What Causes Procrastination?


I recently came across several articles written by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.  These articles focused on a topic I have wanted to write on for several months.  Procrastination.  Upon reading these articles, I decided to do a quick review of procrastination articles that appear on the Internet.  Here is what I found.

Procrastination is the act of postponing decisions or actions.  There are a number of reasons why people procrastinate.

In these articles, it states procrastination has to do with three things:  self-control, motivation, and negative factors.  In short, if your self-control plus your motivation is higher than negative factors, then you manage to get your work done.  If, however, your self-control plus your motivation is lower than negative factors, then you end up procrastinating. 

The negative factors that play into the above equations are numerous.  They include a disconnect from one’s future self, a perceived lack of control, abstract goals, anxiety, depression, distractibility, fear of failure, fear of negative feedback, feeling overwhelmed, lack of energy, lack of motivation, laziness, low self-sufficiency, mental exhaustion, perceived lack of control, perfectionism, rewards that are far in the future, self-handicapping, self-sabotage, sensation seeking, and task aversion.  These negative factors, seen in various Psychology Today articles, are briefly explained below. 

A Disconnect from One’s Future Self

People who view their future self as being disconnected from their present self tend to procrastinate.  For example, someone might delay when it comes to eating healthy, even if the doctor tells them it is important, because the harmful impact of their present diet will only start being serious in the future.

Abstract Goals

People are more likely to procrastinate when their goals are vague or abstract.  When their goals are concrete and clearly defined, people will complete their work.  For example, if someone says their goal is to lose weight, it is abstract.  But, if someone says they want to lose weight and will go to the gym three days a week and spend 30 minutes on the treadmill, then they are more likely to reach their goal.


People who feel anxious about a task they need to handle will procrastinate more than others who are not anxious.  For example, a person who is in debt may have trouble checking their mail because bills will be in the mail.  Thus, they delay checking the mail.


Underlying depression may lead to issues such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and reduced interest in activities. These activities deplete people of mental energy and result in people not doing their work when they need to do it.


The inability to focus your attention on one thing at a time for long leads to procrastination.  For example, if one keeps their phone nearby when studying, they will be distracted by phone notifications.

Fear of Failure

People who are afraid of failing tend to avoid getting started tor finishing because they are worried that their work will fail.

Fear of Negative Feedback

Someone might delay submitting a paper that they worked on because they are worried others are going to think badly about it. Often these feelings are overexaggerated.

Feeling Overwhelmed

People sometimes procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed by the tasks they must complete.  This can be because the one task is so big in scope or because a number of tasks add up to a large task.  Again, many times, these feelings are overexaggerated.


People sometimes procrastinate because they are unable to make decisions.  Some people overthink the situations they may be in.  When they overthink, they delay starting an action—sometimes a much-needed action.  Sometimes, people delay making decisions because they have lots of options, and it is hard for them to decide. And when those options are similar, it makes it twice has hard for the person to decide.


Some people just have an intrinsic unwillingness to put forth the effort needed to achieve goals even when they are able to do so.

Lack of energy

There are situational issues that make people procrastinate.  Lack of energy is one of those situations.  If someone has worked a long day and is tired, they will find it much harder to exercise once they get home.

Lack of Motivation

Certain people are simply not motivated to complete an action.  For example, a student might procrastinate when it comes to studying for a test in a subject that is not relevant to their major.

Low Self-Efficacy

This reflects one’s belief in their ability to achieve their goals.  If someone has a low self-efficacy, they may think they cannot handle a task, so they delay getting started on it because they feel that they will most likely fail at it anyway.

Perceived Lack of Control

People sometimes procrastinate because they feel incapable of controlling the outcome of the events in their life.  For example, a person might delay getting started on an assignment because they feel their teacher or supervisor will criticize it regardless of how much effort they put into it.


Perfectionism can lead to procrastination.  This usually happens because the student or worker is so afraid of making a mistake that they end up not taking action at all.  Another way this works is that the person continually reworks a project so that it never gets done.

Rewards that are Far in the Future

People often procrastinate on tasks which are associated with rewards that they will only receive a while after completing the task.  For example, it is easier to discount the value of attaining a good grade on an exam while that exam is still weeks away.  The person chooses to engage in activities that reward them in the short-term at the expense of working on tasks that would lead to better outcomes for them in the long-term.


Many people place barriers in their own way so that if they faile, it can blamed on procrastination and not on their abilities.


Others engage in self-defeating behaviors.  This means they actively try to sabotage their own progress.  A person might delay applying for a new job, even though they know it represents a great opportunity for career advancement, because they feel that they don’t deserve a better place in life.

Sensation Seeking

There are some people who simply enjoy waiting until the night before a deadline to start working on tasks.

Task Aversion

Some people simply do not like the task or tasks they need to perform.  So, they procrastinate.  If they need to make an important phone call to someone they dislike, they might end up procrastinating.

 These are just a few causes of procrastination.  If you routinely procrastinate or know someone who does, you will want to read the next installment of my blog where I talk about 14 Ways to Stop Procrastinating.

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