Procrastination Definition

What is an adequate procrastination definition? Procrastination is different from laziness. A procrastinator may be lazy and a lazy person may be a procrastinator.

A procrastinator has is a gap between intention and action.

So if I intend to do some exercise today and I needlessly (and voluntarily) delay acting on my intention, I am procrastinating.

Intention-Doing Gap

Because I know what I SHOULD be doing but I am not.... I am likely to feel a sense of shame or guilt.

I may even feel a level of anxiety that I may put on a few pounds or dismay at the long road ahead (of which I haven’t taken the first step yet).

It is this knowledge of what I SHOULD be doing but am not that is procrastination!

So when I am procrastinating I am doing something that is not optimal for my time – and delaying the task is not the best choice.

For example,

  • not paying the credit card now results in poorer credit rating. 
  • not paying my income taxes results in debt to the government, and 
  • not cleaning the house results in dishes piling up and roaches eating the leftovers.

What I am trying to highlight is that there is a net cost to the individual for procrastination!

Dr Piers Steel says procrastination is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay” (2007).

And as this intention-doing gap widens the more intense and difficult is the task that we are procrastinating on becomes.

procrastination definitionAs the intention-doing GAP widens procrastination becomes more likely

So a vicious cycle entrenches the procrastination habit.

If you listen to the procrastination excuses

You will hear them come up with many excuses for their procrastination. Some of these may include:

  • "I'm too tired"
  • "I don't have everything that I need"
  • "I'm waiting for a moment of inspiration"
  • "I have plenty of time to do it, I'll start it later"
  • "It is too nice a day to do the work"
  • "I've got to organize my files/desk/room/garage first"

Now there may be an element of truth in these excuses.

You could well

  • be too tired to do the work, or 
  • not have everything that you need, or 
  • be waiting for that moment of inspiration….

The problem is not the excuse but what is CONCLUDED from the excuse.

These excuses are used to conclude that you are better off not to do the task now - and it is that conclusion that needs to change.

For example:

  • excuse - "it is too late to finish that task" could become 
  • conclusion - "it is late but I will work on one page today and finish the rest tomorrow”

So why do we procrastinate even when they know what they SHOULD be doing and that procrastination has such negative consequences?

Well in part it is the excuses that we tell ourselves.

But it also runs much deeper than that. Procrastination also encompasses:

  • unhelpful assumptions (in terms of procrastination) that we grow up with, 
  • how the procrastination behaviour is reinforced so that it becomes an ingrained habit

Sources: Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.

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