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S23: Why do we procrastinate?

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Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 14 minuuttia.

Track 7 S23: Why do we procrastinate? (Ft. Peetu Nieminen, Janette Heikkinen)

Procrastination has been around for as long as humans have existed. According to the New York Times (2019), the word procrastination originally comes from the Latin verb procrastinare , which means “to put off until tomorrow”. It also refers to the word akrasia , which refers to the act of doing something against better judgment. Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks or actions, often to the point where it becomes a problem or causes a negative impact. In the studies published in the European Psychologist (2013), they found that procrastination is a common action among many people and it can become a source of negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and reduced productivity.In some cases, it may also result in positive outcomes and result in an increase in productivity and creativity while working under pressure.


Today in the era of technology, procrastination is thriving. People have the tendency to choose the path of least resistance and choose the option that is most comfortable. But sadly, good things don’t tend to come to those people who wait. Procrastination can often be mixed with laziness, but the difference between the two is that procrastination is an active process, whereas laziness refers to inactivity and unwillingness to act. Procrastinating usually involves ignoring the unpleasant and putting the task on hold rather than tackling it immediately. People who procrastinate may often find themselves feeling overwhelmed and stressed as they struggle to complete their tasks at the last minute.This can lead to a cycle of delay and anxiety that can be difficult to break.



Procrastination can take many different forms from simple avoidance of the unpleasant to more complex behaviors, such as distraction, denial, and rationalization (Jeffrey, 2012). Understanding the causes and consequences of procrastination can help develop strategies and techniques to overcome it and achieve goals more effectively. Whether it’s the need to improve our time management skills, self-discipline, or overcome perfectionism, there are many tools and approaches that can help break the cycle of procrastination. 



The two main types of procrastinators


Procrastination has long been regarded as harmful behavior. However, according to a study done by The Journal of Social Psychology (2005), they propose that not all procrastination behaviors are either harmful or lead to negative consequences and, in some cases, can result in some short-term benefits. The authors differentiated two different types of procrastination: passive procrastinators and active procrastinators. Passive procrastinators are procrastinators in the typical sense. They have trouble making decisions and commonly fail to complete tasks on time. In contrast, active procrastinators make deliberate decisions to procrastinate and prefer to work under pressure. The studies showed that even though active procrastinators procrastinate to the same degree as passive procrastinators, 


According to the study by Chun Chu & Jin Nam (2005), one of the key characteristics of passive procrastination is postponing the task at hand until the last minute and engaging in unproductive and avoidant behaviors. This can lead to further delayed deadlines as well as a decrease in productivity and motivation. Passive procrastinators may experience feelings of guilt, shame, or self-doubt. As the deadline approaches and the task remains unfinished, they may feel increasingly anxious and worried about the consequences of their procrastination. This can create a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to break out of.


Active procrastinators on the other hand, shine under pressure. The study showed that they have a tendency to feel challenged and motivated when faced with a last-minute task. Active procrastinators are determined and able to complete tasks even with external pressure. They are aware of their tendency to postpone tasks but use it to their advantage in order to prioritize other tasks that are more urgent. Active procrastination can be seen as a form of time management strategy. This can help individuals manage their workload more effectively and prevent burnout or feelings of overwhelm. However, active procrastination can also be risky as it may lead to last-minute rushes to complete important tasks, which can lead to short-term increases in stress levels and negatively impact performance. (Chun Chu & Jin Nam, 2005)


One of the most common themes surrounding procrastination is time perception and time management. Common recommendations for time management are to properly structure one’s use of time with a clear purpose. According to the study done by Chun Chu & Jin Nam (2005), these themes combined have shown greater psychological well-being and physical health in humans. Traditional procrastinators tend to have little structure in their day-to-day life, and they have trouble estimating the time it takes to complete certain tasks. Active procrastinators on the other hand have a better understanding of their time since they can make a deliberate decision based on the importance of the task at hand. In this regard, they have similarities with non-procrastinators in terms of engagement in time-structuring.




Causes of procrastination


According to Jeffrey Combs (2012), one of the main causes of procrastination is a lack of motivation. This lack of motivation can be caused by various factors, such as boredom, lack of interest, or lack of relevance to personal goals. For example, a worker might procrastinate on a task that they don’t find meaningful or important. To overcome this lack of motivation, individuals may benefit from identifying their values and goals and focusing on tasks that align with those values and goals.


Another cause of procrastination is the fear of failure. Individuals who fear failure may avoid tasks that are perceived as challenging or risky, either to protect their self-esteem or to avoid negative consequences. For example, a student may procrastinate writing an important paper due to a fear of receiving a poor grade. To overcome this cause of procrastination, individuals may benefit from reframing their perception of failure, viewing it as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than a reflection of their abilities. (Combs, 2012)


Perfectionism can also be a cause of procrastination. Perfectionism refers to the tendency to set excessively high standards for oneself and to be overly critical of one’s performance. Individuals who have the tendency for perfectionism may procrastinate on tasks due to the immense workload and a fear of underachieving their expectations. During these times, a perfectionist may benefit from focusing on progress instead of perfection whilst seeking feedback and support from others. (Combs, 2012)


Distractions can also function as a source of procrastination. Distractions can be in many forms, including social media, work, family and a variety of other tasks and responsibilities. Individuals who are easily distracted might find it difficult to focus on an important task, which can lead to poor performance and procrastination. Creating a distraction free environment by using applications and setting up a silent space dedicated to work may help to combat the problem. (Combs, 2012)


The most common reason for procrastination is poor time management skills. Time management skills refer to the ability to prioritize tasks, set goals and allocate them efficiently. As mentioned above, active procrastinators possess this skill, while individuals who lack these skills may feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the demands of the tasks at hand. To overcome these problems, it may be beneficial to create a list of tasks or consider breaking them into smaller, manageable pieces. There are also techniques that may help individuals who are struggling with time management, like the Pomodoro Technique. 


Types of Procastination


In the paper of Islas (2018), “Arousal procrastination is the tendency to purposefully put off completing certain tasks until the last moment. Where individuals working under the intense pressure of a pending deadline often receive the sensation of adrenaline rush, which they believe helps them complete tasks under time constraints.” This is the kind of procrastination that occurs when the person delays the act of doing something, due to a belief of doing well under pressure. Usually maximizes the time provided and does everything at the final minute, and as stated earlier that gives the adrenaline rush which some people enjoy. Usually ends up in poor quality work, and increased unnecessary stress, as  Ferrari, O’Callaghan,& Newbegin (2005) states.


Avoidance procrastination is the kind of procrastination that happens when the individual avoids the task due to the fear of failure and or success. The overall fear and feeling is usually due to an overwhelming feeling and anxiousness about the task. Due to the feeling of fear, they decide that it would be better to leave it as how it is for now. This is the usual case, individuals putting it aside and disregarding it to avoid dealing with the issue Steel(2007). 


In the paper of Mann et al. (1997), they described Decisional procrastination as the kind when an individual postpones making a decision due to fear of making the wrong choice, and the fear of missing out on other options. They usually take their time in deciding and deliberating, by allowing time to pass, they perceive that they are able to take into account more factors when deciding on something. However excessive delays could lead to analysis paralysis and nothing getting done.


Perfectionism procrastination occurs when the individual postpones the starting and or completion of the task due to the fear of not meeting their own high standards. They would usually spend most of the time planning and preparing, which sometimes leads to avoiding the task altogether due to the fear their own expectations Flett, Hewitt, & Davis (2016)


How to overcome procrastination?


Dividing the tasks into smaller bits would be one easy trick. By breaking down the task, it would feel more achievable Knouse & Mitchell (2016). This makes the person feel more encouraged to do the task.  Similar to how people cannot devour a whole cake, by taking slices and eating them in smaller bits would be easier to achieve. Moreover, by achieving these small wins, it creates a winning momentum for the individual to be able to create constant progress that leads to the end goal of finishing the task.


Having a schedule and a timer would also be useful. Setting specific amounts of time to work on a certain task would help funnel the focus onto one thing Knouse & Mitchell (2016) . Setting time and schedule does not only improve focus, but also add pressure to achieving the task within certain amounts of time. Setting these timetables and schedule would be highly effective alongside self discipline to follow these guidelines.


In a deeper sense, understanding why you are procrastinating might just be the solution itself. By acknowledging these, you are able to find ways to address the situation and improve the condition in preventing procrastination Sirois, F. M., & Tosti, N. (2012). This mainly revolves in improving oneself to fully solving the root of the problem. This solution might be useful in the long run. Especially when some tricks might be too repetitive and your brain gets immune to the solutions to a point where it would not work anymore.  


Steel (2007), suggests that it would be a good thing to have someone check on you from time to time. Having a person who helps you keep on track would also be very helpful. In a coaching sense, guiding you whenever you go off-track and procrastinate. This would be helpful as to someone guiding you and at the same time creating an interpersonal pressure to be able to complete the task.


Eliminating distractions would be an effective way to aid in the problem of procrastination. Lessening the distractions would improve your focus and help you get into the zone of productivity, Knouse & Mitchell (2016) advises. Moreover, the use of the 2 minute rule has also been proposed. Where it would ask the individual the question if it takes less than 2 minutes to do the task. If so, then it is advised for the task to be done right away. This helps the piling up of unnecessary tasks which could lead to an overwhelming feeling in the long run.


Why do we procrastinate 


If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about? When we get stuck into an akratic loop, we know we “should ” do something, but we resist doing it. Etymologically the word “procrastination” itself comes from the latin “pro”, which means “forward”, and “crastinatus”, which means “till next day.”( Ann-Laure Le Gunff, 2023)


“It’s self-harm,” said Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary and the author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. 

Self awareness is the key point to why procrastinating makes us feel so rotten. It doesn’t make sense to do something and while doing it knowing very well that it will cause only harm. “This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield. “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.”


Procrastination actually has nothing to do with laziness and poor time management skills. People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of their inability to manage negative moods around different tasks. Negative moods such as — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond. 

In a study in 2013 Dr. Sirois and Dr. Pychyl found out that procrastination can be understood as a “ primary short-term mood repair that goes over the long-term pursuing of the intended actions in the moment” If I put it simply procrastination is about being more focused on “the immediate urgency of managing negative moods” more than getting going with the task that is intended. (Dr.Sirois 2019)


When people feel anxious, overwhelmed or stressed, they may put off important tasks or responsibilities in hopes of avoiding the negative feelings that these tasks bring to them. However this often leads to further anxiety and stress, which creates a cycle of procrastination. Procrastination can also be a way to avouíd the fear of failing and the fear of not being able to complete a task to the best of one’s ability. Some people will put a project or starting a project on hold until the last minute, hoping for a quick burst of inspiration that will help them get over the task quickly and efficiently. 


To manage these negative emotions and to be able to avoid procrastination, it is very important to develop healthy coping strategies for different situations. These could include Mindfulness meditation, exercise, deep breathing, talking to a trusted friend or a therapist or being in nature or around animals. It may also be helpful to break the task into smaller much more reachable goals. By taking proactive steps to manage negative emotions that would lead to procrastination, and by building good and healthy habits, it is indeed possible to overcome procrastination and to achieve success in both personal and professional life.


The science behind procrastination


Procrastination actually finds its roots in our biology. It’s the result of a constant inner battle in our brain between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.


The limbic system, which is also called the paleomammalian brain, is one of the oldest and most dominant portions of the human brain. Its processes are mostly automatic. When you feel like your whole body is telling you to flee from an unpleasant situation, it’s your limbic system talking to you.  It’s also tightly connected to the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is a newer part of the human brain, less developed, and as a result a somewhat weaker part of the brain. This is the part of our brain where planning complex behaviors, such as expressing your personality, and making decisions happen. The prefrontal cortex is “the part of the brain that really separates humans from animals, who are just controlled by stimulus,” Dr Tim Pychyl explained, a psychology professor and the author of The Procrastinator’s Digest book. 

Because the limbic system is much stronger, it very often wins the inner battle of the brain, which is leading to procrastination. We give our brain what feels good now and immediately. In fact, procrastination can also be seen as the result of a battle between your present self and your future self.


“We have a brain that is selected for preferring immediate reward. Procrastination is the present self saying I would rather feel good now. So we delay engagement even though it’s going to bite us on the butt.” 

(Dr Tim Pychyl, Author & Psychologist. 2023)


Humans have always struggled with procrastination. The problem goes back at least as far as Ancient Greece. In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates asks how it is possible that, if one judges an action to be the best, one would do anything other than this action.

Aristotle used the word akrasia—or “weakness of will”⁠—to describe this state of acting against one’s better judgment. The term was later used several times in the Bible and described as a “sin of the mind.” Paul the Apostle even warns husbands and wives to not fall prey to akrasia as a reason to deprive each other of sex! (Ann-Laure le Gunff, 2023) 


Recently the behavioral research into procrastination has ventured beyond cognition, emotion, and personality, into the realm of neuropsychology. The frontal systems of the brain are known to be involved in a number of processes that overlap with self-regulation. These behaviors — problem-solving, planning, self-control, and the like — fall under the domain of executive functioning. Oddly enough, no one had ever examined a connection between this part of the brain and procrastination, says Laura Rabin of Brooklyn College.(Laura Rabin,2023)


Positive aspects of procrastination


While procrastination is generally seen as a negative habit, there are some potential benefits or “good things” that can come from it:For one there is Increased creativity: Procrastination can allow the mind to wander and generate new and extremely creative ideas.There can be more efficient use of time. When facing a looming deadline, procrastinators can often become hyper-focused and get a lot done in a short amount of time. This can be very fascinating and quite interesting. 

Reduced stress, Procrastinators often feel less stressed during the early stages of a project, as they have not yet fully internalized the magnitude of the task at hand. Therefore they will take life more easily and will not feel burned out by the task within a longer period of time. Improved decision-making,  Procrastinators may spend more time collecting information and considering their different options before making a decision, this can lead to better outcomes.

But no matter how good these better aspects may sound there is no doubt that procrastinating is more harmful than it is good. It is worth noting, that these potential benefits are largely situational and may not apply to everyone who procrastinates. Additionally, the negative consequences of procrastination, such as missed deadlines and increased stress, typically outweigh any of these potential benefits. It’s generally recommended to avoid procrastination at all times and develop healthy time-management habits. and stress coping mechanics. 


How to be kind to your future self

While it’s great to better understand the science behind procrastination and the reasons behind it, and to stop blaming yourself, it would be even better to give our prefrontal cortex a little help in fighting the good and lengthy fight against our lazy, self-indulgent limbic system.

And there’s some good news: because this doesn’t come up from a fixed structure in the brain, we can actually overcome procrastination. Here I have gathered five simple tricks you can start experimenting with today. These will 100% make a difference in your journey to overcome procrastination, you just have to be consistent with it. 

  1. Do the worst possible thing first. Putting off dreaded tasks will your mental energy, while checking it off your list will make you feel more productive.
  2. Create smaller chunks of the tasks. Make the job smaller by defining tasks that feel more manageable and which will take less time.  Commit to only do the first task on the list, and see how you will feel afterwards.
  3. Try a 10-minute trick. Set a timer from your phone and commit to work on the task for just ten minutes. Work as hard as you can during that time. Don’t take any breaks or check your phone during this trick. You could be surprised how much work you can get done in 10 minutes. 
  4. Work in public. Maximize the power of positive pressure by publicly committing to your goals. It can be as simple as telling a friend or going to work on your tasks to a cafe. 
  5. Give yourself a reward. Pick something that will get you motivated and what would make you very happy as a carrot for your limbic system. That’s your gift to yourself, you should work, even a little buít or a small portion of the task you’ve been avoiding. 

Another extremely important factor here is your environment. Plan and design your workspace in a way that minimizes the possible distractions, whether physical or digital. This means putting your phone in another room while you work, only keeping the necessary tabs open in your browser, and marking yourself as offline in Slack. You can also wear headphones if you get easily distracted from sounds of listening to music in the background if you instead get distracted from the silence. By having headphones on you are also silently telling your coworkers that you would rather not be interrupted. 




Procrastination can be motivated by good reasons and not so good reasons. Some reasons may involve proper planning and deliberation to complete a task, and some may involve the overwhelming feeling and fear that one may feel. Both have their reasons and their point, however, it is up to the person to use procrastination to his/her advantage. But do remember that everything is a gamble and you are gambling with time. You may gamble time now to provide yourself more time to think and plan, or for you to gather yourself first and overcome the fear and or maybe to make sure that when you do a certain task you are at full potential, or maybe you are in search for that adrenaline rush when you are chasing the time down. Either way, how you would use procrastination would definitely be your call. If one feels the need to avoid this gamble, there are multiple ways and tricks to avoid them. But, understanding the science behind it, understanding yourself on how and why you tend to procrastinate, and attacking the problem from the root cause would be the more beneficial solution for the long term. Procrastination is a choice, and in the end it is you who will choose to or not to gamble with it.




Angela Hsin Chun Chu & Jin Nam Choi (2005) Rethinking Procrastination: Positive Effects of “Active” Procrastination Behavior on Attitudes and Performance, The Journal of Social Psychology, 145:3, 245-264


Combs, J & Kumpel, K. (2012) The Procrastination Cure : 7 Steps to Stop Putting Life Off. Career Press.


Lieberman,C. (2019, March 25) Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control). New York Times.


Klingsieck, K. B. (2013). Procrastination. European Psychologist, 18 (1), 24-34.


Ferrari, J. R., O’Callaghan, J., & Newbegin, I. (2005). Prevalence of procrastination in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia: Arousal and avoidance delays among adults. North American Journal of Psychology, 7(1), 1-6.


Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.


Mann, L., Burnett, P., Radford, M., & Ford, S. (1997). The Melbourne Decision Making Questionnaire: An instrument for measuring patterns for coping with decisional conflict. Journal of behavioral decision making, 10(1), 1-19.


Lieberman, C. (2019, March 25). Why you procrastinate (it has nothing to do with self-control). The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html 

Jaffe, E. (2013, March 29). Why wait? the science behind procrastination. Association for Psychological Science – APS. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination 


Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., & Davis, R. A. (2016). Perfectionism and procrastination in college students: The role of self-worth contingencies. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 34(1), 1-16.


Cunff, A.-L. L. (2023, March 23). The Neuroscience of Procrastination: A Short primer. Ness Labs. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from https://nesslabs.com/neuroscience-of-procrastination 


Knouse, LE, & Mitchell, JE (2016). Procrastination and Impulsivity: A Multifaceted Perspective. In WJ Burns, GJ O’Gorman, & JE Langan-Fox (Eds.), Handbook of Research Methods in Industrial and Organizational Psychology (pp. 425-441). Wiley-Blackwell.


Sirois, FM, & Tosti, N. (2012). Lost in the Moment? An Investigation of Procrastination, Mindfulness, and Well-Being. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 30(4), 237-248. doi: 10.1007/s10942-012-0151-2.


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