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"I'll Do it Tomorrow": the Science Behind Procrastination

By Yuan Cheng

Highlights

  • Procrastination does not equal laziness

  • Activities perceived as high-stress are more likely to be delayed


Introduction

Procrastination is prevalent amongst people of all age groups: around 25% of adults consider themselves as being chronic procrastinators, and 80-95% of college students admit to procrastinating in some form. “I’ll do that later” finds itself being said about work projects, academic assignments, and even hobbies. Is watching cute cat videos or simply couch surfing really so compelling? It’s more complicated than one would think, because procrastination is more than just putting off work—it’s the intentional postponing of work for no good reason, even when expecting undesirable consequences to arise.


Causes


Social

Many people contribute the act of procrastination to laziness, but procrastination is actually caused by a variety of factors: low self-esteem, the relentless pursuit of perfectionism, and distractions (e.g. social media) that are more appealing than the task at hand. Many also procrastinate because, subconsciously, they have a distorted perception on the difficulty level of the task that they are putting off. A study has found that people are more likely to procrastinate on tasks that inspire feelings of stress, dread, or insecurity.


Neurological

The Amygdala, an essential part of the brain, links your surroundings to certain emotions such as aggression, fear, hysteria, etc., in order to assess threats; it also plays a major part in decision-making, as well as how one responds to things emotionally. When confronted with an assignment, the stress the Amygdala produces overpowers the prefrontal cortex, the place where one makes long-term decisions. Thus, people turn to trivial distractions to temporarily ameliorate the panic they feel.


Effects


There are many effects of procrastination, both long and short term. Aside from missing deadlines, it can lead to self-sabotage, losing opportunities academically or at work, and exacerbates fears of incompetency. It can also lead to the tarnishing of your reputation, as well as irrational decision-making as you run short on time.


Combat Methods


There are several ways to combat procrastination, or at least improve your resistance against impulses to procrastinate.

  1. Make a to-do list. Now, this does not have to be a traditional check-box by check-box to-do list. It can just be a brief adumbration of the day’s plans, mainly spotlighting the one or two important and things that you won't compromise to get done that day.

  2. Break down daunting tasks into smaller, simpler steps, and cross each step off as you go. Not only will this method create a sense of accomplishment, it will also make starting tasks easier.

  3. Go work somewhere where you won’t be distracted. If you know you have a project due the very next day, pick a quiet spot in the library or complete it at home rather than sit with your usual friends who might want to chat. Place your phone somewhere out of reach or silence it.


Conclusion


Finishing assignments can be difficult. Starting them can be even harder. But as long as you remain motivated and tackle the challenge in manageable portions, nothing is as formidable as it seems.


Fun Fact


Although procrastination does not actually stem from laziness, its etymology draws roots from the latin word “pro” (which means forward) and “cras” (meaning tomorrow), indicating the act of falling behind due to apathy or laziness.


References


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