If there’s one bad decision all humans of all ages and backgrounds can relate to is that at some point, we’ve all been guilty of putting off tasks for later. Delaying unpleasant tasks every now and then is normal; however, making a habit of it and deliberately seeking other more pleasurable activities or distractions at the expense of completing necessary work is known as procrastination. Habitual procrastination can significantly affect the individual’s functioning, performance, and well-being; and procrastinators are well-aware of these negative consequences. They know that the delay will inevitably lead to more suffering, more chronic stress, and a time crunch. Although the initial procrastination might feel freeing, the outcomes are never enjoyable. So, it is interesting to explore why people continue to make the choice to procrastinate. Procrastination is one of those practices that truly reflects complex human psychology, which is fascinating and even paradoxical at times.
Notably, procrastination is not laziness; and it is often dismissed as a bad habit or a deficiency in the critical skill of time management. However, poor time management is hardly the problem. Usually, procrastination is a manifestation of a much more complex underlying challenge like issues in emotional regulation, low self-esteem and low self-control, and a desire for perfectionism. Consider this, if one suffers from low self-esteem, they might carry –the false belief– that they are not competent enough to successfully finish the task; or if the procrastinator is a perfectionist, they might fear and internalize the belief that they will not perform the task in the flawless manner they want. In both these instances, procrastination can serve as a defense mechanism; the procrastinator can delay the task till the very last moment so that any shortcoming in the final work product can be blamed on lack of effort, or lack of time as opposed to a genuine lack of competency or ability. Procrastination in this instance can give us an excuse to fall back on; and leaves room to allow for errors. Additionally, procrastination can be used as a strategy for avoidance.
Furthermore, from the emotional point of view, if we are dreading a particularly unpleasant task, we would want to minimize our discomfort by reducing the time spent engaging in said task. Procrastination is the outcome of such a trade-off. For example, if given two weeks to study for an exam, it would be more bearable to only make myself uncomfortable the last two days before my deadline and start and finish my studies during these couple of days, as opposed to starting and worrying about the exam for the entirety of the two weeks. It is in fact this desire to temporarily and instantly escape the negative feelings associated with the task and seek more pleasurable emotional distractions in the meantime that continues to propagate and reinforce the act of procrastination, and why procrastinators never seem to learn their lesson. We might accept and engage in this trade-off subconsciously, but we are very cognizant of its irrationality and unpleasant consequences. This is highlighted by the fact that many procrastinators report feelings of guilt, shame, or worry for delaying their responsibilities. Additionally, outside the realm of our own emotions, the quality of the procrastinator’s final work and their well-being suffer as well.
Overall, procrastination can take its toll on the personal, professional, and academic successes of the individual. Procrastination is not something to be diagnosed, but it can be a sign of disorders like depression or anxiety; and can represent issues in self-regulation. Some ways to tackle procrastination include breaking down the unpleasant task into smaller, more manageable pieces, trying to seek a personal connection with the task to find an intrinsic source of motivation, and having friends and family hold you accountable and check on your progress. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, practice forgiving yourself if and when you procrastinate. This can help you move forward and decrease instances of recurrence. We can all find some solace in realizing that procrastination is a common problem (habitual procrastination affects ~20% of the population) so, let’s be kind to ourselves; and continue to aim for more productive and fruitful days.
Jaffe, E. (2013, March 29). Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination. Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination
Phillips, L. (2019, October 24). Procrastination: An emotional struggle. Counseling Today: A Publication of the American Counseling Association. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://ct.counseling.org/2019/10/procrastination-an-emotional-struggle/
Procrastination. (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/procrastination
Procrastination. (n.d.). GoodTherapy. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/procrastination#:~:text=Psychological%20studies%20often%20associate%20procrastination,underperformance%20in%20work%20or%20school