Why do people procrastinate?

Updated on Dec 4, 2023

By Ewa Nikodem

Understanding the underlying causes, implementing effective strategies, and leveraging human psychology can help in overcoming procrastination.


A teenager studying

In previous articles, we talked about what it means to be productive and even which day of the week is the most productive.

But what about the times when you just can't focus and keep putting off your tasks? In this article, we will break down the reasons why people procrastinate and how to overcome it.

  1. What is procrastination?
  2. Why do people procrastinate?
  3. How to “cure” it
  4. Boredom
  5. Conclusion

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is defined as the act of voluntarily delaying an intended course of action. Psychologists often describe procrastination as a self-regulatory failure, involving a gap between intended behaviour and actual behaviour. This gap is characterized by a tendency to prioritize short-term pleasure or relief, such as avoiding discomfort or stress over long-term goals, resulting in the postponement of tasks.

In everyday terms, procrastination manifests as the tendency to put off tasks or activities that are hard. This leads to a constant cycle of delay, last-minute rushes, and increased stress. It often involves postponing important or less enjoyable tasks in favour of immediately rewarding activities, like scrolling on Instagram or watching YouTube videos.


Why do people procrastinate?

A common issue isn't necessarily a lack of understanding about what needs to be done to progress in life, whether it's a simple chore or a crucial university assignment. Instead, it often revolves around the tendency to avoid these tasks altogether.

It's a familiar scenario — right now, there's likely something awaiting your attention, yet you find yourself unable to gather the motivation to tackle it. This avoidance behaviour can stem from various factors, including feelings of overwhelm, fear of failure or being discouraged by the task's magnitude. The result is a cycle of procrastination, where the tasks crucial to our advancement are sidestepped, leading to increased stress and a sense of unproductivity.


How to “cure” it

Different productivity tips can help you overcome procrastination. Here are some of them:


Boredom

Boredom, often seen as a obstacle to productivity, can paradoxically help in overcoming procrastination. When faced with mundane or unstimulating tasks, experiencing an even bigger sense of boredom can trigger a shift in focus. It nudges individuals to seek alternative activities, pushing them towards the completion of tasks they had been avoiding. Boredom can prompt the brain to seek stimulation, leading to a greater willingness to engage in tasks previously deemed unappealing and funnily enough - boring. In this way, boredom can serve as a motivator, pushing people to tackle tasks they might otherwise procrastinate on.

Psychologists from the University of Virginia and Harvard University conducted a relevant study on boredom. Participants were placed alone in an empty room for 15 minutes, where they couldn’t bring anything such as phones or pens, but they could push a button and shock themselves if they wanted to. Before the experiment, all participants stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked. However, 67% of men and 25% of women found this solitary thinking time so discomforting and boring that they opted to administer mild electric shocks to themselves instead.

Try to minimize or completely remove distractions and maybe you will find yourself more productive than ever.


Conclusion

In summary, navigating procrastination involves various approaches. Understanding the underlying causes, implementing effective strategies, and leveraging the peculiarities of human psychology can help in overcoming procrastination.

While boredom might seem counterproductive, it can nudge us toward action when faced with unstimulating activities. However, it's essential to strike a balance - using boredom as a motivational tool while acknowledging the need for breaks and a varied approach to maintain productivity.

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