The Truth About Procrastination: Not Laziness. Then Why?

procrastination killing happiness

Who are the procrastinators? They are those who procrastinate. How enlightening (wink)!

But you must get this one thing first: procrastinators are not lazy people. Find out why it is so.

Procrastination Is Not Laziness

Laziness is not doing a task because you do not want to put in the effort or barely feel like doing it.

Procrastinators are a different breed than lazy people — they don’t do a task because they don’t want to do it now. Note that ‘now.’

Lazy people do not have the time to do a task, sooner or later. They are great at being lazy for a particular job while quite action-driven for another set of tasks—like checking their social media feed.

By the way, did you know your Facebook friends can make you unhappy?

For a minute, forget people who seem to do it all the time; why do you and I procrastinate? Is it because we can’t seem to manage our time, or is it really because we can’t seem to manage our emotions?

Procrastinators have a complicated relationship with time and often believe the time is up against them, and they have to outsmart it somehow.

But even then, procrastination is not just a matter of time-management. Rather, it is a complex psychological/emotional problem with deep roots in self-esteem issues.

Procrastination is NOT laziness. Unlike lazy people, procrastinators want to do a task but NOT NOW. But why? Click To Tweet

10 Reasons Why You Procrastinate

The reasons one tends to procrastinate are:

1. The Task Brings Up Negative Feelings

Procrastinators delay starting an assignment because they find the task is associated with some negative emotions. For example, the work might be uninspiring, stressful, resentful, making them feel plain bad or boring.

Most of the time, this issue with managing negative emotions is the prime culprit for procrastination.

Procrastination is not a time-management problem, it’s an … emotion-focused coping strategy to deal with negative emotions.

Timothy Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle

So they discover other interesting — but pointless and avoidable — things to do while pushing that more important piece of work to the background. Because doing those other things gives them instant gratification.

Procrastinators delay doing a thing because they find the work utterly boring, stressful, or a killjoy. And they keep at it till they simply cannot avoid it anymore. Scientists call it task aversiveness.

It is something that comes from the psychologists call the Pain-Pleasure Principle — the human nature to run from painful activities and go after pleasurable ones.

2. They Feel They Can Do It Later

Often, the reason is to procrastinate is they feel the time limit to finish the work is way more than enough, and they can always do it later.

They feel they do not need all that time to finish the project. So, they keep sitting on it till the last minute.

They might also do a lot of unrelated things to postpone doing the task and tell themselves they are preparing for the task at hand.

They could spend the allotted time gathering unnecessary amounts of data rather than diving headlong into the task itself. You might well find them looking through their Twitter or Facebook feed in the name of “research.”

The procrastinator believes tomorrows come in unlimited supply. And one of those tomorrows will be better, and that day, the sun will shine brighter. Click To Tweet

3. They Lack Adequate Confidence

Procrastinators might feel they are inadequate for the responsibility they have got handed over. This lack of confidence in their abilities is often a reason for their not starting a assignment.

Before becoming a procrastinator, we might have been suffering for a long from feelings of uncertainty. We are in doubt of our abilities to tackle things effectively.

Experts believe this issue of low self-esteem might be a powerful reason for procrastination. Research has unveiled a relationship between self-esteem and self-efficacy and procrastination.

While at it, did you know one can overcome their low self-esteem with mindfulness?

The procrastinators might also feel shy in asking for help.

4. They Have A Streak of Perfectionism

Procrastinators are also known-perfectionists. They will not say they have completed their task until they have found the perfect solution for the work that people have assigned them.

People who search for perfection often end up procrastinating. Some experts hold procrastination is really perfectionism.

In particular fields, like medical research, competitive sports, and classical music, perfectionism is the default by demand. But for most, this is a handicap that leads to an unwarranted delay in finishing things.

So, by this reasoning, one way to overcome procrastination is to lower one’s standards and move away from perfectionism.

5. They Have A Fear of Failure/Success

Sometimes, procrastinators do not do things because of a fear of failure or even a fear of success.

The fear of failure is understandable by most of us — it scares them that the results they produce will go unappreciated and will downgrade some of their social prestige.

The fear of failure that holds them back from embarking on the task has this reason: the procrastinators have a low tolerance for frustration and failure.

The fear of success plays out in their heads as they might get saddled to more strenuous and complicated tasks once they finish the current project on time.

6. They Have An Impulsive Nature

Psychologists have also found procrastinators to be largely impulsive. Being impulsive, they fail to handle their goals effectively and keep jumping from task to task, leaving most of those unfinished.

Some researchers argue procrastination is a by-product of impulsiveness, even when these two behaviors seem polar opposites (give it a thought, we request you).

7. They Have Anxiety

People with anxiety often do many things unrelated to the cause of their anxiety to avoid the incoming perceived threat. Procrastinators do something similar.

We have often felt we end up procrastinating more when a deadline is right upon us. That is anxiety causing us to procrastinate.

In that anxiety, we drive ourselves busy doing everything else other than the project at hand. Suddenly, our desk clutter needs tidying up the KonMari way immediately, and our car needs a midterm service.

8. They Have Goal Problems

When the goals are not clear, or the goals lie too far into the future, or there are no goals at all, we procrastinate. The wrong goals can push us towards not taking immediate, concrete steps to get them done.

Learning how to set goals effectively can make this go away.

9. Heredity

Procrastination could be 46% heritable, as a study on 347 Colorado twins indicated. This means there is half a chance that you may have got it from your parents.

But remember, that’s half a chance. The rest depends much on how your environment molded you into.

10. Mental Illness

Procrastination has been found to occur in some serious psychological illnesses, like borderline personality disorder (BPD), depression, anxiety, addiction problems, as well as in strained relationships.

What is Procrastination

Procrastination is deliberately delaying action despite a person, the procrastinator, knowing they will be worse off because of that delay.

In a simple sentence, procrastination means not taking action intentionally.

  • It is avoiding starting something you mean to start.
  • It is avoiding finishing something you’re supposed to finish.
  • It is doing something else, or lots of something else, when you know you should be doing a certain important thing.

2 Types of Procrastination, Says Psychology

The psychology experts classify procrastination into two types –

  1. Decisional — putting off making decisions
  2. Avoidant — putting off doing things

All of us procrastinate at some of the times in both these ways. We either delay taking decisions or starting out on a planned course of action. While some of us do it more, others do it less often.

But the truth is, none of us do it all the time. Even the worst of the procrastinators doesn’t prefix a delay to all of their activities.

3 Areas of Procrastination

The 3 key areas of our life we procrastinate on are education, career, and health.

1. Education

Procrastination is quite pervasive in the education field. For many of us, this problem traces back to our earliest school years when we were perhaps slow learners and got labeled by our peers and teachers.

And we carry the label long after school.

2. Career

On the career front, most of us know at least one person who despises his current job and desperately wants to change it but doesn’t.

Like lost souls swimming circles in a fishbowl, perpetually planning to dive out, but never making the jump. That lost soul is often the person we know the best—our own self.

Are you sure that person isn’t you?

3. Health

We are terrible procrastinators when it comes to our health issues. Think of the new year’s day health goals you set for yourself and kept delaying starting out on them, year after year.

Think of that regular half-hour yoga that never came around, or those 8 glasses of water, or those 8 hours of sleep that could never become a reality. That smoking habit that you left and picked up back so many times you feel ashamed to even whisper it.

Here’s our ultimate guide on how to make exercise a daily habit.

How Much of Youth Procrastinates: What This Study Found

In September 2014, two British professors wanted to find out what happens when students do not hand over their assignments on time. Their study threw up an inconvenient surprise, which, if the students knew, would make them give up procrastination forever.

First, the professors David Arnott and Scott Dacko defined the procrastinators as the ones who wouldn’t submit their end-of-term tasks until the last day.

Then they dipped into five years of submission data on 777 marketing students from their own Warwick Business School. They found, while each of these students had four weeks or more to hand over their assignments, only about a hundred had done so before the last day.

The rest, 669 of them, waited out until the last 24 hours to submit their task. That turns out as eighty-six percent.

The two British professors found 86% of the students in their business school were procrastinators.

But that figure of eighty-six percent may not come as a surprise to all, especially the students. Students everywhere, all across the world, are ‘natural-born’ procrastinators to school homework. Everybody knows first-hand how busy the lives of junior college-goers can be. So, 86 out of 100 could seem unsurprisingly normal.

The actual surprise, however, uncovered itself in the final 24 hours. As they analyzed the data, Arnott and Dacko found a disturbing pattern emerge as the last day of the submission had begun.

The students taking another hour from here on started getting lower marks. It was happening by the hour. For example, someone who submitted at 3 pm got lower marks than those who did at 2 pm.

It was as if every passing hour was chipping away at their scores. The worse the procrastination, the worse were the marks. So clear was the pattern that those who handed in their assignments at the last minute had the worst grades of all.

In fact, these last-minute guys saw a full 5% drop in their marks over those who had checked in their tasks before the start of the last day.

Now, mind it, those five percentage points are substantial for students, because they could well translate into a half or a whole letter lower grade. A possible ‘B’ person could end up getting ‘C+’, just because they handed in their tasks late.

Is Procrastination A Mental Illness

Procrastination is itself not a mental illness, even though it has been linked to poor mental health and other psychological diseases. Habitual or chronic procrastinators often suffer from stress, worry, and feelings of guilt.

Procrastination can take away a sizable part of one’s happiness and wellness.

It is said good things come to those who wait, but that is not the case for procrastinators. So the new, science-based, corrected verdict could be:

Good things may come to those who wait, but not to those who procrastinate.

So, what happens there behind the scenes?

The big culprit lurking there is regret.

It is a story that goes around in a predictable circle: Procrastinators begin with hope, then go into anxiety, guilt, and self-criticism, and end up in regret.

Next project: Same cycle.

procrastination mental illness
Why Happens When You Procrastinate?

And thus, procrastination takes away your happiness. Psychologists have proven it over many studies and surveys. We mention the results of two such studies below.

  1. Procrastination Research Group surveyed over 10,000 respondents to find 94% of them reported procrastination has some negative effect on their happiness.
  2. According to Procrastination and Science, almost 70% of the procrastinators were less happy than the average person.

Habitual procrastination can create an unflattering reputation of carelessness and invite setbacks in career and work. It can also damage relationships.

Procrastinators frequently resort to lies to reason out their delays. But people often find them out, leading to disastrous consequences. And you could swear all that can take away a sizable bit of their happiness.

How To Stop Procrastination

procrastinators do now

We briefly talk of three ways to stop procrastinating:

1. Avoid Procrastination

This is definitely the best method. As the professors said after the Warwick study, it would work best if the teachers recognized the habitual procrastinators in time and helped them change their study habits.

To avoid procrastination, set clear goals with realistic timelines, break each goal into sub-goals, and measure and review progress at fixed time-points.

2. Get A Growth Mindset

This is a concept researched and presented by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

— Carol Dweck

Building into yourself a growth mindset can increase your self-worth and help you accept new tasks as challenges to thrive on rather than shirk away from.

3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a mindfulness-based psychotherapy that centers on accepting what is outside your control and committing to action that enriches your life.

In a study, the method showed remarkable short-term and long-term results in decreasing academic procrastination.

Find what is ACT in this simple, brief, and precise guide.

If you want to kill your procrastination habit forever, then steal these 10 Procrastination Hacks.


[An earlier version of this post originally appeared on Lifehack.org. Written by the same author.]

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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.


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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. Writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.


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