The Psychology of Procrastination: What Science Tells Us

Procrastination, a problem most recognized in schools or the workplace, is an affliction that affects many people regardless of their age or profession. Defined as putting off tasks unnecessarily, procrastination can be seen in nearly all areas of life. While many are aware of its existence and its potential consequences, many don’t know exactly what causes it or how to stop it. This article will explore the psychology of procrastination, what science tells us about it, and strategies for overcoming the problem.

What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the act of avoiding and delaying tasks or duties. People often procrastinate due to preferring to engage in more enjoyable or immediate activities in lieu of those that are more important or require more effort. It is a common problem and can be seen in all types of activities, from work and school stationery to gym memberships and everyday health care and hygiene changes.

The Consequences of Procrastination

Procrastination can have serious consequences, both mentally and professionally. On a mental health level, procrastination can lead to guilt, stress, and lowered self-esteem. After delaying tasks and creating avoidable stress, procrastinators can eventually become overwhelmed and significantly reduce the quality of their work. Professionally, procrastination has the potential to limit one’s chances of succeeding in a career or of achieving a goal.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Psychology research suggests that procrastination is linked to fear and anxiety. When faced with a task that we fear or don’t understand, we may feel overwhelmed and put it off until a later time. Another common contributing factor is an unwillingness to commit to a task due to not wanting to fail or not see our desired results.

A further notion is that procrastination is caused by an unconscious drive for pleasure seeking. It’s possible that people procrastinate to avoid the unpleasant feeling of working or to satisfy their craving for quick rewards. This is often seen when we procrastinate on important tasks to watch Netflix or check social media.

The Causes of Procrastination

While psychological factors can contribute to procrastination, there are several environmental factors that can play a role as well. The demands and expectations of our work and home environments can be extremely taxing and, when combined with limited resources, can create the perfect environment for procrastination. Low motivation and expectations of failure can also be behind why people procrastinate.

What Science Tells Us

Researchers have identified that procrastination is commonly linked to a mentality of ‘escaping’ or avoidance. A common finding among procrastinators is that they often set impossible standards and then become overwhelmed at the thought of falling short. Also, procrastinators tend to be perfectionists and may be slightly more prone to anxiety and depression.

Procrastinators have also been found to have difficulty with organizing their lives due to the natural impulsiveness of their behavior. This is often compounded with low levels of intrinsic motivation and a lack of self-regulation.

Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination

  1. Set Short-Term Goals: Establish smaller goals for yourself and break down long-term tasks into manageable chunks. This will ensure that you have clear objectives and it will also be easier to track your progress.

  2. Break the Task Into Manageable Pieces: Take time to break down the task into smaller steps. Focus on completing one step at a time and celebrate your progress.

  3. Reward Yourself: Reward yourself when you finish an important task. This could be anything from taking a break to going out for coffee or attending a yoga class.

  4. Avoid Distractions: Find ways to minimize distractions in your work or study environment. This could include turning off your phone or putting yourself in an environment where you are focused and can avoid distractions.

  5. Try to Stay Positive: When faced with a difficult task, try to stay positive and focus on what you can do in the situation. Negative thinking can be detrimental and lead to procrastination.

  6. Ask for Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and colleagues. They may be able to provide valuable insight and advice that can help you move past your procrastination.

Procrastination can have a detrimental effect on productivity, motivation, and wellbeing. Research indicates that procrastination is often caused by imperfections in our psychological make-up such as fear, anxiety, and negative thought patterns. While these can be difficult to overcome, there are strategies that can be implemented to help us face our fears and conquer procrastination. With continued effort, it is possible to address the underlying causes of procrastination and lead a more productive and successful life.