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Procrastination is a type of avoidance behaviour which is characterised by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. [1]

For the person procrastinating this may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the chagrin of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. While it is normal for individuals to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder.

The word itself comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow). The term's first known appearance was in Edward Hall's Chronicle (The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancestre and Yorke), first published sometime before 1548.[2] The sermon reflected procrastination's connection at the time to task avoidance or delay, volition or will, and sin.


Causes of procrastination


The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth and a self-defeating mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a higher-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the "dreams and wishes" of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential.[3]

Author David Allen brings up two major psychological causes of procrastination at work and in life which are related to anxiety, not laziness.[citation needed] The first category comprises things too small to worry about, tasks that are an annoying interruption in the flow of things, and for which there are low-impact workarounds; an example might be organizing a messy room. The second category comprises things too big to control, tasks that a person might fear, or for which the implications might have a great impact on a person's life; an example might be the adult children of a deteriorating senior parent deciding what living arrangement would be best.

A person might unconsciously overestimate or underestimate the scale of a task if procrastination has become a habit.[citation needed]

From the behavioral psychology point of view, James Mazur has said that procrastination is a particular case of "impulsiveness" as opposed to self control.[citation needed] Mazur states that procrastination occurs because of a temporal discounting of a punisher, as it happens with the temporal discount for a reinforcer. Procrastination, then, as Mazur says, happens when a choice has to be made between a later larger task and a sooner small task; as the absolute value of the task gets discounted by the time, a subject tends to choose the later large task.[citation needed].


Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex. 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 (ADHD), where underactivation is common. [3]

Procrastination and mental health

Procrastination can be a persistent and debilitating disorder in some people, causing significant psychological disability and dysfunction. These individuals may actually be suffering from an underlying mental health problem such as depression or ADHD.

While procrastination is a behavioral condition, these underlying mental health disorders can be treated with medication and/or therapy. Therapy can be a useful tool in helping an individual learn new behaviors, overcome fears and anxieties, and achieve an improved quality of life. Thus it is important for people who chronically struggle with debilitating procrastination to see a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.

Severe procrastination can cross over into internet addiction or computer addiction. In this instance the individual has a compulsion to avoid reality by surfing the web or playing video games (game addiction) or looking at online pornography (pornography addiction). Although these are relatively new phenomena, they are being considered as psychiatric diagnoses by mental health professionals.[citation needed]


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. Slaney (1996) found that adaptive perfectionists were less likely to procrastinate than non-perfectionists, while maladaptive perfectionists (people who saw their perfectionism as a problem) had high levels of procrastination (and also of anxiety).[4]

Academic procrastination

While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting[citation needed], where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students' time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination"[5].

Some students struggle with procrastination due to a lack of time management or study skills, stress, or feeling overwhelmed with their work.[citation needed] Students can also struggle with procrastination for medical reasons such as ADD/ADHD or a learning disorder[citation needed].


See also


  1. ^ Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 9781585425525.  p. 5
  2. ^ Procrastination. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989).
  3. ^ a b Strub, R. L. (1989). Frontal lobe syndrome in a patient with bilateral globus pallidus lesions. Archives of Neurology 46, 1024-1027.
  4. ^ McGarvey. Jason A. (1996) The Almost Perfect Definition
  5. ^ R P Gallagher, S Borg, A Golin and K Kelleher (1992), Journal of College Student Development, 33(4), 301-10.


  • Allen, David (2001). Getting things done : the art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking. ISBN 9780670889068. 
  • Fiore, Neil A (2006). The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 9781585425525. 
  • Lakein, Alan (1973). How to get control of your time and your life.. New York: P.H. Wyden. ISBN 0451134303. 

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