Why Do People Procrastinate (And How Can I Stop)?

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tonia Cassaday

Whether we are working, going to school, or have personal goals we are trying to meet, there are plenty of us that struggle with procrastination. While the occasional setback can be overcome, some people procrastinate at every corner. This can cause major issues with our work and even make it difficult for us to maintain certain positions within our lives that we need to keep. To make matters worse, most people know that they procrastinate but don’t know why they keep engaging in the behavior. The good news is that procrastination is something that can be overcome. To help you overcome your procrastination issues, here is an in-depth look at why people procrastinate and how you can stop.

Why Do People Procrastinate? Reasons Behind Putting Things Off

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Everyone procrastinates occasionally. For some, however, procrastination can be an everyday problem. Understanding why you may be prone to procrastinating on your work is the first step in finding solutions to overcome the act of continually pushing work and tasks forward. The most common reasons for people who procrastinate include:

  1. Needing a (Poor) Coping Mechanism For Emotional Distress: The exciting part about procrastination as behavior is that it is often tied to our mood and our personal rewards system. When we procrastinate, we often do it to cope with the anxiety and stress that comes with the task itself. Not doing it allows us to regulate our emotions for that brief period of time after we’ve made the decision to procrastinate. Unfortunately, while we know that procrastinating will only result in worse consequences, later on, we continue to engage in this behavior because we have been momentarily rewarded for our choice. This cycle then continues until we are continually putting off our work or refusing to do it all together. As you can imagine, this only results in further consequences that can have a major impact on our lives.
  2. Lacking Time Management Skills: When we’re developing a schedule for ourselves, the planning stages can be exciting. You may spend hours figuring out how much you can fit into your schedule and planning ahead. The problem is that a schedule is mostly a theory unless we know how long a certain task takes us to complete. If we go through our schedule and realize that we don’t have nearly as much time as we thought, it can be easy to put our tasks off in response. Learning how to properly manage our time and set realistic expectations is an important skill to learn if this is contributing to your procrastination habits.
  3. Working Against Motivation And Energy: We would all love to be completely energized and focused throughout the day. Unfortunately, this is not how our bodies work. We all have different times where we feel most effective and motivated. Setting up all-day tasks without all-day energy is a great way to not only fall behind but to procrastinate. It is when we work with our bodies that we can better prepare for our days.
  4. Not Feeling Like Doing A Certain Task In The Moment: Not all tasks are fun to do. When we don’t feel like doing something, it can often be easier for us to put it off until we absolutely have to do it. Almost everyone has done this from time to time, but doing this regularly can do more harm than good. This is another common problem that chronic procrastinators tend to have when it comes to taking care of their tasks.
  5. Dealing With Task Overwhelm: When tasks are too large and intimidating, we may back away from them in response. The problem is that, if they look too big to take care of now, they still may look too big to handle later. The good news is that even this daunting reason for procrastinating can be taken care of as well.
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These are just a few of the main reasons why we procrastinate. Once procrastination has become a behavior, and the reasons become triggers, it can be difficult to stop that habit from continuing. However, we must find ways around it if we wish to get things done and become more productive with our time.

If you are looking to put an end to your procrastination, let’s take a look at some tips that will help you break the cycle and develop better habits.

How To Overcome Procrastination Behavior

Procrastination, like any other bad habit, is a learned behavior. Through procrastination, we’ve discovered that we can put off feeling negative emotions associated with certain tasks. This means that, while we have these habits now, we can figure out ways to beat this system and find habits that provide better results. Here are some ways you can start conquering procrastination and getting your work done.

1. Leave More Room In Your Schedule For Delays And Unforeseen Issues

If time management issues are at the heart of your procrastination habits, learning how to prepare a better schedule is one way that you can begin working towards a more productive day. Instead of packing your schedule with back-to-back tasks, leave a reasonable amount of time between them. For example, if you anticipate that a task may take you an hour, schedule your next task for 30 minutes after the end of the first one. This way, if your task runs over your anticipated time limit, you will have more time to take care of it. This will give you plenty of time to get started, find your motivation, and get it done before your next task. Otherwise, you may take one look at your schedule and run in the opposite direction.

2. Learn How To Turn Overwhelming Tasks Into Groups Of Subtasks

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If you’re easily discouraged or simply aren’t energized enough, big tasks can seem like too much to handle. Fortunately, almost all tasks can be broken down into smaller tasks. Let’s imagine that you have a 20-page financial report due in 3 days. Chances are that you have already taken a look at this task and have decided not to take care of it yet. But what would happen if your 20-page financial project was broken down into tasks like:

  • Compile the research
  • Take care of section 1
  • Take care of section 2
  • Take care of section 3

When you look at your large task as multiple tasks, it is easier to go through each of them over a certain period of time. This makes your massive task more approachable and easier to accomplish.

3. Section Off Larger Projects Over Time

If you don’t have a tight deadline, it can be better to section off your project and complete it over a number of days or weeks. This can make it easier for you to stay focused on one task at a time and avoid overloading yourself with too much work. Once you’ve seen how much better it is to not tackle a project last-minute, you may find it easier to avoid procrastinating in the future.

4. Consider The Consequences Of Not Doing Your Work Now

As we covered above, procrastination becomes a habit because you are able to avoid the stress associated with doing your task now. However, if you are a chronic procrastinator, you are most likely familiar with the consequences of not getting it done later. If you can use this to your advantage, make sure to think about what would happen each time you put off a task. While this won’t necessarily guarantee that you will get started immediately, it can help you to get some of your work finished. Then, you just have to continue that progress and build from there!

5. Provide Yourself With A Greater Reward Than Putting Your Work Off

Procrastination gives us a short-term reward of not dealing with our feelings in the present. In order to combat this problem, we need to find a greater reward than that given to us by choosing to procrastinate. Whether you bribe yourself with a gift, remind yourself of any monetary rewards, or find another way to incentivize yourself, you can overcome your desire to put off work by looking for a reason to get the work done. You can also work around this problem by trying to find ways to make your tasks more fun to complete!

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6. Be More Understanding When You Don’t Perform To Your Expectations

For some people, procrastination may be part of an all-or-nothing mindset. Some of us expect ourselves to perform optimally and, when we don’t, we put off the work until we are in the perfect state of mind. Unfortunately, that state of mind may never come. You must be able to get work done even when you don’t feel like it. Try to be more understanding when you don’t feel like performing, or you don’t perform to your expectations. You are only human, and you will get better over time.

Getting Help When You Need It

Overcoming procrastination is no easy feat. For some, they may be able to implement these tips on their own. For others, however, they may need help breaking the cycle and putting new habits in their place. If you feel like you may need help, you may want to reach out to a counselor. Counseling can help you learn more about why you engage in certain behaviors and what you can do to put a stop to them. If you’re looking for a counselor nearby, but haven’t found a good fit, one option you may want to consider is online therapy.

For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that connects you to licensed therapists, from the comfort of your own home. Some people prefer privacy online therapy offers, while others prefer speaking to someone face-to-face. Both are effective options for developing tools to combat procrastination.

While procrastination can have a big impact on your life, it doesn’t have to. To help you overcome your procrastination habits, take some time to better understand where procrastination comes from and how you can break the cycle. Once you know how to work more effectively, you will likely wonder why you ever procrastinated in the first place.

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