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What is Procrastination?

What is Procrastination?

Definition of Procrastinating

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. In order for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.[1] Similarly, it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”[2]

Effects of Procrastinating

People experience the effects of wasting time and not meeting deadlines is devastating at both the business and personal levels. Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as business and social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings can combine and may create further procrastination.

For some the anxiety and stress caused by procrastinating does, end up being a motivating force to initiate action for various tasks – however this is usually followed by attempts to justify the delay which further reinforces the same type of behavior from the individual. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, for those wanting to stop procrastinating need to raise themselves above any attempts to justify or minimize procrastination being acceptable in any form.

There is, in counseling psychological circles those who see people who exhibit chronic procrastination as a sign of an underlying psychological disorder. Yet others who regard procrastination as a useful way of identifying what is important to us personally – as it is rare to procrastinate when one truly values the task at hand.

The procrastinator however, must learn to raise the value of certain priorities even if they do not truly enjoy doing them – in order to continue to be productive in all aspects of their lives. The public perception of those who procrastinate is the belief that task-aversion is accompanied by laziness, low willpower, irresponsibility and low ambition. While this is not the attitude of those who research or treat procrastination in a psychological or clinical area – it is how the general public (your friends, boss, clients) see you.

Causes of Procrastinating

In Clinical Psychology (counseling), there appears to be a connection with issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality. However the overwhelming majority of studies on Procrastination among populations not in need of psychological services shows No – or at best an extremely weak – connection with procrastination. Instead, procrastination is strongly connected with lack of self-confidence (e.g., low self-efficacy, or learned helplessness) or disliking the task (e.g., boredom and apathy).

The strongest connection to procrastination, however, is impulsiveness. [3] These characteristics are often used as measures of the personality trait ‘conscientiousness’, whereas anxiety and irrational beliefs (such as perfectionism) are aspects of the personality trait neuroticism. Being a perfectionist has no direct links to procrastination and that any relationship is fully compensated by conscientiousness.[4]

Rather the consensus is that the predominant reason we procrastinate is a breakdown in our Self Control. You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.

Procrastination is the gap between Intention and Action

There’s no single type of procrastinator, but each instance of your procrastination is due to either of the following

Chronic procrastinators have perpetual problems finishing tasks.

Situational procrastinators delay based on the task itself.

The type of person who has a high level of impulsive behavior and lacks Self Control and Discipline is likely to find themselves procrastinating more than those who have a higher level of trait development in this area. Typically we will engage some form of ego control and deny responsibility, by making justifications (excuses) for delaying what we should have done. It is critical to understand that these justifications serve a very important purpose – they allow us to continue to procrastinate by minimizing the perceived effects of our actions, and allow us to continue to feel good about who we are as a person.

Your Self Confidence is an extremely important aspect of your success in both your personal and business life, and this is where some difficulty can arise in a detached self assessment of what actions need to be taken to be able to stop procrastinating. Your understanding of the ways in which we minimize and excuse our lack of taking action is important, so that you can identify the process and consciously with intention challenge your feelings and behavior.

Justifications We Tell Ourselves to allow Procrastinating

Individual coping responses to procrastination are often emotional or avoidance oriented rather than task or problem-solving oriented. Emotion coping is designed to reduce stress associated with putting off intended and important personal goals. This type of justification provides immediate pleasure and allows us to draw attention away from the consequences of our procrastination.

Following are common ways we allow ourselves to excuse delaying getting on with what we need to accomplish

  • Avoidance: Where we avoid the location or situation where the task takes place (e.g., we might avoid going to the place we work or miss appointments with other members of our team or worse our clients. Or we might sit down and watch TV instead of cleaning our bedroom).
  • Distraction: Where we engage in or immerse ourselves in other behaviors or actions to prevent awareness of the task (e.g., Surfing the Net, reading blogs or articles, planning something for the evening, socializing with others close by)
  • Trivialization: We convince ourselves (or at least try), that the intended task as being not that important (e.g., “I’m putting off cleaning my room for the moment because I really need to eat something”).
  • Comparisons: We compare our situation with those even worse (e.g., “Sure I did not manage to mow the lawns today, but Jerry lawn is a jungle.”).
  • Humor: Making a joke of our lack of achievement and procrastination, by thinking the effort to require accomplishing goals is funny (e.g., “Have you notice how much hair Bob has lost in his efforts to get that promotion”).
  • External Blaming: That the cause of procrastination is due to external forces beyond our control (e.g., “I’m procrastinating because I am waiting until other people respect what I have accomplished already!”).
  • Reframing: Pretending that getting an early start on a project is harmful to one’s performance and leaving the work to the last moment will produce better results (e.g., “I’m most productive after 2pm.”).
  • Denial: Pretending that you’re not procrastinating, because the task you are doing is actually more important than the avoided one.
  • Laziness: Procrastinating simply because one is too lazy to do their desired task.
  • Valorisation (promoting better gains): Pointing out in satisfaction what you achieved in the meantime (while you should have been doing something else or greater value).


Procrastination is not so much an effect of laziness – it is a higher trait influence of being impulsive and avoiding what we consider boredom. Most of us can recognize when we are procrastinating, we are able to reflect on what we need or intend to do and then justify to ourselves why we are not taking action. Procrastination is more likely to occur when we fail to have control on our impulsive behavior and lack the discipline to get ourselves back at the tasks at hand.

At the fundamental core, we procrastinate when we allow ourselves the emotional pleasures of the moment to have more influence on our motivations than the perceived unpleasant emotional payoff of the task at hand. It is possible to learn new ways of manipulating the emotional intensity of the importance of our goals, and systems of strategies to increase compliance to the plans we have made for ourselves.

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References and Citations

[1] Schraw, Gregory; Wadkins, Theresa; Olafson, Lori (2007). “Doing the things we do: A grounded theory of academic procrastination”. Journal of Educational Psychology 99: 12. doi:10.1037/0022-0664.95.1.12.

[2] Steel, Piers (2007). “The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure”. Psychological Bulletin 133 (1): 65–94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65. PMID 17201571.

[3] Steel, Piers (2010). The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-170361-4.

[4] Lee, Dong-gwi; Kelly, Kevin R.; Edwards, Jodie K. (2006). “A closer look at the relationships among trait procrastination, neuroticism, and conscientiousness”. Personality and Individual Differences 40: 27. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.05.010.