The Psychology of Procrastination

The deadline is approaching...What are you doing? Preparing? Making sure everything is perfect? Planning the details? Busy work? Doing nothing?

women working fighting procrastination

The drive to delay

Simply the drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. Generally this is because their self-control and motivation are weakened with life-interruptions. Some of those issues are feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, the struggle with anxiety, fear, and even unworthiness.

The drive to act.

How strongly you are driven to take action in the moment will determine how much or how little you will procrastinate. How committed are you getting things done. In part, it depends on their self-control, inspiration, and motivation. Of course, the above is influenced by factors occurring in the moment.

Tell me if this is you...there is deadline looming, and you have an important task due. Instead of staying focused and getting done, you find yourself organizing your drawer. Perhaps cleaning isn't your think, maybe social media is your choice?

Or maybe, you have something now that you are supposed to be working but instead you are reading this article? 🙂

Either way, continue reading and let's look at what exactly what procrastination is and what you can do to manage your productivity.

Strengthening the Drive to Act

Let me start by declaring I used to be the "Queen of Procrastination." I use to regularly win awards for coming through, in self-imposed, clinches! It was true that my drive to delay was ridiculously stronger than my drive to act. It has been a journey. Sometimes I have to talk to myself to go ahead and get things done. If procrastination gets in your way, let me help you understand why - the real reasons. Let's do a deep dive so we can identify the behaviors that lead to procrastination in order to change perceptions, expectations, habits, and actions. Let's do it.

Andrea Callahan, author, speaker, trainer, small business owner and sister.





Getting to the heart of the matter

What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination, by definition, is purposely or delaying a particular task, despite being aware of the consequences.

What procrastination is not

Procrastination is often associated with laziness, but please be kind to yourself. Don't be so quick to describe yourself as unwilling to work. Putting things off is not about your refusal to do them, at least not on a conscious level. Procrastination is a deeper and more meaningful than laziness. You may just need to redirect your energy.

What's really going on?

Let's talk about it...are you procrastinating because you really don't want to complete the task? Ok, that answer may be yes. So, allow me to ask the real question? Why don't you want to do it? At the root of the issue, is your procrastination due to lack of motivation or poor time management? Do you have negative feelings toward the task? If so, describe them.

Now, let's go a bit deeper. Ask yourself why the thought of dealing with the task evokes negative emotions.

So, the report due may be boring to complete but you know that it must done for whatever reason. If it's part of your responsibility or it's just been dumped on you, either way think about if your hesitancy if a personal reason. What I mean is sometimes, people suppress thoughts like, "What if I can't do it?" to avoid the talk altogether. Often, people wait for the "right time" to complete tasks so they can do it the "right way." The latter makes some procrastinator feel better because they don't take responsibility for the non-action. I mean, if it's not a good time, what can you do about it, right?

Whichever reason you tell yourself, it is usually true that the stress caused by the 'future" due time makes things worse. You may get it off of your mind for a short time, but your brain will remember the task is looming. As the deadline approaches, you may experience feelings of panic.

So, what can you do?

I'm sure you know at this but it's worth saying it...just telling yourself to stop procrastinating won't help you, at least not for long. Sometimes, I say to myself, "OK Callahan, let's get started and get this done!" I made up my mind and made the decision that I am NOT going to wait until the last minute to get things done. Although, when I do that I generally pull things through. Things often work out. this is a part of the problem. I understand if I start earlier I could alleviate the stress of worrying about it.  Finally, I spent some time trying to understand why I procrastinate when I know that it's bad for me. I understood that it would be difficult for me to overcome procrastination unless I truly understand what causes it in the first place. After reading articles, watching Ted Talks, and reviewing research, I have come to some self-awareness. I learned that perfectionism was - and sometimes still - my barrier.

Perfectionism is not a mental illness, however, it is not a healthy mindset. It is not a healthy motivator. As a perfectionist, I had an excessive high personal standard. I was overly critical and I was not kind to myself as I set unrealistic "all-or-nothing" goals. Perhaps, it's related to my previous addiction to people pleasing and fear of failure. Although perfectionism was the main culprit, there were other contributing factors, dependent upon the situation. You'll see the list below and understand there may be varying reasons at play at any given moment contributing to your decision to procrastinate. So, not that I've taken my band-aid off let's discuss the main causes for procrastination.


Adults chronically affected by procrastination


Adults consider procrastination as a defining personality trait

14-29 yrs

Young people are more likely to procrastinate until maturity

Reasons for Procrastinating

As written from research by Dr. Itamar Shatz, University of Cambridge

Prioritization of short-term mood

Preferring to feel better now even if it will lead to feeling worse later

Task aversiveness

Finding a task to be frustrating, boring, or unpleasant in another way

Anxiety and fear

Due to concerns of being criticized of your work

Feeling overwhelmed

Due to having so many things to do that it's unclear where to start


Due to refusing to publish work that has any flaws

Disconnect from the future self

Viewing the consequences of your delay as something someone else will experience

Delayed outcomes

Due to discounting of rewards that will only be given in the far future

Low motivation

Due to low-value outcomes

Expected effort

Due to hard tasks


The tendency to keep procrastinating once you've started

Let's Process

Let's take a breather to process the first ten. Take a moment to reflect before continuing. Grab your journal and jot down your thoughts to see if you find a pattern.. Continue on to the next ten when you're ready.

Abstract goals

Goals that aren't clear and well-defined

Cognitive biases

Bias that makes you unreasonable pessimistic about your odds of success

Time-management issues

Failure to prioritize tasks

Problematic traits

Being impulsive

Underlying behaviors

Rebellion against authority figure

Underlying conditions

Mental health concerns like depression

Low energy

Due to lack of sleep

Low capacity for self-control

Due to exhuastion

Problematic environment

One that's filled with distractions


Refusing to believe that you have an issue

Next Steps: Let's Get to Work

How to Stop Procrastinating

After taking a look at the above common causes for procrastination you can probably see why just telling yourself to stop procrastinating is not enough. It is my hope the above list will help you get to the core problem. If procrastination causes you severe life interruptions you may want to seek professional help. If you think that you can manage it on your own, we can work on it together. Overcoming procrastination is a journey, one that you don't have to take alone.

Begin the journey to getting things done by expanding your awareness. Pay attention to your habits. When you find yourself procrastinating, try to stop for a moment to reflect on your feeling and why you're putting things off.  In most cases, the deeper you dig, the more likely you may be willing to tackle the reason(s) why. While you're trying to understand what motivates you to procrastinate remember to be kind to yourself. Give yourself understanding and patience as you work through recognizing your mistakes. The goal is to make a shift in your mindset so you can do better, not to punish yourself.

8 Things You Can Do Today to Get Things Done

Self-Care: Clarify your priorities. Put yourself, and your peace of mind at the top of the list. You are worthy of mental and emotional health. You deserve to joy.
Set specific goals: "I am going to eat better." (unspecific) "I am going to stop eating all processed foods today." (unrealistic)
Assess your procrastination: Identify what you're doing instead. How are you procrastinating? When and why?
Create an action plan: break down tasks into small chunks, doing what matters first. Smaller tasks with shorter work times
Remove distractions: Put phone on "Focus." Turn off the TV, Close your door, close the blinds to signal to others you're on Do Not Disturb time.
Implement your plan with care: Track your progress and redirect your mind when necessary. Be patient with yourself. Explore various techniques to find which one work best. 
Practice mindfulness: Have a gentle awareness of the present moment. Stay connected with what's happening right now, in the moment. Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and anything you're experiencing in your body. When you get distracted, use mindfulness to bring you back and keep you connected to the present moment.. 
Meditate: Become aware of triggers, notice that you're procrastinating, name the why, and deal with it right now.

There has been a tremendous amount of research done on procrastination. If you are interested in doing a deeper dive into procrastination research, click here for a list of articles and studies about procrastination curated by Dr. Itamar Shatz, founder of Solving Procrastination. There you will find a list of accessible articles about procrastination from this website, which summarize and synthesize existing procrastination research.

Mindfulness can decrease procrastination by lowering the anxiety associated with completing a daunting task,” Gautam said. “By being aware of our anxiety and understanding its effect on triggering unwanted procrastination, one can limit one's habitual and automatic tendency to procrastinate."  If you would like to explore or learn more about mindfulness, I have a complimentary gift for you. Please see below offer for a free copy of the "Mindfulness Meditations for Beginners" book.

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At the core, life is but a string of experiences, failures, and achievements. Lessons come with everything you do, we can't control that. However, it's an option for you to use failures and achievements as opportunities to be mindful, seek awareness and grow...and do so from a place of patience and self-love. Be kind to yourself. You are worthy. ~AC

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