The Psychology Behind Procrastination
Thu, April 22, 2021

The Psychology Behind Procrastination

Procrastination is something that everyone deals with. Students struggle to finish their projects on time, while workers aim to finish their tasks before the deadline / Photo by: Nicoleta Ionescu via Shutterstock

 

Procrastination is something that everyone deals with. Students struggle to finish their projects on time, while workers aim to finish their tasks before the deadline. During those times, some of us swear to get better at time management because it’s extremely hard to always stress ourselves with things we need to finish. However, despite all the discipline and effort, we still go back to procrastinating.

Procrastination or the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions is often detrimental to people’s ability to successfully pursue their goals, especially among students. According to VeryWell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides information on mental health, previous studies have shown that 25% to 75% of college students procrastinate on academic work.

A 2007 study also showed that 80% to 90% of college students procrastinate regularly, especially when they are finishing their assignments or projects. A 1997 survey revealed that procrastination was one of the top reasons why Ph.D. candidates failed to complete their dissertations. Most of us assume that the practice is just simply a matter of willpower. However, the situation is far more complex than that. 

People can experience demotivating factors like anxiety and fear of failure that can influence us to delay finishing our tasks. David Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, stated that the practice is not only about delaying a task but also includes aspects that are irrational, counterproductive, or unnecessary. 

Alexander Rozental, a procrastination researcher and a clinical psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, also said that triggers in procrastination fall into one of four factors: expectancy, value, time or impulsivity. “People procrastinate because of a lack of value [associated with the task]; because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; because the value is too far from you in terms of time; or because you’re very impulsive as a person,” she said. 

Common Causes of Procrastination

Procrastinating doesn’t mean that people are lazy. It’s important that we understand the root causes of the factors or reasons why we always tend to procrastinate despite our efforts to stop it. Most of the time, people are more likely to delay finishing their tasks when their goals are vague or abstract. When goals are concrete and clearly defined, it’s easier for us to be motivated into finishing these tasks.

For instance, instead of aiming to “get fit” or “start exercising,” people should start achieving to “go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday right after work, and spend at least 30 minutes on the treadmill, running at high speed.” Concrete tasks are better than those that are relatively vague. According to Psychology Today, an online site that features the latest from the world of psychology, people tend to procrastinate because they have poor distress tolerance. Most of the time, they freeze and retreat from doing their tasks rather than working through their feelings to pave a way forward. 

While there are several reasons why people procrastinate, the causes are multifaceted. Here are some examples:

1 - Difficulty with planning and sequencing.

A lot of people are really not good at planning how to finish a task, which is why they tend to delay working on it. This is particular to people who have ADHD. While it’s natural for some people to easily see how to get things done immediately, some are just not gifted with this skill.

A lot of people are really not good at planning how to finish a task, which is why they tend to delay working on it / Photo by: KoOlyphoto via Shutterstock

 

2 - Depression-related procrastination.

It’s extremely difficult for people to function when they are depressed. Whether these tasks are simple or hard, they often find ways to not work on them. Most of the time, they overthink and lose confidence.

In academics, previous studies have shown that there are some major cognitive distortions that lead to procrastination. Students tend to overestimate how much time they have left to perform tasks, mistakenly assume that they need to be in the right frame of mind to work on a project, underestimate how long certain activities will take to complete, and overestimate how motivated they will be in the future. 

It’s extremely difficult for people to function when they are depressed. Whether these tasks are simple or hard, they often find ways to not work on them / Photo by: Roman Samborskyi via Shutterstock

 

How to Deal With Procrastination

Understanding why people procrastinate can give us an idea of how to deal with it. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, training our brains to make productivity a habit is extremely helpful. Carey Gjokaj, the founder of Lifehack Bootcamp, an 8-week online program that teaches how to end the vicious cycle of procrastination, stated that making your workspace a distraction-free zone can help you finish tasks immediately. 

It’s also important to establish goals to make sure you know the reason why you are doing this. Creating a plan of action involving a combination of relevant anti-procrastination techniques will allow you to deal with the things that prevent you from achieving your goals. Some of these techniques include prioritizing tasks based on how important they are, breaking large and overwhelming tasks into small and actionable pieces, removing distractions from your work environment, and setting intermediate deadlines for yourself.