18 Symptoms And Causes Of Chronic Procrastination

By Patricia Oelze

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Dawn Brown

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Chronic procrastination can affect every aspect of your life, particularly work or student life. If you find that you are constantly running behind deadline and in a panic to get things completed on time, you may be suffering from chronic procrastination.

While chronic procrastination in itself is not listed in the Encyclopedia of Psychiatric Disorders as accepted by the medical community, it does pose a serious problem. Luckily, there are treatments available that will help cure this problem. You first must recognize that you have a problem with chronic procrastination and the causes behind it.


A 1991 study into chronic procrastination of university students revealed some telling information and correlations about chronic procrastination and personalities. One of the things the researchers noticed was thatall of the subjects of the study showed some signs of neuroticism.

Neuroticism is a mild mental health disorder that largely does not require treatment if one can cope with the symptoms. Neurotic behavior includes chronic worry, impulsivity, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and hysterics.


The same 1991 study showed a definite correlation between anxiety and procrastination. This trend has been found in many other research studies about chronic procrastination as well. In fact, anxiety is one of the leading causes and symptoms of chronic procrastination.

Anxiety about the task itself can lead to procrastination of the task. However, as the task is put off again and again, and deadlines loom closer and closer, anxiety becomes a symptom of the procrastination. Anxiety can greatly worsen the more that the individual procrastinates. Eventually, the anxiety becomes paralyzing, and completing the task becomes impossible.

Lack Of Confidence

The 1991 study, and others like it, have also found that a lack of confidence is a contributing factor to chronic procrastination. When people lack confidence in their ability to correctly or adequately performing the task, they don't want to do the task at all. After all, you cannot fail if you don't do it at all.

This lack of confidence could be caused by some things, including general low self-esteem or situational and environmental factors during childhood and adolescence. Even repeated failures, or perceived failures, during adulthood, can lead to a lack of self-confidence and chronic procrastination.


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The same 1991 study also showed that impulsivity was a symptom and cause of chronic procrastination. People who have impulsive behaviors are more likely to do whatever comes to mind rather than the task that they need to be focusedon. People who are impulsive are more easily distracted, and often will decide to do other more enjoyable activities than the one with the deadline looming.

Low Self-Esteem

A study of 263 adults in 1994 discovered some correlations between several personality traits and chronic procrastination. One of the primary things that they noticed in their research is that low self-esteem is positively correlatedwith chronic procrastination.

When one has low self-esteem, they may feel inadequate to perform the task at hand. These feelings of not being good enough to perform the task cause them to put off the task as long as possible. This is again related to a fear of failure. You cannot fail at something if you never try it. This fear of failure and poor self-esteem combine to make it impossible to tackle difficult tasks.

Dependency on Others

The same 1994 study also showed that people with chronic procrastination have a strong interpersonal dependency on others. They consistently rely on others to motivate them, tell them what to do and when to do it, and to keep them on target. When there is no one available to keep them on task, they simply lose focus and motivation and will not complete the task.

These individuals do not work well when left to their own devices. They work much better in a team environment. However, this is not always possible. If you find that you are more likely to complete tasks when part of a group, you may need to examine your dependency on others.This is not a healthy dependency but can often be overcome through therapy.

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Perfectionism is directly related to chronic procrastination. Many studies have shown that perfectionism is a leading cause of procrastination. The individual may want everything to be perfect for them to start the task. Waiting for the perfect situation, environment, or set of characteristics can lead to never starting the task.

Also, people who are perfectionists tend to procrastinate because they are afraid that the project will not be perfect for some reason. If they don't feel up to completing the task perfectly, they will not want to do the task at all. Again, this boils down to a fear of failure and low self-esteem.

The propensityTo Feel Shame

A research study in 2001 was done that looked at the correlation between experiences of shame and chronic procrastination. They found that people who are more prone to feel shame and are afraid of being shamed are more likely to procrastinate.

This boils down to worryabout what others think. It may correlate to low self-esteem, but not necessarily. It is more about not wanting others to be able to shame them for a job that is not done well enough. They are so worried about what others will think of their work that they are afraid to even start the task.

Attention Deficit

Many studies have shown that one of the underlying causes that frequently arisefrom chronic procrastination is an attention deficit. Attention deficit disorder is much more frequently diagnosed today than in years past. As a result, many adults have an attention deficit that was never diagnosed.

A lack of being able to focus one's attention leads to chronic procrastination because people get frustrated when they are unable to concentrate and focus on a task. Their lack of being able to focus their attention easily leads them to procrastinate the task to a future time when they may be able to focus better. Unfortunately, if attention deficit disorder is at work that time may never come without treatment.

Propensity To Boredom

Some people may not have an attention deficit, but instead, have a propensity to boredom. Some people simply get bored more quickly than others. They also have a definite idea of what is boring and what is exciting, and they cannot stand to be bored.

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When an individual is both prone to boredom and afraid of it, they are not likely to do tasks that they don't find enjoyable. Unfortunately for most, many work tasks and study tasks are extremely boring to those who get bored easily. This leads to chronic procrastination.


Many people who are chronic procrastinators are depressed. The depression can be a symptom of chronic procrastination, as a direct result of feeling that they are not doing good enough because they are always procrastinating. The depression can also be a cause of chronic procrastination because the depression causes the individual to avoid tasks that they don't want to do.

Depression, in either case, can easily be treated through therapy or antidepressants. It is important that if you show symptoms of depression, such as a lack of motivation, extreme sadness, and finding no enjoyment in things you once found enjoyable, that you seek help from a therapist as quickly as possible.

Chronic Worry

Many people who are prone to chronic procrastination are also prone to chronic worry. Procrastinators may worry about what others will think of them, whether or not a project will go as planned, or whether or not they will be able to perform the task satisfactorily.

Chronic worry is all about worrying about the future and all of the things that could go wrong. When an individual is severely worried about what can go wrong, the worry can be paralyzing and keep them from ever taking action.

Difficulty Coping With Change

Chronic procrastinators also have difficulty coping with change. If a procedure for a task changes they will put off doing the task because they are resisting the changes made. If work or study environment changes, or expectations change, it can also cause the individual to procrastinate doing the task.

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Procrastinating Role Models

One of the leading causes of chronic procrastination is having procrastinating role models during childhood and adolescence. If a parent or caregiver is a chronic procrastinator, they may feel that this is the standard operating procedure.

Many people who procrastinate make excuses to themselves and others, stating that they work best under pressure. They may even believe that this is true. When these beliefs are present,and they are frequently communicated to an individual, that individual may grow up to believe that the only way to get things done effectively is to procrastinate.

Lack Of Reasonable Concept Of Time

Many people who have chronic procrastination do not have a reasonable concept of time. They typically underestimate the amount of time that it will take to complete a task, and they lose track of time easily while performing the task.

When unrealistic concepts of time are present, people may rely on scheduling themselves into a corner. They think that they can do other tasks before the required task because they have plenty of time, and they think the task will only take a small amount of time. Then, when the time comes to work on the project, they quickly learn that it will take longer than they thought. This leads to high anxiety and missed deadlines.

Living Too Much InThe Present

People with chronic procrastination often live too much in the present. While living in the present is a good philosophy for avoiding chronic worry and other mental health concerns, there are limits to how much of it is beneficial.

When you live too much in the present, you are not focused on future benefits and rewards. When you are not focused on future benefits and rewards, it can be difficult to understand why completing a task is important. You want to spend your time enjoying the present, and do not think about the rewards you will reap if you complete the task on time.

Discomfort Intolerance

Many people who chronically procrastinate have an intolerance to discomfort. They either put off or outright refuse to do tasks that they find uncomfortable, difficult, or boring. They feel that they should always be enjoying themselves, and they get frustrated very quickly when they are not enjoying themselves and the task at hand.

Lack Of Motivation

Many people who have chronic procrastination also have a lack of motivation. They do not feel motivated to complete tasks. A lack of motivation could be due to depression, anxiety, or simply not knowing what they want from life.

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Some people need a very good reason to do something to be able to focus their attention and efforts to complete it. These people often will have a lack of motivation if they don't see any direct benefit to them for completing the task.

Help Is Out There

While chronic procrastination is not an identified mental health disorder, there is therapeutic help for chronic procrastinators. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to improve or eliminate symptoms of chronic procrastination greatly. To get started with cognitive behavioral therapy, contact a licensed therapist for an assessment and treatment. They will be able to help you identify the reasons for your chronic procrastination and help you to overcome them.

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