsening mental well-being.

Why do we procrastinate?

Have you been told that your procrastination habit is simply the consequence of a low level of determination? Truth is, it is not. So, don’t beat yourself up over it.


Indeed, when faced with decisions to make or tasks to finish, our self-control is the most significant determining factor that propels us to get things done, whereas the level of self-control is governed and regulated by both our motivation and discouragement.


While motivation is based on the expectation of reward for an accomplished task, we may experience far more discouragement that makes us prone to giving in to our impulse. Often, we may avoid putting in effort out of fear of failure or other negative emotions, such as depression and anxiety.


Other kinds of hindrance may drag down our level of motivation. For instance, far-flung rewards in the future may discount the value of rewards, also known as temporal discounting. It is natural for us to favor activities with short-term rewards over long-term, far-flung tasks. Note that the relationship between the reward time and perceived reward value is often inconsistent, with the rate of discounting decreasing over time. From this theory, it can be understood that the sooner the return of reward, the higher the perceived reward value.


The interaction between the three factors modifies our self-control and subsequent procrastination behavior. The motivating factors elevate the motivation value; the hindering factors lower the significance of motivating factors; whereas the discouraging factors reduce the motivation value — We procrastinate when our discouraging factors outweigh the motivating factors.


Our emotional triggers affect how we feel and, more importantly, how we behave. However, we may fail to identify the linkage between procrastination and underlying emotional issues, assuming procrastination to be the sole problem. Besides, although it may feel good to procrastinate at first, it can lead to guilt that in turn accumulates on the initial stress.

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Types of Procrastination

What kind of procrastinator are you? Researchers have classified different types of procrastinators based on their behavioral styles and patterns of procrastination:

  • Perfectionist: Being overly concerned about failing to meet high expectations, perfectionists may work so hard that there is no “end” to the time-bound task, other than excessive preparation beforehand.
  • Dreamer: Although dreamers are good at planning and are up to the task, they are frustrated by the practical reality that requires attention to detail.
  • Defier: Rebellious to external deadlines and expectations, defiers refuse to let anyone dictate their schedule, either in an overt way or a more passive-aggressive form.
  • Crisis-maker: They enjoy the adrenaline rush from working under pressure and deliberately procrastinate until the last minute.
  • Worrier: Due to fear of changes or unfamiliarity, worriers shy from making decisions and so take forever to complete the task.
  • Overdoer: Overdoers say “yes” to everything. They often take too much upon themselves and have difficulty juggling several duties at once.

Psychology on procrastination

Psychologists have also delved into procrastination from several perspectives:


Differential psychology

In differential psychology, procrastination is interpreted as a personality trait with a nomological network (i.e. connections that resemble general laws, particularly laws that lack logical necessity or theoretical foundation; they just are) and is associated with other traits.


Increased procrastination is associated with higher levels of neuroticism and perfectionism. It may also correlate with lowered conscientiousness, low self-esteem and other identity aspects. Also, procrastination is often associated with self-handicapping, a mechanism to preserve one’s self-esteem by creating obstacles to blame a failure on.


Motivational and Volitional psychology

The intention-action gap is the hallmark in this perspective, which causes failure in motivation. Procrastination is less likely to occur when you are intrinsically motivated and self-determined. Also, having an increased self-efficacy, a goal of mastering new skills or a belief that success or failure is the result of personal effort can all reduce the likelihood of procrastination.


From a volitional perspective, procrastination is related to decreased self-regulation, self-control and action-control.


Clinical psychology

From a clinical psychology perspective, psychologists draw on different theories in psychoanalysis, cognitive behaviorism and neuropsychology to explain procrastination. Psychologists associate procrastination with depression, anxiety, stress or avoidant personality disorders. Some may view procrastination as a form of revenge or rebellion. Attentional-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also expressed in the form of procrastination, among other symptoms such as inattentiveness, difficulty in completing work and organizational issues.


Note that not all forms of ADHD are equally related to procrastination. For instance, symptoms of ADHD associated with hyperactivity or impulsivity, are less likely to correlate with procrastination.



In the abovementioned perspectives, a procrastinator is often the subject to consider. However, situational philosophy places emphasis on the situation and the context of procrastination. Task characteristics, such as task attractiveness, plausibility and autonomy of the assignment, are positively associated with the probability of procrastination.

Negative impacts of procrastination

Laziness is often confused with procrastination. Why? We feel lazy when we procrastinate but they are not the same. Compared to people being lazy, procrastinators often experience more profound impacts on their daily life when the situations become chronic. Procrastination will become a primary component of their lifestyle, or even evolve into their lifestyle.


The adverse effects of procrastination may be as simple as the accumulation of delinquent bills and tax returns, but it could also undermine our well-being by inducing high levels of stress and anxiety. In severe cases, procrastination may hurt social relationships when it leads to resentful sentiments in family, friends or colleagues.

Time to get rid of procrastination!

Well-begun is half-done. Do not underestimate the significance of establishing a good goal. You should define your goals as clearly as possible, since you are more likely to procrastinate if your goals are abstract or unrealistic.


Next, break down the items on the list into small and feasible steps to ensure a progressive workflow. Proximal goal-setting can motivate people to persist and achieve distal goals. To stay on track, a to-do list with due dates for each task may come in handy. The key is to hold yourself accountable and stick to your plans.


Understand your biggest distraction – be it Instagram, Facebook or Twitter – and stay away from it. Pay extra attention to any thoughts or temptation to procrastinate. Sit yourself down and spend a few minutes on your task, then observe if the thoughts go away. Recognize possible warning signs, such as short attention span and short-lived energy bursts. Shifting your focus to what you “will” do instead of what you “cannot” do is vital to complete the tasks.


Whenever you finish an item on your list on time, don’t forget to praise yourself and reward yourself (other than ticking it off the list!) by engaging in enjoyable activities.


Last but not least, don’t forget to take care of your emotions. The underlying reason behind our tendency to procrastinate is often our emotions. Step back from the frustration you faced when you delay tasks. Acknowledge your negative feelings, and then move forward. The simple acknowledgment of unhappiness can reduce the intensity of the discouraging factors.


Note that there is a strong association between procrastination and low levels of self-compassion. Mindfulness can help with the cultivation of self-compassion and prevent you from being trapped in the whirlpool of negative emotions.


Why do we procrastinate?

The situation can be more complex than we think. People often procrastinate because they have a fear of failing tasks. Personality traits and emotional state may also affect the probability of procrastination.

Why is it so hard to stop procrastinating?
How do you kill procrastination?
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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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