What causes procrastination and how to beat it without professional help?

By Vladimir Marchenko

  1. What is procrastination
  2. What is the difference between procrastination, laziness, apathy and frustration
  3. Types of procrastination
  4. Why motivation doesn’t always work
  5. The impact of procrastination on sleep
  6. How to beat procrastination

Procrastination is sometimes called the "plague of the 21st century", although this phenomenon was already known in ancient times and was simply associated with laziness. The habit of procrastinating usually has deep psychological reasons and can lead to a variety of unnecessary problems in everyday life.

What is procrastination

Procrastination is, first of all, a psychological problem associated with the habit of postponing things. It equally concerns planned tasks and urgent ones. A person clearly realizes that it is important to accomplish what was planned and does not have objective reasons not to perform tasks, however, regularly sabotages the implementation. The reasons for procrastination are:

  • inability to manage time;
  • boring and monotonous work;
  • distractions;
  • low self-esteem;
  • learned helplessness;
  • fear of luck or failure;
  • lack of motivation;
  • perfectionism.

The most common reasons are the inability to manage the tasks effectively and complete them on time (or within a reasonable time), as well as numerous distractions (surfing social networks, chatting with colleagues, switching to secondary tasks, etc.). Moreover, if the work itself is boring and monotonous, procrastination occurs more often. Low self-esteem formed in childhood often impacts the formation of learned helplessness. In this state, the procrastinator expects only a failure, sets himself up in a negative way in advance, and subconsciously postpones things. On the contrary, a person may also fear sudden unexpected success. This usually happens on a subconscious level and is revealed in the form of procrastination. Similar occurs when a lack of motivation is associated with the fact that the mind has decided that the action will be unsuccessful and that’s why doesn’t see any point in performing it. The final influencing factor is perfectionism, when a person needs a very long time, first, to decide how to complete the task perfectly and, second, to implement it at 100%. This also provokes the desire to redo things several times which can break the deadline upon completion.

procrastinator girl watch in a window
The procrastinator understands that things that would not be done can cause professional and personal troubles, but cannot help himself and continues to do the same

What is the difference between procrastination, laziness, apathy and frustration

Although these states are often confused with each other, there are significant differences. In particular, laziness manifests itself as unwillingness to perform any work at all. This is an innate natural mechanism for saving resources, which sometimes goes beyond reasonable limits. A lazy person completely lacks motivation and does not worry about this fact. The procrastinator, on the contrary, realizes the importance and necessity of completing the task, but often unconsciously puts it off in every possible way, including "clogging" the time with secondary tasks or more pleasant things.

Apathy is a more severe condition characterized by a complete lack of interest in life and vigorous activity. An apathetic person is not interested in anything, is attracted to nothing and even his favourite activities may not bring him satisfaction. Often, these are the first signs of depression or hormonal imbalance. The procrastinator, in contrast, has an interest in what he is doing, as well as enjoys doing other things, especially if they allow him to be distracted for a period of time.

The difference between frustration and procrastination briefly looks like this: a frustrated person wants, but can’t while a procrastinator can but does not want. Frustrated people experience suffering and discontent because of having an objective impossibility to satisfy a certain need. However, it may be connected to pure procrastination as well, since it is not always possible to reliably establish the objective possibility/impossibility of fulfilling the plan.

cute sloth on tree
Often, laziness is a response to a period of excessive activity or lack of inner resources to restore the energy that was spent

Types of procrastination

For a long time, psychologists did not separate procrastination into types. Only in 1993, N. Milgram published the work called “Correlates of academic procrastination” and the following types of procrastination were adopted:

1. Household procrastination, e.g. constant postponing of household chores like cleaning, food shopping, visiting relatives, etc.

2. Procrastination in decision making, including minor questions, as well as the inability to perform work duties on time due to hesitation.

3. Academic. Most popular among schoolchildren and students. It implies not doing homework or cheating on the exams due to being unprepared or trying to memorize the entire training course the night before the exam.

4. Neurotic. Usually occurs during the periods of uncertainty, frightening and unexpected events and when making important decisions.

5. Compulsive (sometimes refers to chronic procrastination). Usually, happens to people who don’t make choices and let the course of life decide for itself.

Why motivation doesn’t always work

A "magic pill" for procrastination doesn’t exist, however, increasing motivation always helps. This is indeed a useful ingredient for dealing with procrastination, although, with several limitations to consider.

Extrinsic motivation usually includes monetary reward, career advancement, and recognition, etc. It comes from the outside sources and implies the carrot and stick method, a system of rewards and punishments. It is considered a powerful tool but has been questioned in a number of studies. When people do what they don’t want, even for a reward, especially in the creative field, they feel less satisfied and because of compromising with themselves start to hate the task and that’s why continue to procrastinate.

Intrinsic motivation is like an inner fire. It is associated with getting satisfaction from what you are doing and seeing the meaning of it and the importance of the results you get. Usually, it is a more prolonged type of motivation but is characterized by waves of activity/decline.

Target motivation, characterised by the presence of medium and long-term aims, which make a person more resilient on his life path helping to put up with some inconveniences such as boring tasks, irregular working hours, or an angry boss for the sake of a bigger goal. However, the more global and significant the goal is, the more difficult it is for a person to stay active over time, especially if he does not receive any reward for passing certain checkpoints. In this case, it is important to keep in mind that achieving meaningful goals is not a sprint, but a marathon.

helping people
Successful examples of other people who were in similar situations to ours and managed to achieve their goals are very motivational for us and help reach new heights

The impact of procrastination on sleep

Procrastinators constantly postpone things that sooner or later have to be completed, which occurs usually in a hurry and often at night. People who have to work in the evenings sometimes get used to energy drinks which impacts the quality of their performance and health. Such an irregular mode of work can provoke procrastination before going to bed. It means that people who finish thier tasks late in the evening often abuse series and social networks in order to relax before going to sleep. As a result, circadian rhythms are disrupted, sleep deprivation appears, which may lead to the development of insomnia.

using notebook before sleeping
Sleep procrastination appeared due to the emergence of various "addictive" activities such as scrolling social networks, watching TV series, and playing mobile games

Such an irregular sleep routine is then superimposed on stress due to constant nervous tension and anxiety. It usually causes a decrease in such professional skills as efficiency and performance which can slow down the career growth. Moreover, it can lead to various health conditions such as cardiovascular, asthma, diabetes, etc.

How to beat procrastination

Sometimes, the most difficult thing is to admit that you do procrastinate. Of course, from time to time we all prefer to relax instead of working, however, systematic postponing of your duties and tasks should “alarm” you. Here are some steps that will help you overcome procrastination:

1. Make a list of things you usually put off. Most often it will be work duties and household chores. Describe in detail next to each bullet point the “price” you are paying for not finishing them on time.

2. Divide large tasks into several smaller ones. Each individual task should take no more than an hour to complete. For example, cleaning the apartment can be accomplished in several stages, etc.

3. "Smart" procrastination. Having breaks is healthy and helps to maintain productivity. However, even small 5-minute gaps can be filled with some useful and helpful activities. For example, cleaning your desk or doing a quick stretching routine instead of watching endless YouTube videos or scrolling Instagram.

4. Eliminate distractions. An experienced procrastinator clings to every opportunity to skip work. Therefore, you need to get rid of all the distractions at home (e.g. dishes in the sink, dinner that needs to be prepared) or at work (overly talkative colleagues and social networks).

5. Use your most productive time. Everyone has different hours of his highest productivity during the day. Use this time of increased efficiency to do the hardest tasks of the day. Moreover, we all have our own positive triggers that give us the desire to change the world and go fight again. It could be a nap, or talking to our loved ones, or, maybe, a cup of tea, that will give you a boost to finish the duties left for the evening. 

6. Apply the Eisenhower Matrix to plan things better. This is one of the most powerful time management techniques that allow you to quickly sort out all tasks that have been “on the shelves” for too long. It was suggested by the 34th President of the United States and it looks like this:

Eisenhower Matrix example

Also, improving overall mental health and increasing motivation (by practising meditation and relaxation and being surrounded by inspiring people) are very helpful in beating procrastination. In this regard, affirmations may be a great tool to increase such psychophysiological characteristics as productivity, motivation, self-confidence, and performance. Affirmations are short verbal formulas concerning various spheres of life that should be repeated regularly in order to achieve the desired effect. However, you can speed up the process and maximize the effects of such verbal formulas by using the mobile application Hypnopedia, in which the affirmations get comprehended straight by your subconscious mind. It occurs due to the fact that they are played at night at the time when your brain is most susceptible to perceive the information from the outside. Such sleep phases are determined by a wrist device (for example, Apple Watch) thanks to unique algorithms that were developed by our Hypnopedia team. The affirmations don’t wake you up and, instead, perform an everyday auto-training so that night by night you could improve your mental abilities and health. Also in the application, you can find a set of soothing sounds for relaxation before bedtime and a smart alarm clock function for waking up at the most suitable and productive time for the body. You can download it now:

Ссылка App Store


It is important to understand that procrastination is often based on specific phycological reasons, so it’s necessary to eliminate them first. It may involve changes in your daily habits and in the professional and household spheres, and you need to be prepared for this. In any case, if you feel that you may have issues with procrastination - start dealing with it now without putting off until "next Monday", otherwise you risk to postpone it again, and again, and again.

Hypnopedia Mental health Mindfullnes Motivation