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Psychology of procrastination and how to overcome it

The word procrastination has its origin from the latin word pro-crastinus where “pro” means “forward or in favour of” and “crastinus” means “of  tomorrow”. It refers to delaying a task for a later time or sometimes completely avoiding it.

Procrastination is a highly widespread act as it could be described as someone knowing what he/she is bond to do in an assigned task and even willing to accomplish it but fails to successfully complete the task in a given or an expected frame work of time.

Procrastination is a complex phenomenon. It emphasises neglecting doing what we know we should be doing. And at times we can get very creative in our neglecting techniques. If you find yourself procrastinating on a daily basis then to know the cause for your inactivity you need to dig your soul a bit!

Procrastination is one of the biggest obstacles towards productivity and a guilty refuge of creative capacity everywhere. It is something we are all guilty of, and something we all have our own tactics (sometimes with varying degrees of success) to combat. So what makes us procrastinate? Why is the temptation so great, even as we know we need to complete the task at hand?

In this post, we will take a look at the psychology of procrastination and suggest ways for you to overcome it successfully. While everyone procrastinates to some extent, not everyone happens to be a chronic procrastinator. There are relatively harmless instances of procrastination—not starting a project until you’ve gone to the washroom, checked Instagram, refilled your coffee and even organized everything in your top desk drawer, or leaving out your least favourite task for Friday afternoon.

But there are also the very unhealthy procrastination habits that find you staring at a blank computer screen for an hour, or that leave you awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, agonizing over the work you didn’t complete at all, wondering how you’ll ever get it done the very next day!

Types of Procrastination

Four Types of Procrastination and How to Beat Them

We all procrastinate at some point or the other but most of us don’t really consider the reasons why we do it. There is a tendency to assume that we procrastinate because we are weak or we would be simply doing something more fun.

Let us cover the four types of procrastinators:

1. Anxious procrastination

Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. People who procrastinate a lot are usually bad at managing their time and often end up scheduling in more work than they can actually complete, leaving no time for fun activities or resting. Therefore, not fulfilling these unrealistic expectations does cause stress and anxiety which some people deal with by procrastinating.

How to beat it

 The “Unschedule method” is a way to combat this anxiety driven procrastination. This method involves filling your schedule with fun activities and rest before scheduling in any work.

For example, if you find yourself checking Facebook for 15 minutes at 3pm every afternoon, schedule in Facebook time first and plan your work around that. This scheduled fun or downtime will give you the chance to relax and prevent you from over scheduling.

2. Fun procrastination

The fun procrastinator would rather be doing anything except that one dreaded task. After all, there are so many exciting things you could be doing instead, how can you even bear to start that boring project?

How to beat it

If there’s absolutely no way you are going to start on that one dreaded task, try indulging yourself in some structured procrastination. You are going to procrastinate anyway so why not make it useful?

Give in to your desire to procrastinate, but instead of watching unproductive cat videos on YouTube, try starting another item on your to-do list. By starting another item first, you’ve made the initial dreaded task a lower priority which (in theory) makes you dread it a lot less. In the meantime, you are still being productive. It’s a definitely win-win.

3. “Plenty of time” procrastination

Many people find it difficult to start a project when they know the deadline is a long way down the line. This type of procrastination is clearly visible in people who often struggle to start an assighment earlier than a few days before the deadline.

You may also have tasks that don’t have deadlines. Take a look at your to-do list. Chances are you have at least one item that you’ve been putting off for weeks if not months. It’s something you want to do, you know it is for the better, but you keep putting it off.

How to beat it

Set your own deadlines, preferably earlier than the official one, and announce these new deadlines to the public. You can do so by telling your friends, family, co-workers or social media following about your deadlines. This public commitment should give you some healthy pressure, keep you on track and motivate you to meet those deadlines.

4. Perfectionist procrastination

Perfectionists are always striving for the best and, as such, are constantly criticizing their own work. For some perfectionists, the fear of failing, or producing work to a low standard, can be so overwhelming they never get around to starting anything!

Procrastination is the enemy of success.

How to beat it

Procrastinating can actually be a good thing for perfectionists. This is because as long as perfectionists have a lot of time to do a task, they fantasize about doing a perfect job. Leaving it till the last minute is a way of giving oneself permission to do a merely adequate job. 99 per cent of the time a merely adequate job is all that is needed.

Do revisit the last 5 jobs you completed. Were they all perfect? Probably not! Were they sufficient? Chances are you are already working towards a high standard so do stop giving yourself a hard time.

Identify the times when you didn’t do the perfect job, but the consequences were the same as when you did, this will help you to overcome your perfectionist routine and in turn stop procrastinating.

What is cognitive psychology?

Cognitive Psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental procedures encompassing how people contemplate discern, recall, and learn. As a portion of the larger field of cognitive science, this division of psychology is connected to supplementary control encompassing neuroscience, philosophy and linguistics.

Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.

Following are some of the cognitive causes of procrastination:

Fear of Failure

Linking the task to our self-worth is often the crucial mistake that leads to deferring a task. We can often go to self-defeating lengths to prevent feeling judged.

Yet, when we judge ourselves as failures, we fulfil this very expectation by either not completing the task, finishing the task late, or completing the task in a substandard way. But if we wrongly believe that our self-worth is based on our talent and our performance, then procrastination becomes the way by which we block either of these aspects from being on display.

Fear of Success

There are many reasons why potential success can be so threatening. For some, there is the fear that success can be too difficult to maintain, for others, cultural pressures may bring deep shame on those who fail, while others simply fear competition and not winning.

Some procrastinators avoid success because on some irrational level, they expect to be negatively labelled for their desire to win, For example, they may fear being thought of as ‘selfish’, ‘arrogant’, if they are successful!

Similarly, for others the fear of success is based on low self-esteem issues, feeling that they are not worthy of success, some people procrastinate because of another low self-esteem issue: fatalism and some people feel that they will lose love or be hated by others if they succeed.

Lack of Self-Confidence

People who suffer from procrastination tend to have lower self-esteem in turn be less confident than others. If you do not feel good about yourself, you may feel that others are cleverer and that you can’t bear to show your perceived inferior work.

It is important to be aware of how you criticize yourself and how this can cause you to freeze when work is due in order to avoid being judged.

Poor Study Skills

Failure to understand how to produce work quickly can lead to feeling overwhelmed and thereafter cause procrastination.

Emotional and mental health problems

If you become overwhelmed, you will feel unable to complete tasks or cope with your personal relationships. This can potentially exacerbate emotional problems, making task completion very difficult.

  • Anxiety: People tend to procrastinate on task that seem stressful to them. Hence, people who easily get under stress start to procrastinate. There is a list of things that makes people anxious especially irrational beliefs; it does include a variety of anxiety-provoking world views.
  • Anger: Procrastination can occur when you’re angry feelings get the better of you. Example: when you may feel let down by friends and social circle. An angry response to such situations can be an avoidance of social or academic responsibilities.

Your mind is for having ideas not holding them.

Effects of procrastination

Procrastination has negative impacts both in your personal and professional life and also on one’s health. Most of the negative impacts are related to one’s daily life, for instance:

  • Procrastination is a time-killer.
  • Procrastination promotes poor academic performance and professional performance.
  • Procrastination produces stress and anxiety
  • Postponement of tasks could hinder achievement in life endeavour.
  • Deadlines are often not met due to postponement of tasks.
  • Greatest opportunities are lost due to procrastination.
  • A delayed task is a delayed success.

Action will destroy your procrastination.

Psychology of procrastination and how to overcome it

Tips to Overcome Procrastination

General counselling and psychotherapy techniques have yielded some improvement with procrastination; however, specific behavioural and cognitive-behavioural techniques appear to be more effective in reducing procrastination.

Firstly, to get rid of procrastination one must become fully aware of the behavioural changes required.

Secondly, try to make the task less threatening and more enjoyable so that it doesn’t haunt and one doesn’t fear of starting the task.

Thirdly, before starting any tasks, create a plan to break down the tasks into more manageable “mini-actions”. You can also include a strategy to help you tackle procrastination if and when it arises. This way the big and daunting tasks will become a lot simpler, and you can address procrastination successfully when it rears its head.

Fourthly, one needs to have good time management skills especially in the field of planning so that one is aware of the significant future outcomes.

Beyond these 4 behavioural and cognitive-behavioural changes, it is important to also change one’s lifestyle. Two of the most important lifestyle changes include:

  • Get sufficient sleep: Lack of sleep is likely to make you procrastinate. This is because of the negative effects which the unhealthy sleep inflicts. This causes laziness and eventually the person loses the spark needed to perform any task.
  • Eat a healthy diet: The diet plays a very important role in procrastination. An unhealthy diet made of low quality ingredients work negatively on the mind and the rest of the body. The vitamins and other essentials when are not the part of the diet, the body’s efficiency decreases and then one starts to delay his work.


Learning is relatively a permanent change in an organism’s behaviour due to experience. According to Segment Freud, a child’s personality is built within six years. If during those six years the child is taught procrastination through observation it will go on all through his life and he will keep on delaying all his work without considering that there is something wrong with it. One of the types of learning is through imitation and observation.

Procrastination is something which is not in-built but is observed and learned from the surrounding. This means that it can, and will be overcome as long as you put your mind to it.

My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.

–Charles Dickens