Office of Student Affairs

What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be done. Emotions create the blockage, and reasons for procrastination which include feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression, and self-doubt. Poor organizational skills compound the problem by making even small steps to complete the task difficult to seemingly impossible.

Why Procrastinate?

Reasons for procrastination include:

  • Fear of failure
  • Lack of interest in the task
  • Feelings of anger or hostility toward someone — usually the one who gave you the assignment.
  • The impression that the task is too time consuming — the task will take large blocks of time, and nothing can be done until you have one large chunk of time.
  • Lack of knowledge.
  • Low self-confidence and low-self-esteem.
  • Too busy — real or imagined.
  • Stubbornness — "Don't think you can tell me what and when to do it."
  • Manipulation — procrastination may be used to control or manipulate the behavior of others.
  • Coping with Pressures — delaying things has become a method of coping with day-to-day pressures and experiences.
  • A Frustrated Victim — procrastinators often feel like the victim. They cannot understand why others can get things done, but they can not. Their inability to get the task done is a mystery they cannot solves.

Types of Chronic Procrastination

  • Thrill seekers wait until the last minute to complete the task to get a "rush." They believe they work better under pressure.
  • Unfortunately, when you wait for the last minute, the work you produce is often of inferior quality — because there is no time to make corrections.
  • Avoidance procrastination occurs for many reasons, including avoiding perceived unpleasant tasks; fear the completion of the task will be a reflection of self-worth, lack of self-confidence in ability; or fear that successful completion of the task will instill high expectations for their performance on similar tasks.
  • Avoidance procrastinators may prefer being viewed as lacking in effort instead of lacking in ability when they fail.

Curing the Procrastination Blues

  • Recognize that you have the ability to be in control and then make a commitment to yourself to change.
    • To learn a new habit, set up a new routine that contrasts with the old one. Create reminders to keep yourself on task, and announce your new plans to friends for their support.
    • Practice, practice, practice the new habit.
    • When you make expectations, it takes much more effort to recover control than to maintain it from the beginning — it's like binging during a diet.
  • Set deadlines for yourself — and keep them.
  • Break down big projects into smaller steps and set deadlines for each part.
  • Tell people about your deadlines, so they can check up on you.
  • Set up a reward system for each part and then reward yourself when you have completed a deadline.

Battling Procrastination

Ask yourself questions to determine why you are procrastinating:

  • Is this a recent or recurring pattern?
  • What is the root cause? Rear? Avoidance: Self-confidence? Perfectionism?
  • Is this a personal problem beyond school?
  • Is the assignment the problem or placing social activities over school activities?
  • Do you think that college is just an extension of high school, and you can get away with incomplete work without consequences?
  • Change your self-statements and restructure your thoughts to take responsibility for your actions. These statements blame others for your failure:
    • It's not my fault…
    • I could have done it, but…
    • Yes, it was due, however…
    • Yes, but…
  • Focus on when and where external attributes versus internal attributes may cause the problem. Could you have avoided the problem by beginning earlier?

Behavior Techniques for Procrastinators

Time Telling

  • Procrastinators tend to underestimate the time it takes to perform a task; therefore, they would benefit by practicing telling the time it takes to do something. Once they refine their sense of how long it takes to do a task, they can make better plans for completion of the task.
  • Procrastinators are often remarkably optimistic about their ability to complete a task on a tight deadline. This is usually accompanied by expressions of reassurance that everything is under control; therefore, there is no need to start early.

Organizational Skills

  • What things need to be done and where necessary things for completion can be found. You can arrange everything in an orderly fashion for easy access. Additionally, prioritizing the steps necessary to complete a task is essential to completion.

Prompts/Reminder Notes

  • Notes placed in overt locations remind you to finish a particular task and helps keep you on task.

Structure the Setting to Facilitate Task Completion

  • Procrastinator must find a place where they can focus on the target task — no interruptions.

Bits and Pieces

  • Focus on the smaller subsets of the task, rather than the entire task. Write out the steps necessary to complete the steps and then go through them step-by-step.

The "5-Minute" Plan

  • Break the task into 5-minute subsets and do them step-by-step. This is for people who prefer to have a set amount of time to work on things.

80% Success Rule

  • Be realistic with your goals. complete at least 80% of the task. This is a good start, and after completing the 80% you know you can go further and complete the whole task.

Social Support of Task Completion

  • Seek help from people who complete tasks. Build a social network of support, so there is someone who can push you on when you lose sight of the goal.

Models of Success

  • Find models who know how to get things done and use them as your model. They can show you ways they use to stay on task.

Practice What You've Learned

  • Think of one thing you are currently procrastinating doing. Write the task on a sheet of paper. It might be personal, school, or work-related.
  • Now write all the reasons for your delay. Take five or ten minutes because some of them may be hidden from you. These reasons are the controlling influences. Write down as many as possible.
  • List arguments against delay and argue against all the reasons for delay in a convincing manner. If you can argue against them successfully, you will be able to start the task.

General Hints

  • Plan for tomorrow and establish priorities — some students find that simply writing down reasonable starting and s topping times help them get going.
  • Expect some backsliding. Occasionally, your plans will not work. Accept the setbacks and start again. Do not fixate on failure, but rather learn from it. Why did you have the setback — now figure out how to prevent them in the future.


  • Procrastination is avoidance caused by feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression, and self-doubt.
  • Chronic procrastinators fall into two categories: thrill-seekers and avoidance procrastination.
  • Take control by learning new habits:
    • Break tasks down to small steps.
    • Learn how long it takes to do a task.
    • Organize tasks.
    • Find models to emulate.
    • Practice, practice, practice good habits.
    • Don't beat yourself up if you backslide, just start practicing the new habits again.

It is essential to understand why you are procrastinating, so observe what you do (or don't do) and then determine the underlying cause. When you know the cause, focus on ways to overcome your procrastination. Create a plan and then practice the new habits until they become a part of you.