Why You Procrastinate on Social Media and How to Stop

Social-media procrastination occurs when someone unnecessarily postpones something they should be doing, by engaging with social media instead. For example, if a student spends time on Facebook when they should be writing a school paper, then they’re engaging in social-media procrastination.

Social-media procrastination is prevalent and problematic, so it’s important to understand it. As such, in the following article you will learn more about this phenomenon, and see what you can do about it in practice.


Examples of social-media procrastination

People can procrastinate on social media in various ways. For example, this can involve:

  • Checking phone notifications from a social-media app (e.g., Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok).
  • Continually scrolling through a social-media platform (e.g., Twitter or Pinterest) in search of new content.
  • Repeatedly refreshing a social-media website (e.g., Reddit, Youtube, or some forum), waiting for updates on something.

Different people procrastinate on social media using different combinations of activities, and can engage with different types of content while doing so. For example, some people engage with diverse types of content, such as posts, photos, and memes, produced by diverse people, such as themselves, their friends, and members of their community, in various ways, such as uploading, viewing, and commenting on content. Conversely, some people engage mainly with one type of content in one way, for instance by primarily watching videos produced by specific content creators.

In addition, different people procrastinate using different combinations of social media platforms. For example, some people procrastinate using three different platforms in roughly equal proportions, while others procrastinate using only one platform. In some cases, the platform that people procrastinate on is reflected in the name of their behavior, as in the case of procrastinating on Facebook, which is sometimes referred to as Facebocrastination; this reflects the potential differences between different social media platforms, which can lead to different causes and patterns of procrastination.

Certain platforms that people procrastinate on aren’t necessarily seen as social media, but nevertheless involve many key aspects of social media. For example, multiplayer video games are often viewed primarily as gaming platforms, but they involve many activities that characterize social media, such as connecting, interacting, and communicating with people via an online social network.

Finally, note that social-media procrastination is a type of online procrastination (and more specifically, internet procrastination), since it involves the use of digital devices and the internet. This type of procrastination is contrasted with offline procrastination, which involves procrastinating through non-digital activities, though these two types of procrastination can involve similar procrastinatory behaviors, such as talking to other people.

Furthermore, social-media procrastination can be categorized based on other factors, such as the task that people are procrastinating on. For example, if someone is using social media to postpone a homework assignment, then that can also be considered academic procrastination, whereas if they use social media to postpone going to bed, then that can also be considered bedtime procrastination.


Dangers of social-media procrastination

Procrastinating on social media can lead to various issues, including worse academic performance, worse financial status, worse emotional wellbeing, worse mental health, worse physical health, and delay in getting treatment for one’s issues.

The specific issues that procrastination causes depend on factors such as when and how people procrastinate. For example, if someone procrastinates on social-media to delay working on academic assignments, then that can cause them to fail an exam, whereas if they procrastinate on workplace assignments, then that can cause them to get fired. Nevertheless, in both cases, the procrastinator may also suffer from issues such as lack of sleep and increased stress.

In addition, increased time that people spend on social media can sometimes also cause or exacerbate various issues, such as emotional exhaustion and low self-esteem. These issues are particularly prevalent among people who are vulnerable to the potential dangers of social media, for example because they suffer from depression or are prone to social comparisons. Furthermore, these issues are prevalent among those who use social media in problematic ways, for example by presenting themselves in a disingenuous manner, or by primarily consuming information in a passive way.

However, it’s important to note that social media also has various potential benefits, such as helping people form and strengthen connections with others in their social network, and helping people learn valuable new information. As such, while you should be aware of the dangers of procrastinating on social media, you should also keep in mind that social media isn’t inherently bad, and that it can even be beneficial, depending on factors such as who’s using it and how they do so.


Causes of social-media procrastination

Broadly, there are two main reasons why people procrastinate on social media:

  • Something pushes them to procrastinate, and they do it on social media. For example, this can happen when someone wants to avoid dealing with a task that’s unpleasant, boring, or frustrating, so they turn to social media instead. Similarly, this can happen when someone wants to improve their mood or escape reality, so they turn to social media when they should be doing something else (e.g., getting ready for bed).
  • Social media pushes them to procrastinate. For example, this can happen when a student keeps getting distracted by constant phone notifications, so they delay studying for a test. Similarly, this can happen when someone gets caught up in posting on social media, so they forget to do the work that they should be doing.

There are several aspects of social media that can increase the likelihood that people will engage with it when they procrastinate, as well as the likelihood that people will procrastinate when they engage with it:

  • Social media is common. For example, many people spend time on social media almost every day, especially in certain populations (e.g., teenagers).
  • People are often in close proximity to social media. For example, this is the case if someone’s job involves browsing the internet, so they constantly see things pertaining to social media.
  • Social media is often immediately accessible. For example, if someone has their favorite social-media app installed on their phone, that generally means they can access it immediately and without effort.
  • Social media is often appealing, especially from a cognitive perspective. This is because social media is often less demanding and more entertaining than the things people should actually be doing.
  • Social media is often designed to draw attention and increase engagement. For example, many apps use notifications, updates, and messages that are optimized to get people to engage with them, even when this is to people’s detriment.

These issues can cause people to form problematic social-media habits (e.g., checking the same app dozens of times an hour), and to even become addicted to social media. This is particularly likely to occur once people establish a strong association between some prevalent cue (e.g., feeling bored or opening their phone) and engaging with social media, so encountering the cue throughout the day repeatedly acts as a trigger for them to go on social media. Furthermore, this means that people sometimes continue procrastinating on social media even though they don’t really enjoy it, and even though they would prefer to do whatever they’re procrastinating on.

These issues can also lead people can form problematic procrastination cycles. For example, this can happen when a person procrastinates on a task by going on social media, which makes them feel bad about the task, which causes them to keep procrastinating to avoid dealing with the negative emotions that are associated with it, and so on.

In addition, these issues mean that even though procrastinating on social media can involve some short-term gratification, it often feels like a guilty pleasure, in the sense that people enjoy it but feel bad about it at the same time. Furthermore, the negative emotions that are often associated with procrastinating, such as guilt and shame, can be stronger in the long term than any positive emotions that procrastinating leads to.

Finally, other issues can also drive people to engage in social-media procrastination. These include, for example, the fear of missing out, which can prompt them to obsessively check a website for updates, as well as issues such as ADHD, depression, and abstract goals.

In summary, people procrastinate on social media because they’re driven to procrastinate and something causes them to do it on social media, or because social media itself causes them to procrastinate. There are various aspects of social media that can make people predisposed to procrastinate on it, including that it’s generally common in people’s environment, immediately accessible, and designed to draw attention. In addition, various other issues can drive people to procrastinate on social media, including problematic habits, the fear of missing out, and depression.


Solutions to social-media procrastination

To stop procrastinating on social media, you should first figure out when and how you do so, and what’s causing you to do it. Once you understand the nature of your procrastination problem, you can identify and use the most relevant anti-procrastination techniques, such as the following:

  • Limit your access to social media. For example, if you need to get work done, you can do things such as block your access to social-media apps and websites using dedicated tools, turn off the internet access on your computer, leave your phone in a different room than the one you’re working in, or go somewhere where you can’t access social media (e.g., the library).
  • Make it harder to go on social media. For example, you can log out of your favorite social-media app after each time you use it, and make logging back in as effortful as possible (e.g., by enabling two-factor authentication and not saving your password).
  • Minimize the cues that trigger your social-media use. For example, you can put your phone on mute so you won’t hear new social-media notifications, or disable those notifications entirely. Similarly, you can put the icons to your favorite social-media apps in a folder away from your home screen, so you won’t see them each time you open your phone.
  • Add a time delay before you procrastinate. If you can’t avoid procrastinating entirely, commit to having a time delay before you indulge your impulse to do so. For example, this can involve counting to 10 before you’re allowed to open a new tab on the social-media website that you usually use to procrastinate.

In addition, you can also use other anti-procrastination techniques, which can help with procrastination in general, and which might therefore also help with social-media procrastination:

  • Set concrete goals. For example, instead of a vague goal, such as “work on the project”, set a concrete goal, such as “work on the project today between 7–8 and finish the outline”.
  • Break your work into small and manageable steps. For example, if you have a large project that feels overwhelming, such as writing a research paper, you can break it down into a series of small steps, such as creating an outline, finding relevant resources, and writing the introduction.
  • Start with a tiny step. For example, commit to writing only a single sentence or exercising for only 2 minutes, while giving yourself permission to stop after taking that tiny first step, to reduce the pressure associated with getting started.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes. For example, if you’re writing a paper, accept that your work won’t be perfect, especially when it comes to the first draft.
  • Switch between tasks. For example, if you’re stuck on a task and can’t make progress, switch to a different task until you’re ready to go back to the first one.
  • Prepare for future contingencies. For example, figure out which distractions might tempt you to procrastinate, and plan how you will deal with them.
  • Schedule your work according to your productivity cycles. For example, if you find it easier to concentrate on creative tasks in the morning, then you should schedule such tasks for that time period as much as possible.
  • Improve your work environment. For example, if your current work environment has a lot of irritating background noise, get noise-canceling headphones or go somewhere quieter.
  • Improve your social-support network. For example, you can find a role model to imitate or an authority figure to hold you accountable, or you can associate with people who motivate you to make progress while minimizing your contact with people who make you feel stressed. Note that if you’re trying to avoid spending too much time online and on social media, then it can be particularly beneficial to focus on building a social-support network that’s available offline.
  • Get enough rest. For example, if you need to work hard on tasks that require deep concentration, make sure to take enough breaks that you don’t get burnt out. To encourage yourself to do this, you can remind yourself that even if getting rest might reduce your productivity in the short term, it will generally be much better for you in the long term, in terms of both your productivity and wellbeing.
  • Figure out what you’re afraid of, and address your fears. For example, if you realize that you’re worried about getting negative feedback from someone who isn’t really important, you can tell yourself that their feedback doesn’t matter.
  • Deal with underlying issues. If your procrastination is the result of a serious underlying issue, such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD, deal with that issue, using professional help if necessary. This will help you both with procrastination, as well as with the underlying issue itself.
  • Develop self-efficacy. Specifically, this is your belief in your ability to perform the actions needed to achieve your goals. You can develop it in various ways, such as identifying the strategies that you can use to achieve your goals, and then thinking about how you can execute those strategies successfully.
  • Forgive yourself for past procrastination. For example, if you need to get started on a task that you’ve been postponing for a long time, you can say “I shouldn’t have postponed this task in the first place, but that’s in the past, and what’s important now is to move on and just get this done”.
  • Develop self-compassion. Specifically, you should develop the three components of self-compassionself-kindness, which involves being nice to yourself, common humanity, which involves recognizing that everyone experiences challenges, and mindfulness, which involves accepting your emotions in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Acknowledge and reward your progress. For example, you can treat yourself to some pleasant treat once you’ve managed to achieve your study goals for a week in a row.

When figuring out which anti-procrastination techniques to use and how to use them, you might benefit from considering what advice you would give to a friend if they were in your situation, since doing so can often help see things more clearly than when considering directly what’s best for yourself.

In addition, you might benefit from writing down things such as your goals, tasks, or plan of action. Doing this can help you think through the situation more clearly, remember your reasoning, and make everything that you decide feel more concrete, all of which can be beneficial in reducing procrastination.

Finally, note that you can use a similar approach to help someone else deal with their procrastination. For example, if you’re a parent looking to help your child, you can sit with them to figure out what’s causing them to procrastinate, and then help them pick and implement relevant anti-procrastination techniques.

In summary, to avoid procrastinating on social media, you should first figure out when, how, and why you do so. Then, you should identify and use relevant anti-procrastination techniques, such as limiting your access to social media, minimizing the cues that prompt you to go on social media, breaking your work into manageable steps, and setting concrete goals.