What’s the Delay? 5 Reasons You Procrastinate

A close-up view of a calendar with "Stop procrastinating" written on it
Ekaterina79/iStock

There’s a big red mark on your calendar: Project due. You’ve devised a plan, composed a checklist and resolved to stay on schedule. But you don’t. Is it a character flaw? Laziness? Were you born this way?

Your tendency to procrastinate might be due to a condition such as attention deficit disorder or anxiety, and you can get help for that, says Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done.

To learn more, check out this video on Staying Sharp: Your Brain on Procrastination

But there’s a more likely explanation: Your procrastination is a learned behavior that you might have picked up for multiple reasons. Five common underlying causes include:

1. Delusions about deadline pressure. You might think you do your best work under pressure, but studies show chronic procrastinators make more errors under time pressure than those who don’t procrastinate.
2. Fear of failure. Whether you’re afraid of letting down yourself or others, this kind of fear can be paralyzing.
3. Fear of success. The added responsibility that comes with success scares some procrastinators into delayed action.
4. Perfectionism. Wanting to do a great job leads some people to avoid acting until the last minute.
5. Poor time perception. Procrastinators often have a hard time estimating how much time a task will take. If you’re a procrastinator, time management tools alone won’t do the trick. Instead, cognitive behavioral therapy — working with a therapist to change the way you think and behave — is the most promising approach, since procrastination, Ferrari says, “can be unlearned.”

Learn more about the science and psychology of procrastination with 5 Reasons We Procrastinate

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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