Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. For example, if someone postpones an assignment until right before its deadline, even though they intended to start much earlier, that person is procrastinating.
Procrastination is a common phenomenon, which chronically affects approximately 20% of adults and 50% of college students. It’s associated with a variety of issues, such as worse academic performance, worse employment and financial status, worse emotional wellbeing, worse mental health, worse physical health, and delay in getting treatment for one’s issues.
Because of this, it’s important to be able to tell if you’re a procrastinator, or if someone that you care about is, and if so then to what degree. The following article will help you with this, by showing you the common signs and symptoms of procrastination, as well as other relevant information that you should take into account when assessing someone’s procrastination.
The signs and symptoms of procrastination
The following are common signs and symptoms of procrastination, taken from two psychological questionnaires that are used to assess people’s procrastination (the Tuckman Procrastination Scale and the Screening version of the General Procrastination Scale). They are phrased as first-person statements, so the more characteristic these statements are of you, the more likely it is that you’re a procrastinator, and the more serious your procrastination likely is:
- I often find myself performing tasks that I had intended to do days before.
- I get stuck in neutral even though I know how important it is to get started.
- Even with jobs that require little else except sitting down and doing them, I find they seldom get done for days.
- I promise myself I’ll do something and then drag my feet instead of doing it.
- In preparing for some deadline, I often waste time by doing unnecessary things.
- I am continually saying “I’ll do it tomorrow”.
- I needlessly delay finishing jobs, even when they’re important.
- I postpone working on things I don’t like to do.
- When I have a deadline, I wait till the last minute before I get started.
- I delay before making tough decisions.
- I constantly put off improving my work habits.
- I always manage to find excuses for not doing things.
- When a task looks hard, I tend to delay before I get started on it.
- Even though I hate myself if I don’t get started, I find it hard to do so.
As these statements show, the key feature of procrastination, which can be used as an indication that someone is procrastinating, is the tendency to engage in unnecessary delay. In addition, common key features of procrastination, which can also be used to identify procrastination, include the following:
- The delay that the person engages in generally leads to negative consequences (e.g., missed deadlines and low-quality work) and/or psychological discomfort (e.g., anxiety and stress).
- The person who’s delaying generally knows that the delay is likely to lead to negative outcomes.
- The person who’s delaying often has an intention-action gap, in the sense that they delay doing things despite intending otherwise.
A person’s procrastination may involve various combinations of these features, depending on which type of procrastination they engage in. For example, an anxious procrastinator, who procrastinates due to irrational fears, might display all of these features in their procrastination, whereas a hedonistic procrastinator, who procrastinates due to the prioritization of enjoyable activities, might have no intention-action gap and experience no psychological discomfort.
Finally, when considering the signs and symptoms of procrastination, it’s also important to note that people can procrastinate on various types of things, such as school assignments, workplace projects, or even going to bed, and that some people only procrastinate when it comes to a specific task or a specific domain, whereas others procrastinate on a broader range of things.
When assessing someone’s procrastination, including yours, there are other factors that you should consider beyond just whether they procrastinate or not, which can help you better understand the nature of the procrastination in question and of its impact. These factors include the following:
- How often they procrastinate. For example, do they procrastinate multiple times per day or only a few times a week?
- How long they delay each time they procrastinate. For example, do they delay getting started for hours or for days?
- How long they have been displaying the tendency to procrastinate. For example, have they only started procrastinating recently, or have they been doing it for years?
- What domains they procrastinate in. For example, do they procrastinate only when it comes to school, or also when it comes to other areas of life?
- What types of tasks they procrastinate on. For example, do they procrastinate only on major tasks that require a lot of work, or also on small tasks that can be completed quickly?
- How important are the things that they procrastinate on. For example, do they procrastinate only on unimportant tasks, or even on important tasks?
- What outcomes their procrastination leads to. For example, does it can them to miss important deadlines and opportunities?
- How the procrastination makes them feel. For example, does it cause them to suffer from negative emotions, such as frustration and shame?
In addition, when assessing someone’s procrastination, it’s possible to draw a distinction between their procrastination as a behavior, trait, or psychological problem:
- Procrastination behaviour is a needless delay of a task, despite the initial intention to start or finish it.
- Trait procrastination is the long-term habitual tendency to delay tasks or decisions across a variety of tasks, despite the initial intention to perform them, which is very often irrational, accompanied by negative emotions, which may cause poor performance or personal dissatisfaction about the outcome.
- Procrastination as a psychological problem is procrastination behaviour or trait procrastination which is accompanied by negative emotions and cause poor performance or personal dissatisfaction about the outcome.
— From “Conceptualization and operationalization of delay: Development and validation of the multifaceted measure of academic procrastination and the delay questionnaire” (Haghbin, 2015)
Procrastination as a symptom
Procrastination can sometimes itself be a symptom of an underlying issue, such as ADHD or depression. However, this does not mean that if you procrastinate then you necessarily suffer from these conditions, and there are many nuances to such diagnoses—which should generally be performed by a professional—such as why you procrastinate and what other symptoms you’re displaying.
What to do about procrastination
If, after looking at the signs and symptoms of procrastination, you realize that you’re a procrastinator, then you should likely try to solve your procrastination, especially if you realize that it impacts you in a negative way.
To do this, you should generally start by figuring out why you procrastinate. Then, you should pick the anti-procrastination techniques that are likely to be the most effective in your particular situation, and implement them until you manage to substantially reduce your procrastination or to overcome it entirely.