A Procrastination Definition & Tips To Overcome It
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated February 07, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
Procrastination is something we all deal with, but that does not mean it comes without consequences. Most think of procrastination meaning laziness. In reality, it is often a sign of something deeper. Here is a look at procrastination defined, how it can affect you, and a few simple tips to overcome it.
What Is Procrastination?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of procrastination is, "the act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring." If you have ever put off a task because you did not want to do it, chances are, you were procrastinating. Maybe you needed to study for an important test or go to the gym. Instead of tackling it head-on, you decided to watch a movie, take a nap, or go out with friends.
Procrastination can affect people in all areas of life. Someone might delay going places or making important decisions. Others, avoid situations or opportunities that scare them, hide from rejection, or ignore financial issues.
Many people try to define procrastination as someone just "being lazy." But it is important to note that it is often more complex than that. Procrastination can happen when someone is trying to escape something unpleasant. The thing they are trying to avoid might be physically, mentally, or emotionally uncomfortable, or challenging or inconvenient in some way.
When Is Procrastination A Problem?
Everyone procrastinates at one time or another. It is an easy pattern to fall into. Typically procrastination does not have any serious effects, although it might be difficult to finish the original task well with a shorter amount of time to do so. That being said, procrastination can have serious consequences. Chronic procrastination can affect the following areas of your life.
In Your Job
It is likely a major part of your career relies on time management and quality of work. If you procrastinate often, your time management skills will seriously suffer, potentially resulting in poor performance at your job. If this issue becomes a habitual problem, you might be looking at formal discipline, up to and including, termination.
In Your Relationships
If you avoid taking relationships to the next level, it will be harder to make them last. By adulthood, most partnerships happen because there is a potential for marriage, a family, and a home together. If these commitments scare you, causing you to delay them time and time again, it will be almost impossible to make it work with a significant other who wants these things.
In Your Goals
Sometimes when it comes to opportunities in life, like getting a new job or going to college, certain deadlines and obligations will need to happen to move forward with the process. If procrastination is a serious issue for you, you might fail to meet these steps, forgoing the chance to better yourself in the future.
Likewise, if there is something you want in life, that you believe you cannot or will not achieve, procrastination will only make it less likely that it will happen. Instead of actively working toward your goal, you will find ways to avoid taking the first steps.
Signs You Procrastinate
Often the signs of procrastination are subtle. It is pretty easy to assume the opposite of procrastination is working in a timely, attentive, and organized manner. Therefore, you might often be procrastinating if you are not doing so, or if you are guilty of the following:
You Prioritize Lesser Tasks
If there is something you need to do, or an important date approaching on your calendar, you can tell whether you are procrastinating on how you prioritize your time. Say the looming event is a final exam. Are you studying for it? Or, does it suddenly seem important that you sort through old clothing? If you are procrastinating, you will find other obligations easily.
Ask yourself if the lesser tasks would have the same amount of urgency if the thing you were trying to avoid were not taking place. It might seem like you suddenly need to organize all your closets, but would that be the first thing on your to-do list any other day? The more you focus on finding lesser tasks that take up your time, the more likely you are procrastinating.
You Have No Focus
Sometimes procrastination happens through distraction. Rather than thinking about what you are supposed to be doing, your mind wanders to all sorts of different places. If you can focus on just about anything else, except for the one thing you should be thinking about, you can be sure procrastination is getting the better of you.
You Find Excuses
Because procrastination often lies in trying to avoid something uncomfortable, finding excuses is a go-to strategy. Take a look at how you are thinking. Does it seem like you should not do something because it might hurt? Because you do not have everything, you need? Because there is too much time or effort required?
Excuses are a way to justify procrastination, but very rarely are they completely valid. A run to the store will get you what you need to finish the job and effective time management will make anything possible. If you can find more reasons not to do something, than you can find actually to get it done, you are procrastinating.
You Always Seem Short On Time
Sometimes we procrastinate without even knowing it. Procrastination and poor time management go hand in hand. If you find you always have to work quickly, need to keep working on something right until the very last minute, or make careless mistakes because you do not have enough time to check your work, it is likely procrastination is a problem for you.
You Are Afraid
Are you holding back on doing something because you are afraid of the outcome? Fear crops up for many reasons. Some people feel fear because they do not know what will happen next. Some are afraid of a worst-case scenario. On occasion, fear comes from having to let go of what is familiar or comfortable. When you think about why you do not want to do something, do your best to see if an underlying worry is a cause of your delay.
Stop Procrastinating Now
If procrastination is making your life more difficult, there are some ways to manage it. Start with these simple tips.
Organize Your Time
One of the most important things you can do to prevent procrastination is organizing your time. Purchase a calendar or day planner, and in it, schedule time to dedicate to whatever task is at hand. Do not forget, once an item is on your schedule you must complete it. Writing it down and walking away will not work.
Be sure to organize wisely. Do not over schedule yourself or make plans during times that are not realistic. For example, do not schedule study time at 6:35 if you do not leave work until 6:30. Leave time for daily tasks like eating, bathing, and relaxation too. If you forget to factor in everyday obligations you will throw off your entire schedule (leaving you open to more opportunity for procrastination).
Set A Timer
Many people find a timer helps them stay on track. If you have put off cleaning your house, simply set a timer for 10, 15, or 30-minute intervals throughout the day, and only work while the timer is running. Once the time is up, you can refocus on another task. With enough small increments, you will eventually get everything done.
An alarm is also a good tool in the same sense. If you find yourself often thinking you will get to something "later." Make "later" a real time. Set an alarm clock for when you want to start working and as soon as it goes off, drop whatever you are doing and get started.
Getting motivated is a sure way to avoid the trap of procrastination. When it comes to getting motivated, there are many resources you can use. Try motivational or self-help books, motivational quotes or videos, or empowering mantras.
Another way to find motivation is to change the way you think about the task you are trying to avoid. Instead of focusing on the reasons you do not want to do it, think about how you feel and what you will accomplish once it's complete. Let the outcome be your motivation.
For example, if someone does not feel like going to the gym because it is difficult, they can shift their focus. Rather than thinking of the work involved, they can imagine how proud they will feel of their body once they reach their goal weight. They could also think about how much healthier they will feel, the new clothes they will wear, and the compliments they will get. In this way, the end-goal is bigger and more important than the temporary inconvenience.
When we want to avoid something, distractions are usually our first go-to. Do what you can to limit distraction in your area by turning off the tv, putting down the phone, or working in a quiet space. Let your friends and family members know you are dedicating a certain amount of time toward a task and politely ask them to wait to contact you until you're done.
A licensed therapist is also a great resource to overcome procrastination. Reach out to services, like those available through Betterhelp, to find a professional who can work with you. A therapist will get you to understand your thought and behavior patterns when it comes to procrastination, give you personalized advice to overcome it, and help you change your perspective on unwelcome tasks.
Deal With Fear
If fear is why you delay, find ways to confront it. Do what you can to find the root of your fear, process the memories and feelings associated with it, and find coping strategies that minimize its impact. This process is best done with a licensed mental health professional. The more you hide from your fears, the bigger they can become, so do not wait to address this issue.
Although "lazy" is a procrastination synonym, the two concepts do not necessarily mean the same thing. There might be more behind it. If procrastination is something that is affecting you, try these tips or reach out to a licensed professional today. The sooner you can tackle the issue, the faster your quality of work will improve. Do not let procrastination negatively impact your life anymore.