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What is procrastination?


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What is procrastination?

Procrastination is

the action of delaying or postponing something.

If you ever found yourself putting off a task, for example working out, by choosing to do something else instead, be it simply watching TV or even doing something super productive like washing all the dishes, you’ve procrastinated.

Procrastination is not about being lazy, as you’re not lazy in the first place if you’ve decided to clean all the dishes instead of doing the task you keep avoiding, but it is about emotions. In specific, it’s about the negative emotions we associate with the task we should be doing.

Although these negative emotions are completely understandable, as I will explain in a minute, there are tasks we simply need to get done. Delaying them will often result in negative consequences such as bad grades or bad job performance, alongside increased anxiety, stress as well as self-blame and feelings of low self-esteem.

Why do we procrastinate?

Simply put, we procrastinate because doing the task we should be doing is not enjoyable. It could be that the task is boring or tedious, that it provokes us feelings of insecurity, anxiety or self-doubt, or that the prospect of no instant rewards leaves us unmotivated.

So what is happening exactly?

Fight or Flight

Whenever our mind is faced with negative and stressful emotions, such as being faced with having to do something we don’t want to do, we enter in a fight or flight situation and search for an immediate solution to get relief: in this case, by procrastinating and avoiding the task.

This behaviour is deeply wired into our brain and, over the course of our evolution, it actually helped us survive situations where we were faced with a threat. However, it’s not so handy when we’re trying to get things done.

Long-term Rewards

The other factor at play is that we’re wired to value instant rewards over long-term rewards.
For most of our evolution we lived in an environment which required short-term thinking. Everything we did had an instant effect on our lives, often battling with life or death, and thus we learned to value and prioritize short term rewards.

However, nowadays modern life often provides only long-term rewards, e.g. working and getting paid at the end of the month, learning a new language, saving up for retirement etc. Everything is set out to reward us at a later point in the future.

But, modern life is only a recent phenomena compared to the years over which our brain evolved, and there is still a mismatch between how our brain is wired (valuing instant rewards) and how the modern environment works (valuing long-term rewards).

Under this lense, it’s clear why working on long-term goals, which do not bring instant rewards, is difficult for us. It requires us to go over our natural instinct of seeking instant gratification and enduring the hard work or negative emotions for a gratification that will, maybe, come some time in the future.


Lastly, when we decide to procrastinate and delay a task, we overestimate both how much time we’ll have at our disposal and underestimate how much time it will take us to complete the task. We also miscalculate how motivated we will be in the future and wrongly assume that we need to be motivated to do the task. The reality is that such motivation might actually never come. Yet, the task at hand won’t get done by itself and delaying it will only build up more and more stress.

The Negative Impact of Procrastination

Procrastination is often dismissed as a harmless habit. But while continuously putting off tasks has an obvious and immediately visible impact on our productivity, procrastination can also have a significant impact on other areas of our lives, including our well-being or even our financial situation.

Increased Stress

Procrastination often leads to last-minute rushes to complete tasks, causing heightened stress levels and anxiety.

Decreased Quality of Work

Rushing to finish tasks due to procrastination can result in lower-quality outcomes, as there’s insufficient time for thorough planning and execution.

Missed Opportunities

Procrastination can lead to missed deadlines or opportunities, causing setbacks in career advancement or personal growth.

Strained Relationships

Constantly delaying commitments or promises can strain relationships with colleagues, friends, and family members, leading to feelings of disappointment and resentment.

Negative Impact on Health

Chronic procrastination has been linked to poor health habits such as lack of exercise, unhealthy eating, and inadequate sleep, which can contribute to long-term health issues.

Financial Consequences

Procrastination can lead to missed bill payments, late fees, or missed investment opportunities, resulting in financial stress and instability.

Impaired Decision Making

Putting off important decisions can result in missed opportunities or hasty choices made under pressure, leading to suboptimal outcomes.

Undermined Self-Esteem

Continuously procrastinating on tasks may erode self-confidence and self-esteem, as individuals may perceive themselves as incapable or unreliable.

The good news is that there are some tips and tricks on how you can overcome procrastination that can help you to get things done.

Avatar photo Written by Sabine Staggl

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