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definitions - Procrastination

procrastination (n.)

1.the act of procrastinating; putting off or delaying or defering an action to a later time

2.slowness as a consequence of not getting around to it

3.act of putting off to a future time

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Merriam Webster

ProcrastinationPro*cras`ti*na"tion (?), n. [L. procrastinatio: cf. F. procrastination.] The act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off to a future time; delay; dilatoriness.

Procrastination is the thief of time. Young.

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definition (more)

definition of Wikipedia

synonyms - Procrastination

analogical dictionary




In psychology, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. In accordance with Freud, the Pleasure principle (psychology) may be responsible for procrastination; humans do not prefer negative emotions and handing off a stressful task until a further date is enjoyable. The concept that humans work best under pressure provides additional enjoyment and motivation to postponing a task.[1] Some psychologists cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.[2] Other psychologists indicate that anxiety is just as likely to get people to start working early as late and the focus should be impulsiveness. That is, anxiety will cause people to delay only if they are impulsive.[3]

Schraw, Wadkins, and Olafson have proposed three criteria for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.[4] Similarly, Steel (2007) reviews all previous attempts to define procrastination, indicating it is "to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay."[5]

Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote further procrastination. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder. Such procrastinators may have difficulty seeking support due to social stigma, and the belief that task-aversion is caused by laziness, low willpower or low ambition.[5]




The psychological causes of procrastination are in debate. Drawing on clinical work, there appears to be a connection with issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality. On the other hand, drawing on meta-analytical correlational work, anxiety and perfectionism have no connection or at best an extremely weak connection with procrastination. Instead, procrastination is strongly connected with lack of self-confidence (e.g., low self-efficacy, or learned helplessness) or disliking the task (e.g., boredom and apathy). The strongest connection to procrastination, however, is impulsiveness.[3] These characteristics are often used as measures of the personality trait conscientiousness whereas anxiety and irrational beliefs (such as perfectionism) are aspects of the personality trait neuroticism. Accordingly, Lee, Kelly and Edwards (2006) indicated that neuroticism has no direct links to procrastination and that any relationship is fully mediated by conscientiousness.[6]

For most of human evolution, laziness and short-term but fast thinking (impulsiveness) were overall adaptive. Laziness was adaptive because energy and time were much more limited than today in more-developed countries for most people. Limited energy - e.g., lack of food - meant that avoidance of labor not necessary for short-term survival was adaptive; after all, the energy invested in longer-term plans might be wasted due to unexpected disasters (very common before human control over our surroundings - technology - grew). Similarly, needing to work on survival matters most of the time meant that time had to be conserved. For handling day-to-day survival, short-term thinking was most of what was needed, with planning limited to solving immediate problems; taking time to think about longer-term plans could be a distraction from short-term survival. Today, most people in more-developed countries lack pressures for immediate survival most of the time; our motivations are more abstract. It is harder for such abstract motivations to overcome avoidance of tasks that do not give us short-term pleasure and may cause us short-term pain (e.g., due to boredom).[7]


Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex.[8] Consistent with the notion that procrastination is strongly related to impulsiveness, this area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual's ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention and increased procrastination. This is similar to the prefrontal lobe's role in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, where underactivation is common.[9]

  Mental health

For some people, procrastination can be persistent and tremendously disruptive to everyday life. For these individuals, procrastination may be symptomatic of a psychological disorder such as depression or ADHD. Therefore, it is important for people whose procrastination has become chronic and is perceived to be debilitating, to seek out a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.


Traditionally, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism, a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one's own performance, intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one's abilities by others, heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety, recurrent low mood, and "workaholism". According to Robert B. Slaney[10] adaptive perfectionists (when perfectionism is egosyntonic) were less likely to procrastinate than non-perfectionists, while maladaptive perfectionists (people who saw their perfectionism as a problem; i.e., when perfectionism is egodystonic) had high levels of procrastination (and also of anxiety).[11] Accordingly, meta-analytic review of 71 studies by Steel (2007) indicate that typically perfectionists actually procrastinate slightly less than others, with "the exception being perfectionists who were also seeking clinical counseling."[5]


  In the workplace

Procrastination in the workplace comes in many forms, and communication can sometimes suffer from employee silence.[examples needed]

  Academic procrastination

More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination".[12] It is estimated that 80%–95% of college students engage in procrastination, approximately 75% considering themselves procrastinators.[13]

One source of procrastination is the planning fallacy, where we underestimate the time required to analyze research. Many students devote weeks to gathering research for a term paper, but are unable to finish writing it because they have left insufficient time for subsequent stages of the assignment. Similarly, students know better than anyone whether or not an assignment or task is feasible. Many students believe in the common method of cramming when studying for an exam or writing up a research paper in one sitting rather than spacing everything out. Despite the stress, lack of sleep, and inefficiency involved, students become trapped into a perpetual mode of procrastination. Cal Newport argues that students' brains acknowledge such daunting tasks will not yield positive results which results in procrastination.

"Student syndrome" refers to the phenomenon where a student will only begin to fully apply themselves to a task immediately before a deadline. This negates the usefulness of any buffers built into individual task duration estimates. Students also have difficulties when self-imposing deadlines.[14]

Other reasons cited on why students procrastinate include fear of failure and success, perfectionist expectations, and legitimate activities that may take precedence over school work (like a job).[15]

  Reactions to procrastination


Individual coping responses to procrastination are often emotional or avoidant oriented rather than task or problem-solving oriented. Emotion oriented coping is designed to reduce stress (and cognitive dissonance) associated with putting off intended and important personal goals, an option that provides immediate pleasure and is consequently very attractive to impulsive procrastinators.[16][17] There are hundreds of identified emotion oriented strategies, similar to Freudian defense mechanisms, coping styles and self-handicapping. These procrastinators include using the following:

  • Avoidance: Where we avoid the locale or situation where the task takes place (e.g., a graduate student avoiding going to University).
  • Distraction: Where we engage or immerse ourselves in other behaviors or actions to prevent awareness of the task (e.g., intensive videogame playing or Internet surfing)
  • Trivialization: We reframe the intended but procrastinated task as being not that important (e.g., "I'm putting off going to the dentist, but you know what? Teeth aren't that important.").
  • Downward counterfactuals: We compare our situation with those even worse (e.g., "Yes, I procrastinated and got a B- in the course, but I didn't fail like one other student did."). Upward counterfactual is considering what would have happened if we didn't procrastinate.
  • Humour: Making a joke of one's procrastination, that the slapstick or slipshod quality of one's aspirational goal striving is funny.
  • External attributions: That the cause of procrastination is due to external forces beyond our control (e.g., "I'm procrastinating because the assignment isn't fair").
  • Reframing: Pretending that getting an early start on a project is harmful to one's performance and leaving the work to the last moment will produce better results (e.g., "I'm most creative at 4:00 AM in the morning without sleep.").
  • Denial: Pretending that procrastinatory behaviour is not actually procrastinating, but a task which is more important than the avoided one.

Task or problem-solving oriented coping is rarer for the procrastinator because it is more effective in reducing procrastination. If pursued, it is less likely the procrastinator would remain a procrastinator. It requires actively changing one's behavior or situation to prevent a reoccurrence of procrastination.

  Improving productivity

Procrastinators may respond with any number of methods for better time management. Piers Steel recommends being aware of one's "Power hours", when a person's internal circadian rhythms are best suited for the most challenging work (often, but not always, between 10am and 2pm). Increasing one's feelings of self efficacy (e.g. learning optimism) can also be effective. Steel says that it can be helpful to avoid too much commitment; commit only to the first step. As Steel explains: “If you can’t run a mile, then run a block. Stop when you’ve done that and the next time try two blocks... personal stories of triumph can bolster people’s spirits for years.”[18]

Additionally, it is more important to keep in mind that procrastination is not solely contingent upon one's willpower or motivation to accomplish tasks. When trying to decrease procrastination, a person should analyze the environment and mental barriers beyond completing the work at hand.[19] Simply trying harder will not work. Understanding the triggers for procrastination be it fear of failure, distractions from the environment, or other reasons can be useful in creating a long term strategy to combat procrastination.

  See also

  Further reading

Impulse control


  1. ^ Pychyl, T. (February 20, 2012). Due Tomorrow. Do Tomorrow. Psychology Today, Retrieved Feb 20 2012 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/201202/due-tomorrow-do-tomorrow
  2. ^ Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-58542-552-5. 
  3. ^ a b Steel, Piers (2010). The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-170361-4. [page needed]
  4. ^ Schraw, Gregory; Wadkins, Theresa; Olafson, Lori (2007). "Doing the things we do: A grounded theory of academic procrastination". Journal of Educational Psychology 99: 12. DOI:10.1037/0022-0663.99.1.12. 
  5. ^ a b c Steel, Piers (2007). "The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure". Psychological Bulletin 133 (1): 65–94. DOI:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65. PMID 17201571. http://studiemetro.au.dk/fileadmin/www.studiemetro.au.dk/Procrastination_2.pdf. 
  6. ^ Lee, Dong-gwi; Kelly, Kevin R.; Edwards, Jodie K. (2006). "A closer look at the relationships among trait procrastination, neuroticism, and conscientiousness". Personality and Individual Differences 40: 27. DOI:10.1016/j.paid.2005.05.010. 
  7. ^ Pelusi, Nando (11 November 2011). "The Lure of Laziness". Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200706/the-lure-laziness. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  8. ^ Evans, James R. (8 August 2007). Handbook of Neurofeedback: Dynamics and Clinical Applications. Psychology Press. p. 293. ISBN 978-0-7890-3360-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=20oUOtjs9DkC&pg=PA293. Retrieved 8 October 2010. 
  9. ^ Strub, RL (1989). "Frontal lobe syndrome in a patient with bilateral globus pallidus lesions". Archives of neurology 46 (9): 1024–7. DOI:10.1001/archneur.1989.00520450096027. PMID 2775008. 
  10. ^ Robert B. Slaney is a professor of counseling psychology in Penn State's College of Education
  11. ^ McGarvey. Jason A. (1996) The Almost Perfect Definition
  12. ^ Gallagher, Robert P.; Golin, Anne; Kelleher, Kathleen (1992). "The Personal, Career, and Learning Skills Needs of College Students". Journal of College Student Development 33 (4): 301–10. 
  13. ^ [full citation needed] [dead link]
  14. ^ Ariely, Dan; Wertenbroch, Klaus (2002). "Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommitment". Psychological Science 13 (3): 219–224. DOI:10.1111/1467-9280.00441. PMID 12009041. http://web.mit.edu/ariely/www/MIT/Papers/deadlines.pdf. 
  15. ^ "Procrastination — The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill". Writingcenter.unc.edu. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/writing-the-paper/procrastination. Retrieved 2012-03-10. 
  16. ^ Gendler, Tamar Szabó (2007). "Self-Deception As Pretense". Philosophical Perspectives 21: 231. DOI:10.1111/j.1520-8583.2007.00127.x. 
  17. ^ Gosling, J. (1990). Weakness of the will. New York: Routledge. [page needed]
  18. ^ McKinnell, Julia (2011-01-26). "Macleans magazine, website, "How to quit putting things off"". .macleans.ca. http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/01/26/how-to-quit-putting-things-off/. Retrieved 2012-03-10. 
  19. ^ "How do I stop being so damn lazy?". Iwillteachyoutoberich.com. 2011-07-10. http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/how-do-i-stop-being-so-damn-lazy/. Retrieved 2012-03-10. 

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