3 Reasons for Procrastination–And How to Overcome Them

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Procrastination is a fairly common pitfall in modern life. From delaying work projects until the last minute, to not buying gifts until the day before a birthday or holiday has come around, many people encounter procrastination on a weekly—if not daily—basis. These same people are often eager to leave this particular behavior in the dust in order to prevent the inevitable consequences of procrastinating. To effectively improve behavior, it is essential to understand the roots of the behavior, and the motivations behind it—two things we will tackle below.

The Heart of Procrastination

The heart of procrastination is often considered laziness, but this offers an incomplete and inaccurate view of procrastination and the reasons it plagues people—people who are often eager to stop procrastinating and improve their quality of life. The heart of procrastination may differ sightly from person to person, but the heart of procrastination is often fear. This can be the fear of making a mistake, the fear of failure, or even the fear of encountering difficulty. Procrastination has a long history of supposition as a trait of lazy or unmotivated people, but this is not accurate, and does a disservice to everyone who experiences procrastination on a regular basis.

If laziness and a lack of motivation are not the primary sources of procrastination, then, what is the true heart of this behavior? There are 3 key reasons that are often at the root of these types of behaviors, no matter the underlying conditions or components that are at play.

3 Reasons Procrastination Exists

There are a virtually limitless number of reasons people turn to procrastination rather than carefully and systematically tackling a project or laying out a plan, but there are 3 reasons that tend to be common across most people to regularly engage in this type of behavior. These include:

  • Fear. Fear is the most significant feeling that leads to procrastination, because fear can prevent an individual from starting a project, or doing things in a timely manner. Fear may be a fear of failure, a fear of success, a fear of making a mistake, or a fear of moving a relationship in a specific direction.
  • Control. Procrastination offers a form of control over circumstances. It may seem counterintuitive, but procrastination offers a ready excuse should something go awry. If a project comes back with a low grade, for instance, a procrastinator might shrug it off and say, “I got started on it late. What do you expect?” Waiting until the last minute provides some degree of control over how you are perceived, because you always have an easy excuse at the ready should you do poorly at work, at school, or even in your relationships.
  • Whether from perfectionistic tendencies, persistent time management struggles, or fear and the need for control, people may procrastinate out of habit. If procrastination has been a common coping mechanism in the face of perfectionism, fear, a desire to maintain control, or feelings of inadequacy, it may be that a procrastination habit has developed, and it is no longer merely a coping mechanism, but a default that you revert to in the face of a trigger.

Tackling—And Overcoming—Your Procrastination

Now that you know the most common reasons for procrastination, it is time to learn how to overcome the behavior. To effectively begin overcoming procrastination, the following steps can be taken:

  • Take stock. If you find yourself regularly putting things off until the last possible minute, start by taking stock. Are there specific tasks that you put on the back burner? Is there a particular time frame that you are more likely to procrastinate within? Learning how to identify your patterns and triggers is the first step in developing an effective strategy for change.
  • Tackle one “to do”. To begin removing the habit of procrastination from your life, start as small as you can. If you usually procrastinate on work assignments, sit down the day you get an assignment and write a title, an outline, or even just a few notes on the project. If gifting is usually your kryptonite, so to speak, take a few moments to brainstorm gifts. By starting the thing you are procrastinating on, no matter how small, you are taking some of the stress and pressure off of the practice.
  • Consider help. From having an accountability buddy to seeking professional mental health intervention to reading as many articles as you can on procrastination and overcoming it, getting help can be one of the most important aspects of overcoming procrastination.
  • Create boundaries. While boundaries might be enjoying some time in the limelight regarding relationships, boundaries can also be made with yourself. You can set a boundary that you must complete at least one part of a project or assignment the day that it is due. You can set a boundary for yourself regarding going out with friends or family members when a big project is due.

Learning how to overcome procrastination is difficult, and often involves going against long-ingrained patterns. Nevertheless, tackling the emotional aspects of your ongoing procrastination habits and creating small practices throughout your days can help relieve procrastination habits and ease up on the consequences of those behaviors.

When Procrastination Masks Something Else

As we discussed above, procrastination can signal the presence of something else, from mental health needs to neurological disorders or delays. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can lead to procrastination, as can depression and anxiety. Personality disorder can also lead to procrastination behaviors, as personality disorders can impact an individual’s ability to exercise executive function and can impair decision making skills. In these cases, procrastination is unlikely to improve without first addressing the underlying issue. In someone with ADHD, for instance, this can mean seeking a health professional to discuss medication options and therapeutic intervention. For anxiety, it can mean a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and therapy. Procrastination is a common symptom in disorders and conditions, and often warrants a closer look.

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