Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. For example, if someone delays working on an assignment until right before its deadline for no reason, despite intending to work on it earlier, that person is procrastinating.
Procrastination is associated with a variety of dangers and negative effects, including worse academic performance, worse financial status, increased interpersonal relationship issues, reduced wellbeing, and worse mental and physical health.
Furthermore, many of these issues are connected with one another, which means that they tend to occur together, and that some of them can cause or exacerbate others. For example, procrastination can lead to mental health issues such as stress, which in turn can lead to issues such as reduced wellbeing, worse physical health, and worse academic and job performance.
Understanding the dangers of procrastination is important, because it can help you identify when and how procrastination is negatively affecting someone, including you, and because being aware of these issues can increase your and other people’s motivation to overcome procrastination. As such, in the following article you will learn more about the dangers of procrastination, which will allow you to identify and handle them as effectively as possible.
Dangers and negative effects of procrastination
For students, procrastination is associated with a wide range of academic issues, such as worse exam scores, worse grades, having to repeat assignments, increased course failures, increased course withdrawals, longer study duration, and an increased likelihood of dropping out (rather than graduating).
These issues are associated with the fact that procrastination tends to consume a lot of the students’ time, as students often report that procrastination occupies over a third of their daily activities, usually in the form of behaviors such as sleeping, watching TV, or playing video games.
Employment and financial issues
Procrastination is associated with various employment and financial issues, like earning a lower salary, having shorter durations of employment, having a higher likelihood of being unemployed or under-employed (as opposed to working full‐time), and engaging in problematic financial behaviors (e.g., postponing paying bills or saving for retirement).
For example, a large-scale study found that an increase of a single point on a 5‐point scale measuring the tendency to procrastinate is associated with approximately a $15,000 drop in salary. Furthermore, the study also found that when people are split into two groups based on how much they procrastinate, those who tend to procrastinate more comprise 57% of the unemployed.
Procrastination is also problematic from the employer’s perspective, as it can reduce productivity and performance among employees. For example, procrastination often means that employees spend large portions of their day wasting time, and that they often rush to complete tasks right before deadlines, which can lead to low-quality work. Furthermore, because procrastination can make people more frustrated and stressed out at work, it can also make them more interested in leaving their current employer for a different one. Finally, procrastination can cause other types of issues for employers, for example when decisional procrastination among people in leadership positions negatively impacts the innovation of their employees.
Procrastination can cause various social issues, like fighting with important people in your life, and making them have a worse perception of you. This is especially an issue when it comes to interpersonal relationships with people like:
- Coworkers, for instance if you repeatedly fail to take care of your part of shared assignments on time.
- Family and friends, for instance if you constantly show up late to events that you’re supposed to attend together.
- Romantic partners, for instance if you always postpone taking care of household chores.
These social issues can cause various negative consequences, like loneliness.
Procrastination can reduce people’s wellbeing and happiness, for example by causing them to experience various negative emotions, like guilt, shame, frustration, and sadness.
In one survey, for instance, 94% of people indicated that procrastination has a negative effect on their happiness, and 18% indicated that this effect is extremely negative. Similarly, when students were asked how they felt after procrastinating, over 80% of their responses were categorized as negative.
Worse mental and physical health
Procrastination is associated with a wide range of mental health issues, like stress, as well as physical health issues, like an increased rate of illness.
Furthermore, procrastination is also associated with issues in adjusting to and coping with health conditions. This can be due to various issues, like poor lifestyle habits (e.g., in terms of nutrition and self-care), and poor adherence to necessary monitoring and treatment.
In addition, specific types of procrastination are associated with specific types of health issues. For example, bedtime procrastination, which involves unnecessarily delaying going to bed, is associated with issues like lack of sleep and increased fatigue.
Finally, procrastination is also associated with various disorders, like depression and insomnia, but it’s unclear whether these associations are correlational or causational, and if they are causational, then in what direction, meaning that it’s unclear whether procrastination leads to these issues directly.
Delay in getting help
Not only does procrastination lead to various issues, but it’s also associated with an increased tendency to delay getting help for those issues, for example when it comes to seeking treatment for problems with mental and physical health.
Furthermore, procrastinators may delay or avoid other behaviors that can help them deal with their issues, as in the case of not exercising even though doing so could help them feel better both mentally and physically.
Increased future procrastination
Procrastination can increase the likelihood of future procrastination, which can bring people into vicious self-perpetuating procrastination cycles. For example, bedtime procrastination often leads to lack of sleep, which can lead to reduced capacity for self-regulation, and consequently to increased procrastination, which can lead to further lack of sleep, and so on. Similarly, when someone repeatedly procrastinates on a certain task due to anxiety, this can make them more anxious about dealing with it, which can increase the likelihood that they’ll procrastinate on the task again in the future, as well as on related tasks.
In addition to the main dangers outlined above, procrastination can also lead to various other types of issues.
For example, procrastination can cause people to miss out on important opportunities, like the opportunity to apply for a prestigious scholarship, or the opportunity to ask out a potential romantic partner.
Similarly, procrastination can delay people’s personal growth, for instance when it causes them to postpone learning valuable skills that they’re interested in, such as programming, or when it causes them to postpone developing useful habits that they’re interested in, such as reading.
Finally, procrastination is also associated with a wide range of other issues that can occur as a result of unnecessary delay, such as increased clutter and increased regret.
The dangers of procrastination are connected
The dangers of procrastination are often interrelated in various ways, especially when one issue that’s caused by procrastination can itself cause additional issues. For example, this is the case when procrastination causes someone to struggle at school, and their poor performance causes them to feel stressed, and consequently to also feel worse physically. Likewise, this is the case when procrastination causes someone to perform poorly at work, which causes them to suffer from anxiety and shame, which in turn cause them to isolate themselves socially, and makes them struggle to fall asleep.
Procrastination is a common problem
In addition to being associated with a wide range of dangers and negative effects, procrastination is also a highly prevalent phenomenon, as it chronically affects around 20% of adults.
Furthermore, many more people than that engage in various forms of procrastination in general. For example, in a study on an adult sample, 74% of people who were surveyed indicated that they go to bed later than they planned to at least once a week, with no external reason for doing so.
In addition, procrastination is especially common among certain populations. Notably, around 50% of college students procrastinate in a consistent and problematic manner, around 75% consider themselves to be procrastinators, and around 80%–95% engage in procrastination to some degree.
How to avoid the negative effects of procrastination
To avoid the negative effects of procrastination, you should use appropriate anti-procrastination techniques, such as breaking large tasks into manageable pieces, which will reduce your procrastination, and consequently also the negative effects that you experience as a result of it.
To figure out which anti-procrastination techniques you should use, start by reading the guide about why people procrastinate, to identify the causes of your own procrastination, and then read the guide on how to stop procrastinating, to select the anti-procrastination techniques that will be most appropriate in your particular situation.