7 Reasons for Procrastination and How to Break the Habit

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Remember that time you promised yourself you’d start that project early, only to find yourself in a panicked, all-night cram session a day before the deadline?  Or maybe your procrastination looks like endless scrolling on socials…anything to avoid the task at hand. I’ve been there. I’ve battled (and eventually learned to tame) my own procrastination demons. And that’s why I know you can beat it too. Your victory starts with understanding the WHY behind this struggle. So let’s do that.

7 Critical Reasons For Procrastination (It’s Not Just Laziness!)

top reasons for procrastination

Most people think those who procrastinate are merely lazy. Procrastination is way more complex than that, and even people known to be hardworking sometimes succumb to it. Sometimes, there are underlying psychological factors that contribute to the urge to put things off. Here are 7 of the most common reasons for procrastination I’ve seen;

  • The Brain Battle: Think of your brain as having two neighbours: the Responsible Adult who knows what needs to be done, and the PlayBoy who just wants instant fun. Unfortunately, because our brains are wired for immediate rewards, the default setting is to side with the PlayBoy. And it always feels good because activities like scrolling social media, watching funny videos, or indulging in sugary treats lead to the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. The result is that it becomes even more challenging to focus on tasks that require sustained effort for a distant reward, like studying for an exam or completing a complex project.
  • Fear in Disguise: Another reason for procrastination is fear. Often, procrastination can rise as a powerful defence mechanism against fear. Often, the tasks we put off trigger anxieties like the fear of failure, the fear of judgment, or even the fear of success (yes, it’s a real thing!). By delaying the task, we avoid the potential negative emotions associated with it, even if it means sacrificing the positive outcomes.
  • The Overwhelm Paralysis: Have you ever stared at a giant to-do list and felt completely helpless, not knowing where to start? That’s the overwhelm paralysis in action. When a task feels overly complex, ambiguous, or simply too big, our brains can shut down in an attempt to avoid cognitive overload. This can lead to procrastination as a way to escape the daunting nature of the task at hand.
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionists hold themselves to impossibly high standards. The fear of making mistakes or not producing flawless work can be so crippling that it leads to procrastination. Starting the task feels risky, as it exposes the possibility of falling short of their own (or perceived) expectations.
  • Lack of Motivation: Our brains are wired to seek out activities that feel meaningful and purposeful. If a task doesn’t seem relevant to our goals or interests, it can be difficult to muster the internal motivation to get started. This lack of intrinsic motivation can lead to procrastination as our brains prioritise activities that feel more stimulating or rewarding.
  • Lack of Knowledge About the Task: Sometimes, we procrastinate simply because we don’t know where to begin. A task can feel overwhelming if we lack the necessary knowledge or skills to complete it. This can be especially true for new or unfamiliar tasks. The fear of making mistakes or looking incompetent can lead to procrastination as a way to avoid the perceived embarrassment of not knowing what to do.
  • Decision Fatigue: Our willpower is a finite resource. Throughout the day, we make countless decisions, from small choices like what to eat for breakfast to bigger ones like which project to tackle first. This constant decision-making can deplete our mental reserves, leading to a state of decision fatigue. When our willpower is drained, we’re more likely to procrastinate and choose the easier path, even if it means sacrificing long-term goals.

How to Deal with Procrastination Before It Deals With You

dealing with procrastination

As someone who has been there, I can assure you it’s easier to deal with procrastination once you understand the reasons for it and address them head-on. Here are the strategies that have made the biggest difference for me

  • Shrinking the Monster: Huge projects are likely to make you procrastinate so break them down into ridiculously small steps. “Write an entire research paper” feels daunting, while “find three credible sources” feels manageable enough to start. You can use the Two Minute Rule to break down your tasks.
  • Knowledge is Power: Whenever a lack of knowledge holds you back, invest in yourself by acquiring the necessary knowledge or skillset. Whether it was watching a quick tutorial about a key concept, looking up a definition, or asking someone for guidance, boosting your understanding will make tasks feel less daunting. This directly combats fear and fuels my confidence.
  • Taming Distractions: 
    • Pomodoro Technique: This is my go-to. The focus/break structure helps your brain’s needs, making work sessions more manageable and rewarding. You can learn more about the Pomodoro technique here
    • Strategic Environment: Creating a distraction-free zone is key. Sometimes, leaving your phone in another room during deep work sessions prevents your willpower from being constantly tested by tempting notifications.
    • Time Blocking: Planning out your day in specific chunks reduces decision fatigue and helps you maintain a sense of control over your schedule (See this post for how to create a schedule that works)
  • Strength in Numbers: Loneliness is a major procrastination trigger for some. Having a study buddy, joining an online productivity group, or even just letting a friend know your deadlines creates external accountability that is surprisingly motivating.
  • Mindset Shifts: You also need to tackle perfectionism and embrace the beauty of the journey. To do this, you must
    • Catch Negative Self-Talk: Recognize when your inner critic has started spiralling
    • Focus on Progress Over Perfection: Celebrate when you complete a section, no matter how rough, instead of obsessing over every sentence which is key to keeping yourself motivated.
  • Connecting to My “Why”: Sometimes, you may need to remind yourself why the task matters. Visualizations (imagining passing the exam, submitting the project), taking breaks to do something fun, and breaking down how the task fits into your larger goals are all effective motivators. Also, it may be important to remember that motivation is not the precursor to all actions but rather the by-product of acting
  • Learn to prioritise: When a to-do list feels overwhelming, tools like the Eisenhower Matrix are lifesavers. They will help you distinguish between what is truly “urgent and important” versus tasks that could wait or be delegated. This reduces overwhelm and prevents endless procrastination due to unclear priorities.

You Can Beat Procrastination

Once you’ve dealt with the reasons for procrastination, beating the time-water becomes a possibility. However, you must remember that beating procrastination is an ongoing process. Experiment and pick strategies that resonate with YOUR particular struggles. Notice what helps, even a little bit. These small wins fuel bigger changes. Remember, every step away from procrastination is a step towards a fulfilling and less stressful life!

 

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