How to Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination is characterized by delaying work on a task that requires completion. While it’s not a mental health disorder, procrastination can cause psychological distress. Frequent procrastination may negatively affect your personal, school, or work lives.

This article will discuss the types of procrastination, what causes them, the negative impacts, and how to overcome procrastination.

How to break bad habits (procrastinating), woman sitting at desk working on computer
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What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is when a person delays a task or puts something off until the last minute or even past the deadline. 

Procrastinators will often do other tasks in advance of starting or returning to a task or commitment they're avoiding. For example, if there’s a difficult conversation to be had at work, procrastinators may take on other tasks to avoid the anticipated discomfort.

Impending deadlines may prompt procrastinators to check out on social media until the last minute or to do menial household activities like sweeping and washing floors, or other tasks they’ve been procrastinating doing for longer, like answering emails.

One estimate from 2010 claims that 20% of U.S. adults are procrastinators. Estimates may be higher today due to the ever-present distractions of technology and social media. 

Types of Procrastination

Identifying what type of procrastinator you are is the beginning step in changing your behavior. There are six types of procrastination based on the main perceived issue causing the behavior:

  • Perfectionist: Has high standards and fear of not meeting expectations and puts off work because they fear they won't do it correctly
  • Dreamer: Has big goals but no plan for success
  • Worrier: Fears change, has worst-case scenario thinking, and resists risk-taking
  • Defier: Promise-maker with poor follow-through and many excuses or reasonings for not doing the task
  • Crisis-maker: May unintentionally or intentionally create chaos at the last minute to delay work
  • Over-doer: Has unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and lacks priority-setting abilities

What Causes Procrastination?

While everyone’s reasons for procrastinating are unique, there may be a common element of fear and perfectionism motivating procrastinating behavior. Perfectionism makes a person want to do every task flawlessly, which becomes a block to getting things done and leads to procrastination.

Procrastination is also associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Anxiety and Procrastination

Anxiety is defined by symptoms like intrusive thoughts, excessive fear and worry, and physical symptoms. All of these can impact a person’s ability to follow through with impending tasks and meet deadlines.

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination is when a person sacrifices sleep for staying up later and doing whatever they didn’t have time to do during the day. This may include scrolling through social media, watching television past bedtime, or so close to bedtime that it disrupts your total sleep.

This isn’t the same as truly unwinding or relaxing because this type of procrastination quickly adds to sleep deprivation, which is directly associated with mental distress and disorder, including depression.

What Is the Negative Impact of Procrastination?

Procrastination doesn’t do anyone any favors. It can create problems beginning in your school years, when you may delay deadlines, project management, and follow-through. Studies have shown that the earlier an assignment is submitted (indicating less procrastination), the higher the academic achievement.

Other negative impacts of procrastination are:

  • Increased risk for anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased stress
  • Poor impulse control

Putting things off you eventually do anyway also takes energy and time. Avoiding tasks doesn’t make you stop thinking about them or worrying about them. 

How to Overcome Procrastination

Procrastination is a learned behavior, and it can be unlearned. A good place to start is to acknowledge that you’re procrastinating. Once you recognize this behavior in yourself, you can figure out what's causing you to procrastinate and change it.

Ways to overcome procrastination include:

  • Identifying the role of procrastination in your life
  • Making time for time management
  • Breaking up large projects into smaller tasks
  • Finding productive reasons to keep working on tasks and commitments
  • Keeping your goals realistic and reassessing goals and strategies as needed

Summary

Procrastination may stem from many factors, including an underlying mental illness or perfectionism. People who want to stop procrastinating can do so by assessing from where the problem arises and working to develop new coping methods.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone procrastinates from time to time. If constant procrastination is disrupting your life, it may be time to look at what's causing you to procrastinate. Whether it's being caused by perfectionism or an underlying mental health issue, there are plenty of ways to stop procrastinating and live a better life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is procrastination a mental illness?

    No. However, mental disorders such as anxiety disorders, OCD, ADHD, or eating disorders may include procrastination as a symptom. Knowing where the behavior stems from is important in helping you change these patterns. 

  • How do you tell if you’re procrastinating?

    Procrastination looks like avoiding a task, doing other tasks to distract from the current task, or making excuses. If you keep avoiding a task at all costs, you're procrastinating.

  • Are there any benefits to procrastination?

    No. Procrastinators may try to justify their behavior by suggesting the act of putting things off somehow makes them more efficient or that they work better under pressure, but research suggests no one benefits from procrastination. It’s best to avoid procrastinating.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Steinert C, Heim N, Leichsenring F. Procrastination, perfectionism, and other work-related mental problems: Prevalence, types, assessment, and treatment—a scoping review. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2021. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.736776

  2. American Psychological Association. The psychology of procrastination: Why people put off important tasks until the last minute. April 5, 2010.

  3. Indiana State University. Types of procrastination

  4. Limburg K, Watson HJ, Hagger MS, & Egan SJ. The relationship between perfectionism and psychopathology: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2016; 3(10):1301–1326. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22435

  5. Steinert C, Heim N, Leichsenring F. Procrastination, perfectionism, and other work-related mental problems: prevalence, types, assessment, and treatment—a scoping reviewFront Psychiatry. 2021;0. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.736776

  6. American Psychological Association. Anxiety.

  7. The Sleep Foundation. What is revenge bedtime procrastination?  

  8. Jones I, Blankenship D. Year two: Effect of procrastination on academic performance of undergraduate online students. Research in Higher Education. 2021;39(1-11).

  9. McClean Hospital. Why you put off things until the last minute.

  10. Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Understanding and overcoming procrastination

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.