Procrastinator: A Guide for People Who Procrastinate

Many people are procrastinators, whether they realize it or not. Procrastinators often struggle to overcome their procrastination, even when it causes them many issues, especially if they don’t understand what causes it in the first place and what exactly they need to do about it.

The following article can help with this, by explaining what it means to be a procrastinator, what causes people to be procrastinators, and how to stop being one.

 

What is a procrastinator

A procrastinator is someone who repeatedly and unnecessarily postpones decisions or actions. For example, if a person repeatedly delays working on assignments until right before their deadline for no reason, even though they know that it would be better for them to start earlier, that person is a procrastinator.

Procrastinators generally suffer from negative outcomes due to their procrastination, such as missed opportunities and increased stress. Furthermore, procrastinators often suffer from an intention-action gap, meaning that they’re unable to bring themselves to do things on time despite intending and wanting to do so, and despite being well aware of the issues that their procrastination causes. Accordingly, many procrastinators are stuck in chronic cycles of procrastination, which they keep trying to escape.

However, there are also differences between procrastinators, in terms of why they procrastinate, how they do so, and how exactly their behavior affects them. For example, one person might procrastinate because they feel anxious about a task, so they avoid thinking about it, which leads them to keep worrying for longer than was necessary. Alternatively, another person might procrastinate because they get distracted by digital temptations (e.g., social media), until they’re reminded of their original task by the pressure of an upcoming deadline.

 

Examples of procrastinators

An example of a procrastinator is a student who repeatedly postpones studying for tests until the night before they take place, despite wanting to start earlier and feeling bad about these delays.

Another example of a procrastinator is a person who has months to work on an important application, but waits until the day before the deadline to work on it, despite repeatedly promising themselves that they’ll get started on it soon.

In addition, the following are other examples of procrastinators:

  • Someone who frequently browses social media when they should be working, even though they’re frustrated with themselves for it and wish they could just get started.
  • Someone who stays up hours later than they intend each night, doing this such as watching videos, despite knowing that this makes them exhausted.
  • Someone who often does useful things, such as cleaning their room, when they should be doing more important things, such as finishing a school assignment.
  • Someone who keeps promising themselves that they’ll get started on a project (e.g., writing a book or building a business) “one day” or “sometimes soon”, but never makes any progress, and instead just fantasizes about their future success.
  • Someone who keeps making excuses to explain why they should wait before starting positive new habits (e.g., dieting, exercising, or saving money), even though they know it would be better for them to just start.
  • Someone who postpones dealing with unpleasant tasks (e.g., paying bills or going to the dentist), even though the issue becomes worse the longer they wait.
  • Someone who fails to ask someone else for something they want (e.g., a promotion, favor, or date) every time they have the opportunity to do so, even though they wish they could just ask and get it over with.
  • Someone who postpones choosing between two opportunities repeatedly, until this indecision means that both opportunities are no longer available.

Finally, note that many famous and important people throughout history were procrastinators, including, J. K. Rowling, Bill Clinton, Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Margaret Atwood, Douglas Adams, and Steve Jobs.

 

Dangers of being a procrastinator

Being a procrastinator can cause various issues, including missed opportunities, worse academic performanceworse employment and financial status, increased interpersonal conflicts, worse emotional wellbeing, worse mental health, and worse physical health. Furthermore, procrastinators are less likely to seek help for problems relating to their procrastination, and are more likely to delay when they decide to seek help.

 

How common are procrastinators

Around 15%–20% of adults are chronically affected by procrastination, and around 25% consider procrastination to be a defining personality trait for them.

Furthermore, procrastination is even more common in certain populations. For example, when it comes to college students, around 70% of students consider themselves to be procrastinators, around 50% say that they procrastinate in a consistent and problematic manner, and around 80%–95% say that they engage in procrastination to some degree.

 

Types of procrastinators

Procrastinators can be categorized based on many criteria, including why and how they procrastinate. Based on this, common types of procrastinators include the following:

  • Anxious procrastinators, who are so worried about things such as making mistakes or receiving negative feedback, that they avoid doing what they need to do. For example, an anxious procrastinator might repeatedly postpone bringing up an important issue at work, because they feel scared of speaking up in social situations. Such procrastinators can also be called neurotic procrastinators, if they are high in the neuroticism personality trait.
  • Perfectionistic procrastinators, who are so concerned about their work being imperfect (e.g., due to trivial flaws), that they delay things such as making their work public once it’s ready. For example, a perfectionist procrastinator might repeatedly revise a research paper, even when it’s ready to be sent out for review, because they worry that it might still have some negligible typos.
  • Overplanning procrastinators, who use unnecessary planning as a way to delay doing things, especially if they’re afraid of them. For example, an overplanning procrastinator might spend months researching a new hobby instead of just starting it, because they can’t stand the uncertainty that it’s associated with.
  • Overwhelmed procrastinators, who feel so overwhelmed by things they need to do, that they end up not doing them, especially if they’re unsure how to start. For example, an overwhelmed procrastinator might want to make a lot of positive changes to their life, but end up not doing anything because they don’t know which of many aspects of their life they should start with.
  • Pessimistic procrastinators, who are overly doubtful of their ability to do things, and therefore avoid them. For example, a pessimistic procrastinator might wrongly believe that they’re unlikely to be able to get a certain job that they want, and consequently repeatedly put off applying for it.
  • Depressed procrastinators, who suffer from depression, which makes them tired and unmotivated to take action. For example, a depressed procrastinator might be unable to bring themself to get out of bed or do anything for hours at a time, because they feel that there isn’t a point to any of it.
  • Introverted procrastinators, who delay due to a preference for being by themselves, especially when it comes to avoiding engaging with others. For example, an introverted procrastinator might postpone scheduling an important appointment, because they don’t want to engage in conversation.
  • Extroverted procrastinators, who delay due to the high value they have for engaging in social activities. For example, an extroverted procrastinator might postpone studying for a test, because they much rather go out with friends instead.
  • Hedonistic procrastinators, who delay due to prioritization of activities that are more enjoyable in the short term. For example, a hedonistic procrastinator might continuously put off starting to work on a project that they’re interested in, because it’s more fun to play video games instead.
  • Laid-back procrastinators, who are generally unconcerned with tasks, goals, or consequences for missing deadlines, and who are often reluctant to put in effort toward their goals. For example, a laid-back procrastinator might continuously put off starting to exercise, because it’s easier to just sit on the couch and watch TV instead.
  • Impulsive procrastinators, who delay because they can’t manage the impulse to engage in other alternatives, and especially more appealing temptations. For example, an impulsive procrastinator might decide to simply get up while working on an important paper, because they suddenly feel like watching TV instead. These procrastinators are often also easily distracted.
  • Thrill-seeking procrastinators, who delay getting started intentionally, because they enjoy the thrill of working under intense time pressure right before deadlines. For example, a thrill-seeking procrastinator might postpone writing a research paper until the end of the semester, at which point they’ll work hard to get it done on time.
  • Rebellious procrastinators, who delay a way to get revenge against an authority figure (e.g., a teacher who’s assigning them deadlines or a parent who’s setting high expectations for them). For example, a rebellious procrastinator might put off completing tasks that they were given by their boss, because they resent the way their boss treats them.
  • Optimistic procrastinators, who don’t worry about their tendency to postpone tasks, and who are confident in their ability to complete those tasks on time.
  • Full-of-excuses procrastinators, who always find excuses for why they should wait before doing what they should be doing. For example, a full-of-excuses procrastinator might manage to spend a whole semester without studying properly, while constantly justifying their behavior with excuses about other things that they have to do.
  • Last-minute procrastinators, who can’t bring themselves to get started on tasks until right before the deadline, no matter how hard they try, and will usually waste time doing unrelated activities, even if they don’t really enjoy those activities. For example, a last-minute procrastinator might repeatedly put off studying for an important exam until the night before they take it, at which point they’ll enter panic mode and finally manage to start studying.
  • Indecisive procrastinators, who struggle to make decisions in a timely manner. For example, an indecisive procrastinator might repeatedly postpone making an important decision by claiming that they need to wait until they have more information, even though they already know what they need to do.
  • Daydreaming procrastinators, who like to spend time fantasizing about things that they hope to accomplish, while procrastinating on working toward those things. For example, a daydreaming procrastinator might spend hours thinking about the interviews they’ll give once their book is successful, instead of actually working on their book when they should be.

Some of these types of procrastinators can be considered sub-types of others in some cases. For example, perfectionistic procrastinators can be considered a sub-type of anxious procrastinators, when the perfectionism is rooted in anxiety over being criticized.

In addition, a person can display the characteristics of more than one type of procrastinator. For example, a procrastinator might be both anxious and introverted, or they might be both hedonistic and impulsive.

Finally, there are other distinctions between different types of procrastinators, such as passive and active procrastinators, productive and unproductive procrastinators, and academic and workplace procrastinators. Furthermore, procrastinators can differ in terms of other factors, such as the stage of the task that they struggle with (e.g., the beginning or the end).

 

How to tell if you’re a procrastinator

To determine if you’re a procrastinator, the key question you should ask yourself is whether you often delay when you shouldn’t. If the answer is “yes”, then that means that you’re likely a procrastinator.

If you’re unsure, then you can also consider the following signs of being a procrastinator:

  • Waiting until the last minute before deadlines to get started.
  • Finding yourself performing tasks that you intended to do days before.
  • Continually saying “I’ll do it later” (or something similar, like “I’ll do it tomorrow”).
  • Getting stuck in neutral even though you know how important it is to get started.
  • Needlessly delaying finishing tasks, even if they’re important.
  • Postponing working on things you don’t like to do.
  • Promising yourself you’ll do something and then dragging your feet instead of doing it.
  • Delaying starting tasks that look unappealing (e.g., boring, frustrating, or hard).
  • Taking days to complete even jobs that require little else except sitting down and doing them.
  • Always having excuses for not doing things on time.
  • Constantly putting off improving your work habits.
  • Putting off making decisions.
  • Struggling to get started even if you hate yourself for it.

The more of these signs you display, and the more frequently and seriously you do so, the more likely it is that you’re a procrastinator, and the more severe your procrastination likely is.

In addition, when assessing the severity of your procrastination problem, you can also consider how exactly your procrastination impacts you, for example in terms of your performance on tasks and emotional wellbeing.

 

Why procrastinators procrastinate

Procrastinators procrastinate because their drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. This generally happens because their self-control and motivation are weakened by issues such as exhaustion and delayed outcomes, and are opposed by a preference for feeling better in the short term, as well as by emotional issues such as anxiety and fear.

Specifically, the drive to act represents how strongly driven procrastinators are to take action at the moment. It depends primarily on their self-control and motivation, which are influenced by various factors. For example, at any given moment, a procrastinator’s self-control can be influenced by how tired they are, while their motivation can be influenced by how long they will have to wait before being rewarded for taking action. Accordingly, issues such as exhaustion and delayed outcomes can interfere with self-control and motivation, and consequently reduce procrastinators’ drive to act, as can many other issues, such as depression, ADHD, and low self-efficacy.

Conversely, the drive to delay represents how strongly procrastinators feel pushed to avoid taking action at the moment. It depends primarily on the desire to feel better in the short term, by avoiding negative emotions (e.g., anxiety and fear that are associated with a certain task), and by increasing positive emotions (e.g., enjoyment from digital entertainment), a behavior described as “giving in to feel good”. This drive can involve various underlying issues, such as perfectionism, which are often also rooted in the desire to feel better in the short term from an emotional perspective.

Accordingly, although procrastination often leads to issues in managing time, it’s driven primarily by issues with regulating emotions. In addition, procrastination is strongly associated with the concept of akrasia, which is a state of mind where someone acts against their better judgment, due to a lack of sufficient self-control.

Based on this psychological framework, the following are the key reasons why procrastinators procrastinate:

  • Prioritization of short-term mood (i.e., preferring to feel better now even if this will lead to feeling worse later).
  • Task aversiveness (i.e., finding a task to be frustrating, boring, or unpleasant in another way).
  • Anxiety and fear (e.g., due to concerns of being criticized for your work).
  • Feeling overwhelmed (e.g., due to having so many things to do that it’s unclear where to start).
  • Perfectionism (e.g., due to refusing to publish work that has any flaws).
  • Disconnect from the future self (e.g., viewing the consequences of your delay as something that someone else will experience).
  • Delayed outcomes (e.g., due to discounting of rewards that will only be given in the far future).
  • Low motivation (e.g., due to low-value outcomes, low expectancy of achieving outcomes, or difficulty in associating tasks with their outcomes).
  • Expected effort (e.g., due to hard tasks).
  • Inertia (i.e., the tendency to keep procrastinating once you’ve started).
  • Abstract goals (i.e., ones that aren’t clear and well-defined).
  • Cognitive biases (e.g., a bias that makes you unreasonably pessimistic about your odds of success).
  • Time-management issues (e.g., failure to prioritize tasks).
  • Problematic traits (e.g., impulsivity and distractibility).
  • Underlying behaviors (e.g., self-handicapping, sensation seeking, or rebellion against an authority figure).
  • Underlying conditions (e.g., depression and ADHD).
  • Low energy (e.g., due to lack of sleep).
  • Low capacity for self-control (e.g., due to exhaustion).
  • Problematic environment (e.g., one that’s filled with distractions or has negative peer influence).

For more information about the causes of procrastination, see the guide on why people procrastinate.

Many of these issues are interrelated. For example, depression can cause lack of energy, lack of energy can exacerbate anxiety, and anxiety can increase task aversiveness, which can cause procrastination due to prioritization of short-term mood. Similarly, the effect of anxiety on procrastination can be influenced by various factors, such as people’s self-efficacy and mindfulness.

Furthermore, the relationship between these issues and procrastination is complex for other reasons. For example, while some types of perfectionism and fear generally increase procrastination, others generally decrease it (by increasing the motivation to act). Accordingly, the exact way in which these issues influence people’s behavior can vary across situations.

Finally, note that the issues that cause procrastination can lead to problematic cycles. For example, this can happen when someone is anxious about a task, so they procrastinate on it, which causes them to do badly, which makes them more anxious about similar tasks, which makes them likely to procrastinate again for the same reason in the future.

 

How to stop being a procrastinator

To stop being a procrastinator, you should do the following:

  1. Set specific and realistic goals. For example, if you want to start exercising, a good goal might be “manage to run for 1 mile straight by the end of the month”, while bad goals might be “do some running” (unspecific) and “run a marathon by the end of the month” (unrealistic).
  2. Assess your procrastination. First, identify situations where you delay unnecessarily, to figure out how you procrastinate (e.g., by browsing social media). Then, think about those situations to also figure out where and when you procrastinate (e.g., on starting or finishing tasks, in the morning or evening, at home or the library). Finally, figure out why you procrastinate (e.g., due to perfectionism, fear, or abstract goals), based on the information you saw in this guide.
  3. Create an action plan based on relevant anti-procrastination techniques, while accounting for the goals that you set and the nature of your procrastination problem.
  4. Implement your plan, and then monitor your progress and refine your approach, primarily by figuring out which techniques work for you and how you can implement them most effectively.

The following are key anti-procrastination techniques you can use as part of your plan:

  • Break tasks into manageable steps (e.g., sub-tasks you can easily complete).
  • Commit to a tiny first step (e.g., working for just 2 minutes).
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes (e.g., by accepting that your work will be imperfect).
  • Make it easier to do things (e.g., by preparing everything you need in advance).
  • Make tasks more enjoyable (e.g., by listening to music).
  • Make it harder to procrastinate (e.g., by eliminating potential distractions).
  • Delay before indulging the impulse to procrastinate (e.g., by counting to 10 first).
  • Set deadlines (e.g., by deciding that you’ll complete a certain task by tomorrow evening).
  • Plan how you will deal with obstacles (e.g., by deciding that if X happens, then you’ll do Y).
  • Identify and address your fears (e.g., by considering what advice you would give to a friend).
  • Increase your motivation (e.g., by marking streaks of days on which you achieve your goals).
  • Increase your energy (e.g., by taking necessary breaks).
  • Improve your environment (e.g., by adding reminders of your goals).
  • Use social techniques (e.g., emulating a role model).
  • Use time-management techniques (e.g., alternating consistently between work and rest).
  • Create starting rituals (e.g., counting down from five to zero).
  • Start with your best or worst task (e.g., your easiest or hardest one).
  • Develop self-efficacy (e.g., by reflecting on your successes).
  • Develop self-compassion (e.g., by reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes).
  • Treat underlying conditions (e.g., ADHD).

For more information about these techniques and how to use them effectively, see the guide on how to stop procrastinating.

You can use any combination of techniques that you want, but should start by focusing on a few that seem most relevant to your situation.

Note that you will likely benefit from writing things down, such as your goals and plan. This can have various benefits, such as helping you think more clearly and making your decisions feel more concrete.

In addition, remember that imperfect action is generally better than no action, so you’ll benefit more from trying to do just some of the above, than from getting stuck doing nothing at all. Furthermore, the longer you delay, the more likely you are to do nothing, so you should start right now, while understanding that you’ll probably get some things wrong at first, but that you’ll be able to improve your approach over time.

Accordingly, if you feel overwhelmed, start by just identifying the smallest possible step you can take to make progress toward your goals, and then try to start with just that tiny step, while giving yourself permission to make mistakes during the attempt. Potentially, you can also make it easier to get started, for example by preparing everything that you need for your work without yet trying to start the work itself, and also make it harder to procrastinate, for example by eliminating potential distractions from your environment.