Procrastination: what it is in simple words and how to deal with it

Procrastination is the tendency of a person to put off matters of any importance for an unspecified time. The concept of procrastination comes from the English “Procrastination”, which translates as “postponing”. A person who is characterized by procrastination shirks from solving problems, avoids fulfilling obligations that he previously assumed and should have fulfilled at the appointed time.

If procrastination does not significantly affect the quality of a person’s activity, then it is considered normal. If a person does not manage to do anything by the deadline, then procrastination is his problem. When a person puts off important things, it often turns out that the deadline for completing them has passed. Then he abandons what was planned or tries to do everything that he put off in one jerk, using unrealistically little time for this, as a result of which things are not carried out or are completed, but very poorly, incompletely and late.

This often leads to a negative attitude towards such an irresponsible person. If an employee often procrastinates at his workplace, then he has troubles at work, problems with management, and colleagues.

The tendency to procrastinate increases worry and anxiety and then the person worries that he will not be able to cope with the task and will not be able to complete it on time. According to statistics, approximately twenty percent suffer from procrastination. Although, if you think about it, almost every person is sometimes prone to procrastination. However, only for this percentage procrastination is a habitual working state. A person, instead of directly performing duties, is distracted by a variety of little things, which significantly reduce the time available to perform duties. For example, a person works at a computer and must perform the necessary operations, however, he accesses the Internet from this computer because he has access to it, and no longer watches how an hour or two flies by, and the work is not done.

What is procrastination

Scientists have put forward many scientific guesses regarding the causes of this condition. The meaning of the term in psychology is postponing things “for later.” The word comes from the English “procrastination” - “delaying”, “delaying”. A person understands that work awaits him, but does not pay attention to it and switches to unnecessary activities. Everyone has procrastination syndrome.

The term should not be confused with laziness. Procrastination is the tendency to replace one task with another, secondary one. Laziness is scientifically called apathy, reluctance to work.

The procrastinator is having fun and does not notice until the last moment that time is running out and the task is not completed. Having found the strength to finish the job, he copes with the responsibility, but does not receive satisfaction.

Self-sabotage is an action directed against oneself. It appears when a person sets a big goal that can change his life. Exists along with one's own dissatisfaction. To get rid of the syndrome, you should start taking action.

Five stages of development

Not wanting to do work on time is a bad habit that needs to be broken. A common reason is fear of failure. A person is afraid to start work.

Success brings joy, failure causes anxiety. If achieving a goal is the only criterion for assessing a person, a person is afraid of doing the job unsuccessfully and does not allow himself to make mistakes.

There are 5 levels of fear of failure to complete work.


The first is enthusiasm. A person assigns to a goal the ability to determine dignity and happiness. He thinks that by completing a task (passing a project at work, an exam), he will change his life and become happy. Psychologists assure that fear of failure comes from the assumption that a completed duty is a reflection of one’s abilities. A person uses procrastination as a defense against the evaluation of others.

Decreased enthusiasm

A person uses the second level to convince himself that the goal set is important; a mistake or failure to fulfill it will lead to tragedy. Such a mood will not help to cope with failure - work is postponed “for later”, for a special time when nothing will interfere.

Losing motivation

The individual experiences fear and anxiety. The work seems dangerous and impossible. He is sure that a mistake will lead to the loss of his position and reproaches from his boss and colleagues.


A person uses procrastination to postpone the problem he created. The due date is approaching, there is no time - anxiety is intensifying. Anxiety is replaced by hopelessness. Having reached a critical point, the person realizes that it is necessary to start working.


A deadline is a danger that a perfectionist uses as motivation. This is a complicated method, but it will work. A person doesn't care what people think of him. The main thing for him is to overcome fear. This is easy to do: there is nothing to lose.

The appearance of the phenomenon

Procrastination is often called the plague of the 20th century. But in fact, people were exposed to it many centuries ago. The earliest mention of “postponing important matters until tomorrow” is the sacred texts of Indian society, the Bhagavad Gita, created before our era, as well as quotes from the poems of the famous ancient Greek poet Hesiod. However, at that time the concept was not identified as a separate psychological category.

When did the term “procrastination” appear? This happened only in 1977: in specialized foreign literature, the phenomenon was first described and defined. And already in 1992, they began to study it in detail thanks to the English scientist Noah Milgram, who drew the attention of his colleagues to the problem. As the most striking example, he described the process of students writing coursework and dissertations: the completion of the task begins at an extremely deadline, when it is no longer possible to postpone it at all or there is a clear threat of never finishing it.

Types of procrastination (according to N. Milgram)

Experts interpret deviation in different ways. Psychologist N. Milgram and co-authors identify 5 types of procrastination - everyday, decision-making, neurotic, compulsive, academic. The study of the problem developed and the classification was narrowed down to two types - completing tasks and making decisions. They often interact.

Procrastination is detected in two states. The first is relaxation: the person is cheerful, doing what he loves. Sometimes he realizes that serious work awaits him.

The second is tension. The person is overwhelmed with things to do and doesn’t know where to start.


Everyday procrastination manifests itself in putting things off from day to day. The thought flashes through your head that the task requires completion, but it can be postponed until tomorrow. Applies to everyday tasks performed by a person - washing dishes, cleaning, laundry.

Procrastination in decision making

Fear of making a decision prevents you from fully existing and revealing your potential. A person is afraid to do this and abdicates responsibility. It suppresses spiritual enthusiasm, goals seem impossible. This condition appears due to the fear of drastic changes.


Feeling afraid of changes in life. A person does not control his own state: the heartbeat quickens, involuntary trembling appears - the person gets scared and is unable to act.


It combines procrastination and fear of making an important decision.


As for pupils and students, preparation for the session is postponed until the last moment.

Scientific background

Cognitive functions of the brain, such as control of motives, concentration, judgment, and executive activity, are responsible for achieving goals. The latter drives creativity and efficiency to a greater extent than intelligence. It determines how we will achieve our goals. The most important stage in the execution process is the initiation of activity. This is where it goes wrong.

This is explained by the functioning of two parts of the brain: the limbic system, which is responsible for sensations, emotions, instincts, and the frontal cortex, our rational part.

The essence of the scientific theory is that when a person is faced with the need to make a decision, his behavior is primarily influenced by the limbic system, which is aimed at obtaining immediate pleasure and is not focused on the future.

The frontal region comes into activity much later. A person procrastinates until, thanks to this area of ​​the brain, he realizes that it is not necessary to survive, but only to complete difficult or unpleasant work.

Psychologists agree that the only property of the nervous system that makes it possible to overcome this contradiction is neuroplasticity, that is, the ability of the brain to change. This means that with the right, focused practice, we can develop and improve our capabilities.

Signs of a procrastinating person

To better understand the concept, it is worth studying the signs. They appear like this:

  • a person constantly wants to be distracted - he sits down at his workplace, turns on the computer and, instead of working, goes online to read the news, drinks coffee;
  • the personality is justified - the task took a long time to solve not because of its complexity, but because of distractions;
  • lack of a punctual approach to business - missing deadlines, being late;
  • failure to complete a task;
  • family problems.

Laziness is not a symptom of procrastination. A person does not sit idle; he finds activities that do not bring results. A procrastinating person is not lazy; he realizes that there are important things to do, but they can be put off for a specific reason. Having realized the mistake, he regrets and suffers.

The process looks like this:

  • a person feels the need to complete an important task;
  • gradually calms himself down;
  • looks for a reason to postpone class;
  • finds her and abandons the action;
  • looks for a reason for self-justification;
  • falls into self-criticism.

The process is cyclical. After a certain period of time, the person puts off work again, finding a new reason.

The World Health Organization collected statistics - 96% of the population experienced procrastination. For 56%, the disease has become a daily problem.

What kind of people tend to procrastinate?

Most people are prone to procrastination, but some professions are more susceptible to this danger than others. Let's figure out which ones.

  • Freelancers. These are the most procrastinating people of all. They do not have a clear schedule: work from home and many distractions. Talk to any freelancer and you will learn that working from home is not so much a holiday as it is hard work on yourself. It's hard to do anything serious when you're sitting at home in a chair with coffee in your hands.
  • Creative people. The most fickle people who work in most cases from bursts of inspiration. But despite the fact that good work can only come out if the artist has a good attitude, ordinary things are not ready to wait for several months. Working from inspiration is one of the causes of procrastination.
  • Students and schoolchildren. Everything is clear here without words. Putting off doing homework until late at night is the best way to spend your time. Much more often, everything is postponed until the time when it is no longer possible to prepare properly.
  • People with unstable work schedules. Unstable work schedules are most often characteristic of small entrepreneurs who are engaged in trade or passenger transportation (taxi). The main argument of such people, “If I want, I go out, if I want, I stay at home,” often turns into “I stay at home.” And money is rarely a real motivator for them.

Reasons for procrastination

There are many theories about the causes of the phenomenon, but none is recognized by the entire scientific community. There are different reasons for being afraid to act. To get rid of the problem, find out the source.

Lack of motivation

Willpower is present in people to varying degrees. A person, not understanding why to do the work, considers the action meaningless.

Least favorite job

When a person goes to work that he does not enjoy, he becomes immersed in a routine. It is necessary to perform uninteresting, same-type actions with effort.

Misplaced priorities

It happens that a person does not have clear goals, he rushes about, not understanding what he needs, what to strive for. The result is depression and lack of energy. Making plans takes more effort than actually doing the work.


The main reason is the lack of desire to work. It comes from childhood, when mom and dad were overly protective, did not load them with chores, and did the work for the child. When my parents stopped helping, I had to work on my own. But the person cannot muster the strength, he is lazy. In the service, such an employee performs his duties in a hurry, unable to organize himself.

Lack of confidence in your abilities

Unconfident individuals think that they will do the job poorly, so they put things off. The fear of being judged by others and oneself turns on the defense mechanism of procrastination.

Phobias and fears

A procrastinator is sure that he will make things worse, ruin his work, which will worsen his relationships with colleagues. A person worries that he will not be able to cope with the task, that he will not get used to the new task.


A person convinces himself that he can handle things quickly, so he does not start work that requires effort. Instead, he finds easy, non-burdensome activities. The process requires a change in the scheme: first work, then reward.


A person wants to do a job perfectly. He makes plans, sets goals. When he looks at the results of his activities, he realizes that he wanted the best. The result does not give him satisfaction. To avoid being overwhelmed, a perfectionist abandons the task in the hope that he will cope with the task later. It’s worse if work is put off forever - the procrastinator is sure that he will never fulfill his dream.

More than 9,000 people have gotten rid of their psychological problems using this technique.

The essence of the phenomenon

There is a significant difference between ordinary laziness and procrastination. In the first case, a person avoids any activity and is idle. In the second case, he intends to begin matters of paramount importance, but switches to more pleasant ones that have nothing to do with his life plans. The person is active, but constantly doing the wrong thing.

Psychologists give the following definition to this phenomenon: an individual’s tendency to put off important matters, avoid solving problems, and fulfilling his obligations, replacing them with abstract matters.

In simple words, the essence is constantly postponing serious, complex and, as a rule, unpleasant matters “until tomorrow.” That is, a person, getting ready to start working, decides every time that it can be done in a couple of hours, or on Monday, or in a month, and is technically distracted by all sorts of little things: social networks, cleaning, coffee, reading the news.

I will illustrate with my own example. While writing this article, I first had to familiarize myself with the available materials. When the need arose to take the first notes to capture ideas in a notebook, I thought it would be better to make tea instead. Naturally, further writing of the article was postponed at least until tea time.

An even more striking example is Tim Urban, blogger, author of the website Wait But Why, a former graduate student who failed his qualifying work. He was given a whole year to write his dissertation. But he wrote it not in a year, but in the last 3 days. Of course, the supervisor gave an extremely unflattering assessment.

He goes into detail about this, as well as the mindset of a typical “procrastinator,” in the following video.

Today Tim is one of the most famous experts popularizing scientific knowledge. His blog is a kind of protest against easy, time-killing sites with superficial “pop” content. Urban's website is constantly updated with new essays on time management and effective planning.

Look at this procrastination map, it illustrates the thought process of a procrastinator.

A procrastinator puts off any task, even those that have a deadline. When the allotted time is up, the person begins to fuss, trying to complete the entire volume in one sitting. As a result, obligations are fulfilled very poorly or remain unfulfilled. This leads to anxiety, regret or shame.

He may lose faith in himself and motivation, which entails aggravation of the situation. Often this condition leads to unhealthy psychological manifestations and can even cause psychosomatic illnesses. In addition, there is a risk of loss of authority among friends and employees.

Negative consequences of procrastination

A person who is unable to follow a measured work process risks deteriorating health. Trying to quickly cope with work, he lacks sleep, disrupts his diet, and is physically and mentally overexerted.


  • Problems in life. Current tasks are not executed, and new ones are added. The result is an overwhelming mountain of work, a dead end.
  • Decreased ability to work.
  • Monetary losses, dismissal.
  • Decreased self-esteem. The lack of positive performance results affects self-esteem. A person who puts things off loses faith in himself.
  • Weakening of attention. Having put off work, the person thinks about it until he completes it. This makes it difficult to complete the current task.
  • Deterioration of relationships with others. A procrastinator is perceived as irresponsible - the person gets offended, moves away, withdraws.
  • The appearance of psychosomatic diseases - VSD, chronic fatigue, stress.
  • Addiction.

Procrastination in specific areas of life is a common thing.

An agency employee delays completing tasks, slowing down the company's activities or creating bureaucratic red tape in the public sector.

It also affects your studies. Procrastination is a cause of academic failure. The child has no motivation to learn what is assigned; students prepare for exams overnight. By putting off homework, the student will come to the conclusion that studying is not necessary. An aversion to school and lessons appears.

Ways to combat procrastination

People who like to procrastinate are not doomed. The goal of combating reluctance is to change the type of thinking. It is necessary to realize that habit exists and interferes with life. Doctors recommend following a daily routine - eating right, walking in the fresh air, alternating work and rest. The main thing is to have the desire to overcome the destructive state.

Get rid of fear by exercise:

  • "Letter from the Future." A person writes a message to himself: “I hope you have already completed your coursework and received your master’s degree.” Use the “delayed sending” function. This psychological method will bring you closer to your goal and give you confidence.
  • "Eat an elephant." The task seems impossible because the person is trying to “eat the elephant” completely. To avoid panic, they “eat” in small portions, slowly moving towards the goal. The task is divided into stages, each is assigned a due date, actions are taken and the results are summed up.
  • “Why do I need this?” The work needs to be done: the mind understands, but the brain does not give the body the necessary commands. Then they ask why this is necessary. If they find motivation in the answer (money, fame, encouragement), they get to work.

If a person does not see the incentive, they refuse the task - someone imposed it, it is not perceived as their own.

Writer and businessman P. Graham claims that procrastination has no cure. It doesn’t matter what a person does, all problems will not be solved at the same time, it’s useless. The challenge is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to coexist with it correctly.

Awareness of the problem

To start dealing with a problem and forget about it forever, you need to recognize yourself as a procrastinator. This is the main stage. The following signs will help you understand your habits:

  • the person does not take on difficult tasks;
  • does not respond to messages, does not make decisions;
  • starts complex work, switches immediately;
  • waiting for inspiration to begin fulfilling duties.

After recognizing the problem, they begin to solve it.

Eisenhower Matrix

There is a time planning strategy. Its essence is to teach how to skillfully divide matters into urgent and unimportant. It consists of four sectors with two axes at the base: vertical (importance) and horizontal (urgency). Each quarter has its own indicators. Tasks are included in each of them.

The most important, priority matters fit into sector A. Ideally, it should be empty - the occurrence of such cases indicates disorganization. The quadrant is filled in by people who have set their priorities incorrectly and are lazy. An entry is made in it if failure to complete this task will negatively affect the achievement of goals and cause trouble.

In the second, entries are made about important but not urgent work. These are priority tasks for everyday fulfillment - for study, work. If a person follows them, he achieves success in life, gets promoted, and becomes financially independent. If things are not completed on time, they will move to sector A.

Quadrant C – urgent tasks of low importance that distract and do not push you towards results: birthdays, meetings. They make it difficult to concentrate on important matters. The main thing is not to confuse them with responsibilities from quadrant A.

Part D is unimportant and non-urgent work that does not bring benefits. They leave it until the last minute or don’t do it at all. The peculiarity of tasks is that they are easy to do, they bring pleasure: talking on the phone, correspondence on social networks, watching TV.

When the matrix is ​​mastered, a person will learn to distribute work correctly, and free time will appear.

Each quadrant is assigned a color: A – red, B – yellow, C – green, D – gray. When distributing tasks, take into account that each sector should not have more than 8 elements; a matrix is ​​created separately for work and personal life, filled out daily.

Action plan:

  1. Write a to-do list on a piece of paper.
  2. After re-reading, distribute them into sectors.
  3. Mark completed work with a colored marker.
  4. Move unfinished tasks to the next day.

Tasks for daily execution are entered into the table, not long-term ones.


To overcome the problem, they make a list of tasks and establish a routine. The plan includes not only duties, but also rest. They make it clear, specific, with deadlines for completion. The list should be short, without long sentences. If a person is not sure that he will cope with the task, he sets additional time to improve the plan.

Goal optimization

When there is a lot to do, a person does not understand how to cope - a blockage occurs. It’s easier for him to drink tea than to rake. To simplify things, they set priorities - highlight the main tasks and those that can wait.

Whatever the goal, the task must be set realistically. This way, a situation will not arise in which there is a lot to do, but a person does not know where to start.

Become a morning person

Waking up earlier will help you get more things done. They start the morning with a difficult, unloved task, and put off easy tasks. In the early hours there is a lot of energy, the body can more easily cope with stress and reluctance to work.

Take a break every 50 minutes

“50-10-50” is a method that involves 50 minutes of work, 10 minutes of rest. A rotation schedule helps you manage time correctly to complete work on time. Research has shown that taking breaks from activities increases productivity.

If a profession involves making decisions online, a person suffers: it is more difficult for him to make a choice, to make a decision - he puts things off. Psychologists call this condition fatigue syndrome. Taking a break will make things easier. A short break from work will allow you to think more creatively and look at the problem with “fresh eyes.”

Rejection of bad habits

Bad habits are irritants that interfere with work. The desire to leave work and go smoke repeats after short periods of time. Quitting smoking will improve your health and free up extra time.

Sports activities

If a person is tired, there is no need to work. Playing sports will help you relax, get distracted, and recharge your batteries. Physical activity balances the functioning of the body and brain and relieves stress. Sport disciplines – a person learns to do work on time.

Psychotherapy and drug treatment

Drug treatment with drugs is carried out if the fear of action is accompanied by mental pathology. In other cases, pills will not help - not a single doctor will select drugs that will make a person do the job. Procrastination is not a disease, medications are not for it.

A psychologist will help you get rid of the problem. The therapy process is long, the result depends on the efforts of the patient. The task of a psychotherapist is to help analyze the situation and suggest specific exercises that replace bad habits with useful ones.

Pierce Steele equation

Psychologist Piers Steele argues that the syndrome does not apply to completing an urgent, interesting task. Steele insists that the problem often affects those who are unable to realistically assess the prospect at the start.

He derived the formula U = E x V/I x D with five variables, which proved the driving force of motivation pushing the process.

  1. U (Utility) – the benefits of actions.
  2. E (Expectancy) – chance of receiving a bonus.
  3. V (Value) – expected reward for work.
  4. D (Delay) – time interval before receiving the bonus.
  5. I (Impulsiveness) – impulsiveness.

The equation proves that a person willingly solves problems that provide him with a chance of getting a quick reward, and is not in a hurry to complete goals that take a long time and require a lot of energy. The further you get to the final result, the less enthusiasm.

The employee does not want to engage in activities that pose a subconscious threat to the peace of the Ego. It is precisely this that paralyzes the will and forces one to behave contrary to logic and personal interests. However, there are methods that defeat the lazy mind and sabotage (what is this?) Ego.

The main mistakes in the fight against procrastination

Even if a person is confident that he understands himself well, there is the possibility of mistakes. Adviсe:

  • There is no need to focus on fighting procrastination. Most people believe that this is a wasted habit that interferes with their existence. But the roots lie in the body’s protective reaction.
  • Procrastinators are dissatisfied with themselves and reproach themselves. The behavior is explained by the fact that the person is sure that she is doing wrong, but does not have the strength to correct the situation or overcome the habit. To avoid depression, think positively.
  • There is no need to force yourself to work without solving the main problem in advance.
  • It is dangerous not only to focus on a problem, but also to ignore it. Then they find something useful to do. People don’t start new work because they don’t want to finish the old one.

Bad habits need to be transformed into useful ones. You need to stop putting things off and start taking action.

The slogan of P. Ludwig’s book is “Defeat procrastination.” The author makes people think about the need to spend strength and energy on winning victory over fear. But the main thing is not to win, but to make sure that it brings benefits.

Psychologist B.V. Zeigarnik noted an interesting human characteristic: things that are done partially are better remembered. The person will tell you in more detail about the work that was interrupted.

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