Understanding Procrastination: Meaning and Ways to overcome it

Ever make a To-do list and sit to work for your first task but suddenly you remember your nails need trimming? You instantly go to clip and file them. After that you just decided to open social media for a minute and boom 2 hrs has gone. That is procrastination. But why do we do it? It’s not just about being lazy. There are lots of reasons behind it, like feeling scared or overwhelmed. The good news is, we can beat it! Understanding why we do it and learning some tricks allows us to take charge of our time and get things done without all the stress.

Dr. Joseph Ferrari‘s research shows that 20% of US men and women are chronic procrastinators. A recent Zippia survey highlights a growing concern: workplace procrastination is eroding business productivity. A study found that employees waste an average of 2.09 hours per day on non-work activities, costing employers $10,396 per year per employee only due to procrastination.

Table of Contents

What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is when we delay doing things we need to do. It’s like a sneaky trick that makes us put off tasks for later. But why do we do it? It’s not just about being lazy. There are lots of reasons behind it, like feeling scared or overwhelmed. 

The word “procrastination” actually comes from the Latin phrase “procrastinus,” which means “belonging to tomorrow.” In other words, it is simply the act of delaying or postponing important tasks for a later time.

defining Procrastination

Procrastination is voluntarily delaying or postponing a task you know you should do, despite negative consequences.

It goes beyond simply taking a break or prioritizing tasks. It’s the act of unreasonably delaying a task despite knowing the negative consequences, like stress, missed deadlines, or even lower quality work. It’s a conscious choice to put things off, even when you have the ability to get started right away.

Why do we Procrastinate?

Delaying the task on your To-do list can lead to feelings of guilt or regret for not completing it on time. However, contrary to common belief, to procrastinate isn’t solely about improving your time management. There are multiple reasons why we procrastinate, revealing it’s more than just being lazy.

Difficulty Coping with Challenging Emotions

Dr. Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, suggests that procrastination is more about avoiding negative emotions than managing time. 

In an interview, he explains that it is primarily an issue of regulating emotions, and not managing time effectively. His studies discovered that we procrastinate, when we feel an immediate need to cope with a negative emotion. This could be triggered by anything, from avoiding cleaning a messy bathroom to putting off responding to emails. 

Another Neuroscientist & Psychiatrist Dr. Judson Brewer, concluded the same thing that procrastination is all about avoiding unwanted emotions. 

We procrastinate to avoid negative emotions associated with a task. This could be fear of failure, overwhelm, boredom, or even anxiety about success. By putting things off, we get temporary relief from those emotions, even though it creates bigger problems later.

Issues with Self-Regulation

If you are facing specific unwanted emotions but fail to regulate it through proper channels. You tend to procrastinate more by struggling to initiate tasks that require focus or get easily distracted by more pleasurable activities. This lack of self-control makes it hard to overcome the urge to put things off. 

Low Self-Worth

Doubting our abilities or feeling inadequate can lead us to procrastinate. We might believe we won’t succeed anyway, so why even start? This negative self-talk fuels the cycle of avoidance and reinforces feelings of worthlessness, TED speaker Archana Murthy explains, this self-doubt conversation is going deeply in an unconscious level which is why we are totally unaware. 

Nic Voge, in a TED Talk, proposes that the root cause of procrastination comes from our deep need for self-worth. We crave to feel competent and capable. The problem arises (or “arises”) when we start heavily relying on external validation (grades, praise) to fulfill those needs. This leads us to procrastinate. How? Because when we tie our self-worth to performance (performance = ability = self-worth). According to Voge, procrastinating becomes a self-protective mechanism. By putting in less effort (through procrastination), a bad outcome can be blamed on external factors (being busy, or distracted) rather than our own ability or worth.

Another reason related to self-doubt is Imposter Syndrome. It may prevent you to start a task as you feel unworthy, or have self-doubts deep inside. 

The Perfectionist Trap

Sometimes, the goal of producing perfect task lead us delay. If you feel trapped in this, always remember, take your first step. You can just make perfect things happen if you don’t start the work. 

Lack of Motivation

Lack of Motivation occur when we see no short term reward of the task on hand. This can easily lead to distraction from your goal. We can tackle this by simply breaking the task into smaller chunks and give ourselves reward after each goal completion. In this case immediate celebration is necessary, to link your mind with particular habit to specific reward. 

As we all are different so, our reason to procrastinate is different as well. First become fully aware of yourself which of the above is your reason to procrastinate. Then we can figure out the way to resolve it.

How can I Stop Procrastination?

Here are some tips to tackle your avoidance to the task and be a savvy productivity master.

Self Awareness

Self-awareness is the first step to acknowledging and identifying your underlying emotions How to be Self-Aware To Manage Emotions In A Healthy Way you can only solve problems you are aware of. Acknowledge and identify your emotions you are trying to avoid. Identify your patterns first. You can ask yourself:

What am I feeling right now? (Fear, overwhelm, boredom?)

What emotions are associated with the task I’m procrastinating on?

Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Once you identify your emotions, challenge any negative self-talk that might be fueling your avoidance. For example, if you’re thinking “I’m going to fail anyway,” counter it with a more positive thought like “Everyone makes mistakes, and I can learn from them.” Dr. Zeeshan, Harvard trained MD, suggest to replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations and beliefs can instantly shift your mindset.

Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself. Procrastination is a common human experience. Accepting your feelings and avoiding self-criticism can help you move forward. A study revealed self-compassion reduce feelings of “Shame” eventually leads to significantly decrease procrastination, depression, stress & anxiety. 

Break Down the Task

Feeling overwhelmed by a large task can be paralyzing. Break down the project into smaller, more manageable steps. This can make it seem less daunting and easier to get started. 

For example, if you have to write a research paper, instead of staring at a blank page, create a schedule. Map out smaller tasks like choosing a topic, gathering sources, or writing specific sections. This makes it less daunting to start, keeps you focused on achievable goals, and lets you celebrate mini-victories along the way. Before you know it, that overwhelming paper becomes a series of manageable tasks, making procrastination a thing of the past.

Focus on Progress

Focus on Progress, Not Perfection: Aim for progress, not perfection. Don’t get bogged down in striving for a flawless outcome. Celebrate your small wins and acknowledge how far you’ve come.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Reward yourself for completing tasks, even small ones. This positive reinforcement can help you stay motivated and build momentum.

Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling to manage your emotions or procrastination is significantly impacting your life, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor. They can provide additional tools and support to develop healthier coping mechanisms.


Don’t let procrastination steal your dreams. It’s a hurdle, not a roadblock. By understanding its emotional roots and equipping yourself with the right tools, you can transform procrastination into action. Remember, even the smallest step forward is a victory against the urge to delay. 

Take control of your time, embrace progress over perfection, and watch yourself achieve what you set out to do. Willing to Procrastinate may feel tempting for short-term pleasure, but remember the pleasure of achieving your dream goals. This journey towards conquering procrastination is one of self-discovery and growth, leads to enhanced productivity, and also nurtures our sense of self-worth and fulfillment.


It fuels stress, anxiety, and even low-quality work under the pressure of looming deadlines. Missed opportunities, decreased productivity, and a dip in self-esteem follow close behind. Don’t let procrastination steal your potential, conquer it and watch yourself thrive.

It can spark creativity under pressure, forcing you to come up with innovative solutions on the fly. Sometimes a short delay allows for a fresh perspective, leading to better ideas down the line. However, it’s important to not rely on this “pressure cooker” method too often, as the downsides of missed deadlines and stress can outweigh the occasional burst of brilliance.

Procrastination isn’t just laziness; it’s a complex web of emotions. We might delay tasks due to fear of failure, feeling overwhelmed, or simply boredom. Doubting our abilities or seeking external validation can also fuel the cycle. Essentially, procrastination is often a way to avoid negative emotions, but it ultimately leads to more stress and hinders our goals.

Putting things off can lead to stress and missed deadlines, which can worsen feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy that fuel depression. On the other hand, depression itself can make it hard to start tasks, leading to more procrastination. While they can influence each other, it’s important to remember they’re not the same. If you’re struggling with either, seeking help is key.

Taming your inner procrastinator is all about retraining your brain for action. Here’s the gist: plan your day, tackle tough tasks first, and reward yourself for progress. By setting clear goals, prioritizing effectively, and giving your brain positive reinforcement, you can rewire yourself to focus, conquer challenges, and achieve more.

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