Advertising

Last Updated on November 27, 2020

Why Do We Procrastinate? 9 Psychological Reasons Behind It

Why Do We Procrastinate? 9 Psychological Reasons Behind It
Advertising

Everyone procrastinates, but why do we procrastinate? Since the dawn of time, people have been putting things off, and we still seem to have trouble figuring out what makes us avoid things we know we need to get done. Procrastination psychology can help us figure it out.

Sometimes, procrastinating is harmless. Take, for instance, the laundry. No one likes doing the laundry, and as long as you’re not starting to re-wear clothes that have started to get a bit stinky, you’ll still be a functioning member of society if you put off the laundry for a few hours (or days).

Research has done a lot to help us understand procrastination psychology and why we continuously engage in this annoying behavior. We are going to take a look at the top reasons here, but first, let’s talk a little about active vs. passive procrastination.

Active Vs. Passive Procrastination

Passive procrastination is the type of procrastination we all think of. Most people don’t even realize there’s such a thing as active procrastination. Let’s discuss this first.

Active procrastinators are a sort of “positive” type of procrastinator. They deliberately decide to procrastinate because they know they work better under pressure[1].

For example, an active procrastinator may see that they have five reports to write before Friday. Instead of doing one each day, they decide to do one on Monday, one on Wednesday, and leave three for Thursday because they’re brain produces better results when there is an element of pressure.

Passive procrastinators, on the other hand, are the “negative” procrastinators we generally think about. These types of procrastinators fall into traps of indecision or lack of confidence that cause them to wait until the last minute to do something[2].

For example, an active procrastinator may be presented with those same five reports, but instead of waiting in order to increase a positive sense of pressure for themselves, they put off writing all five reports until Thursday night because they simply don’t feel confident in their ability to do them correctly, or the prospect of writing them sends them into a tailspin of boredom.

As you can see, the psychology of procrastination is complex, but there are some basic answers to the question, “Why do we procrastinate.” In the list below, we will be focusing on passive procrastination.

1. Wanting to Control Everything

If you put things off, they can’t go wrong, right? Unfortunately, you can’t put things off forever.

Advertising

By procrastinating, you hold the most control over whatever task you’re working on. However, this also means, obviously, that that particular task isn’t being done.

While you may originally feel like you have more power through procrastination, this often dissolves into feeling a lack of control as your time constraints begin restricting your ability to make good decisions.

What to Try

If you feel like you need to control everything, it’s time to take a step back and examine why. What makes you feel the need to seek out control?

If this is a problem for you, try learning to trust yourself and others. Meditation can also be a great tool when it comes to releasing control and creating focus if you want to overcome procrastination. Start with just five minutes in the morning and work your way up.

You can also check out this article for more tips: How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

2. Seeing a Task as One Big Project

Imagine your boss gives you the task of creating a two hour presentation for a new client. If you look at this as one large task, you’ll feel overwhelmed immediately, which will likely lead you to avoid the task altogether.

What to Try

Break down a large project into many small tasks.

For the example above, you may break down that large project into the following tasks:

  1. Research information to include in the presentation
  2. Decide on number of slides
  3. Create half of the slides
  4. Create other half of the slides
  5. Add graphics and pictures
  6. Proofread and polish

This is only one example, and this can apply to a number of situations. By breaking things down into parts, you’ll find the task much more doable. This will also produce less stress and aversion to the work.

3. Being a Perfectionist

Sometimes, being a perfectionist works in your favor. However, it can be tempting to put things off or delay completing tasks simply because you’re worried about the outcome being less than perfect.

Advertising

A 2017 study[3] confirmed that those with perfectionist tendencies were also more likely to engage in procrastination.

This TED Talk, featuring Charly Haversat, helps explain why perfectionism can do more harm than good:

What to Try

Altering the negative feelings that come when you feel something is less than perfect requires a simple change in perspective. If you continuously seek out perfection, you will constantly be disappointed. Understand that everyone makes mistakes and that no one realistically expects perfection from you. Simply do the best you can.

Remember, a completed, albeit imperfect, task is better than an uncompleted task.

4. Worrying About Failure

It can be tempting to procrastinate tasks because of a fear of failing. Of course, you cannot fail at something when you don’t do it at all.

Unfortunately, this is an unproductive way of thinking.

In a 2011 study based on student questionnaires, the researchers discovered the following:

“Most reasons [for procrastination] were related to fear of failure in relation to performance anxiety, perfectionism and lack of self confidence.”[4]

What to Try

Facing your fear of failure will help you overcome that fear in the long run, or at least learn to manage it. Next time you think about putting something off simply to avoid potential failure, tackle it head on. Once you get it done, even if the outcome is less than ideal, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to complete tasks. Take this a day at a time.

If you’re interested in learning more about the fear of failure, you may enjoy this article.

Advertising

5. Lacking Self-Control

There are definitely varying levels of self-control. Everyone is different. However, there is a point in which your self-control can get in the way of productivity.

Procrastinating comes easier to people who naturally do not have the discipline to complete tasks in a timely and organized manner.

What to Try

One study[5] found that people were more likely to overcome issues with self-control and complete their tasks if they imposed deadlines for themselves. So, next time you have a big project to get done, break it down into smaller tasks and assign a time and date for each. This should help you stay focused and get more done.

6. Not Making Lists

Procrastination can come as a result of something falling through the cracks. If you put something off and then forget to write down that you need to do it later, it’s possible that you could completely forget about the first task.

What to Try

If you’re a forgetful person, make a to-do list with all your tasks on it, and only cross them off when they’re 100% complete. For an important task, put it at the top. This can work especially well in the short term.

For more information on how to make a good to-do list, check out this article: The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done.

7. Underestimating Time Commitments

It can be discouraging when a project takes you two weeks to complete when you thought it would take one. This is also related to time management skills. The amount of time you set aside for a task doesn’t seem to be working well for you.

If you consistently estimate time commitments incorrectly, it might be causing you to procrastinate more than you would otherwise.

It’s tempting to put things off if you think you have the time, but realizing you don’t have as much time as you thought can cause serious scrambling to get things done.

What to Try

When you’re faced with a new task or project, it may help to talk with friends or coworkers who have been faced with similar tasks in the past. They will likely be able to give you some insight on how long you should expect the project to take.

Advertising

If you don’t know anyone who can help in this area, always overestimate. If you get it done faster than expected, you’ll be left with free time, which is always a good thing!

8. Relying on Pressure to Finish Work

Procrastinating a task does not always equate to worse work. Some people work very well under pressure and can produce very good work, while others are simply lucky. This relates to the idea of active procrastination discussed above.

However, some people don’t do this on purpose, even when procrastination does generally go well for them. Eventually, there will come a time when procrastinating doesn’t work if it isn’t being done on purpose. Be mindful of the quality of your work and make sure your last-minute rush doesn’t show.

What to Try

If you find you work better under pressure, try moving into the realm of active procrastination. Plan to put things off, but give yourself enough time to do it well. If you know a project will take at least an hour, don’t give yourself 30 minutes to complete it.

A 2016 study[6] suggested that this method could work particularly well for those with a high working memory capacity. If you fall into that group, added pressure may help you come out with a better product.

9. Being Lazy

This is a common reason that most of us procrastinate. We just don’t feel like doing whatever it is we’re putting off. This could also be translated as a lack of motivation

Being lazy doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It’s totally okay for you to lounge around and watch TV rather than mow the lawn sometimes. Just don’t let that behavior become habitual.

What to Try

If you know you need to get something done but just simply feel lazy, try doing light exercise to get your brain working. This may stimulate the energy you need to tackle a task. This can be as easy as taking a walk around the block or doing ten jumping jacks. Find what works for you.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to passive procrastination, there are many reasons it can happen, but there are also things you can do to tackle those problems and start finishing tasks. If you can relate yourself to one of these reasons, it’s time to take action and stop procrastinating.

More on Why We Procrastinate

Featured photo credit: Kaylah Matthews via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

More by this author

Maggie Heath

Maggie is a passionate writer who blogs about communication and lifestyle on Lifehack.

Why Do We Procrastinate? 9 Psychological Reasons Behind It 9 Ways To Be Less Clingy In Your Relationship Useful Chart: Fruits That You Can and Cannot Let Your Dog Eat Nomnomnom! 4 Flavourful Cake Frosting Recipes That You Cannot Miss! 10 Blow Your Mind Surprises You Can Hide In A Cake!

Trending in Procrastination

1 Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed 2 STOP Procrastinating NOW: How To Prioritize Tasks Or Else 3 Be Productive And Stop Procrastinating! Top 5 Ways To Win 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed
Advertising

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

Advertising

To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

Advertising

The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

Advertising

After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Advertising

Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next