Dorada project logoEuropean Union
A photo of a women with open arms facing sun

Read the article

How to eliminate procrastination?

What is procrastination? The Latin word procrastinatio signifies adjournment or postponement. It is a tendency to delay and put off doing things or performing tasks. Procrastination is defined as postponing, intentionally putting off work or activities that should be done now to a later date.

A typical characteristic of procrastination is that activities are postponed voluntarily despite the fact that a procrastinator is aware of negative consequences. It is assumed that such behaviour is related to a low level of self-discipline and willpower. Procrastinators often experience negative consequences of their procrastination. They are seen as irresponsible and lazy, and as those who value a short-term mood boost of not completing a task over completing it on time. However, procrastination is often a mechanism associated with poor time management. Procrastinators may be excellent at planning a sequence of tasks leading to a goal, but then they irrationally delay the moment of taking action.

Procrastination is a result of avoiding to realise an intention - it is the gap between an intention and action.

Procrastination can be defined as a personality trait, which is confirmed by its stability over time and in relation to different situations, as well as a partly innate quality.

Procrastination is not laziness! Sloth is the avoidance of work or working at the lowest possible pace at best without remorse and even with a certain feeling of satisfaction from having avoided unpleasant activities. Procrastination, on the other hand, is deferred but very intense and hard work. It involves the completion of specific tasks, only that this occurs on the last moment before the deadline. Pierce Steel (2007) defines procrastination as an irrational action despite one’s awareness of negative consequences, while Fuschia Sirois and Timothy Pychyl (2013) highlight the failure of self-control as a determinant of procrastination. Procrastinators are also characterised by a high degree of impulsivity.

Any procrastinating action will be postponement, although not all postponement will be procrastination. We all procrastinate at times for various reasons, but this does not mean that we are procrastinators.

Procrastination and postponement are often used interchangeably, although they are not synonymous. The fundamental difference between the two is chronicity, which may or may not apply to selective types of tasks and circumstances.

Procrastination is ultimately accompanied by the postponement of action and the feeling of guilt, low mood and discomfort that the procrastinator usually experiences.

Procrastination is not only a problem, as it also has positive aspects. John Perry (2012) formulated the concept of structured procrastination which leads to the active pursuit of goals other than those originally intended.

This means that, although the main goal will be postponed, many other activities that might have remained unfinished otherwise will be completed in the meantime. It also turns out that even if a procrastinator does not manage to complete the task as planned because he or she has been busy with side activities, the main task will still eventually be finished. This helps him or her to maintain a good self-image and, consequently, a sense of well-being (I could not get it done on time because there were many unexpected adversities, but I still managed to do everything). Angela Chu and Jin Choi (2005) distinguished passive procrastination, which involves abandoning activities, and active procrastination, which allows the mobilisation of all resources to complete a task at the last minute. Active procrastination stimulates creativity in a remarkable way and becomes an impulse to find many non-standard solutions to complete a task despite prior procrastination. It also triggers exceptionally strong motivation and determination.

Reasons for procrastination

There can be many reasons for procrastination and they are not constant. Some procrastinators procrastinate with regard to a particular type of tasks, while others put off everything they do. Procrastination can also occur in selected areas of life. There is social procrastination, personal procrastination, professional procrastination, academic procrastination, everyday procrastination and many others. Interestingly, not every procrastinator will procrastinate in every field. The reason for procrastination can be the fear of failure as well as the fear of success (I did something better than others and.... as a reward I got five more similar tasks). Sometimes it is simply a problem with concentration (too many distractors, difficulty with processing information). Some people procrastinate because of their aversion to social interaction - the very thought of having to interact with others to complete a task makes them put it off as long as possible. Sometimes the cause is perfectionism and a lack of confidence– I am not yet ready to do this at the highest possible standard, so I will wait a bit longer. In other cases, the same task triggers such a strong aversion that it becomes extremely difficult to take any action, which is why it is important to have optimal autonomy with regard to the way and process of completing it. Sometimes the ability to introduce some modifications of your own allows you to take action sooner.

The absence of precise instructions and an unclear goal also encourage procrastination (I just do not know what to do and where to start, I do not know what the final result should be, so there is no point in getting down to it now).

How to deal with procrastination? The best techniques:

  • Constructive goal setting - extremely important, you need to know exactly what you need to do and why.
  • Productivity - planning according to your capabilities. If the goal is too difficult, it will not be possible to achieve it. If it is too easy, it will not be a challenge and you will not be motivated to take real action.
  • Task list - a specific list of consecutive steps to take.
  • Divide the task into sub-tasks - this will allow you to realistically plan your activities and define the time needed to complete them.
  • Delegate work to other people - you cannot always do everything yourself.
  • Shorten the deadline - if things are usually done at the last minute anyway, there is no point in setting a long deadline.
  • Routine, habits - they are very helpful in repetitive activities.
  • No perfect moment, no need to wait for THIS moment - it is here and now, there is no point in delaying!
  • Distractors - distractions: Facebook, Tik-Tok, Instagram, Netflix and all other programmes and apps that can distract you and pull you away from action.
  • Positive reinforcement definitely helps to keep productivity high.
  • Rest and recuperation in between different steps also help you to achieve your goal.
  • Assertiveness - with an assertive attitude we only take the actions that are necessary.
  • Limiting and prioritising goals - choosing and selecting actions is the basis for success.
  • The 15 minute rule - if you do something for 15 minutes - you are unlikely to discontinue it, so you will finish it.
  • Forgive yourself and love yourself :-)

Reference literature:

  1. Chu, Angela, Choi Jin Nam Rethinking procrastination: Positive effects of ‘active’ procrastination behaviour on attitudes and performance. ‘The Journal of Social Psychology’, 145, 2005, p. 345–264.
  2. Howell Andrew, Watson David, Procrastination: Association with Achievement Goal Orientation and Learning Strategies, ‘Personality and Individual Differences’ issue 43, 2007, p. 167–178.
  3. Simpson Kyle, Pychyl Timothy, In search of the arousal procrastinator: Investigating the relation between procrastination, arousal-based personality traits and beliefs about procrastination motivations. ‘Personality and Individual Differences’, issue 47 (8), 2009, p. 906–911., [online access]:
  4. Sirois Fuchsia, Pychyl Timothy, Procrastination and the Priority of Short-Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self. Social and Personality “Psychology Compass” issue 7 [2], 2013, p. 115 - 127. ISSN 1751-9004, [online access]:
  5. Steel Pierce, Arousal, avoidant and decisional procrastinators: Do they exist? ‘Personality and Individual Differences’ issue 48, 2010, p. 926–934.
  6. Steel Pierce, The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. ‘Psychological Bulletine’, issue 133[1], 2007, p. 65–94.
  7. Van Eerde Wendelin, Procrastination: self-regulation in initiating aversive goals. ‘Applied Psychology’, 49, 2000, p. 372-389, [online access]:
  8. VanEerde Wendelin, Procrastination and Well-being at Work; ‘Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being’, 2016, p. 233-253, DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-802862-9.00011-6.
  9. Perry John Structured Procrastination Retrieved Sept. 22, 2012,

About the author

Agnieszka Bartczak, MA, Institute of Applied Psychology, Faculty of Management and Social Communication Jagiellonian University. Her research interests include psychology of work, organisation and management, in particular professional procrastination, professional tasks and their correlation with different work regimes, job crafting, counterproductive behaviour and managing human resources in remote work.