Why do we procrastinate? There are more and more people every year having trouble overcoming procrastination because they don't know what causes it. But, data from studies in recent years actually shows why we procrastinate and what to do about it.

If you are constantly putting things off to the last minute, running late, not meeting deadlines, etc., it is safe to say that you are a procrastinator. But, know that you are definitely not alone.

In fact, the number of procrastinators is going up dramatically.

In a study in the Psychological Bulletin by Piers Steel, a University of Calgary professor, concluded that about 5% of people were chronic procrastinators in 1978 as opposed to about 26% in 2007.

According to Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, the amount of people who are chronic procrastinators today is still around 20%.

On top of that, roughly 75% of university students have considered themselves to be chronic procrastinators.



Not only is procrastination affecting students when they should be focused on learning and starting their careers, but it is costing businesses a lot of money.

In fact, according to reports in 2012, it costs businesses roughly $10,396 per year per employee that is a chronic procrastinator.

Businesses are losing money and people are losing valuable time that could have been spent being productive.But, not only are the businesses losing money, you may be as well if you procrastinate.

It is estimated that in 2002, $473 million of over-payments were collected in taxes just because of people procrastinating instead of taking the time to get their taxes done correctly.

This being said, everyone knows it is a problem. If you are reading this book, you do too. And of course you want to reduce this problem.

95% of habitual procrastinators do want to reduce the impact of procrastination on their lives.

But, why is procrastination becoming more and more of a problem? Why does it seem so hard to overcome procrastination? And what can we do to be rid of it once and for all?


Technology (A.K.A. Distractions)

Many studies have shown that one of the big reasons procrastination has increased over the last few decades is because of advancements in technology.

Smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart watches, smart TVs, etc. could be to blame for the lack of focus on productive tasks.

Professor Piers Steel estimated that these new technologies cost the U.S. about $70 billion in the lack of productivity per year.

Steel thinks that because there is so much to do with media and electronics, with such easy access, putting work or productive tasks off until the next day is almost a natural reaction for us.

Another study was done by Webtrate, reported by The Telegraph, that showed 60% of survey respondents who checked social media profiles or email during work, forgot what they were originally thinking about.

With just social media and email, 36% of respondents lost about an hour of productivity and 16% lost more than that.

Although procrastination seems to be a huge problem in today’s society that is killing productivity, there is no actual diagnosis for it as pointed out by Dr. Philip R. Muskin, professor at Columbia University Medical Center.

Scientists simply have not found a definite biological reason that proves why we procrastinate.


Could Fear Be The Problem?

Muskin did mention that technology is not the only reason people tend to procrastinate. He thinks the fear of a negative consequence or feedback causes people to put things off in order to avoid pain.

For example, people tend to put off doing taxes until the last minute because they are afraid they may have to pay money to the government.

Although putting something off doesn’t stop the inevitable from happening, it allows people to stay in their comfort zone just a little bit longer beforehand.

But, when you try to avoid a problem, it can easily make the problem worse. People, tend to not realize that when you put something off, it tends to be because of fear of a negative feedback.

The longer you put it off, the more the fear builds up and the more likely something negative will happen because instead of spending time solving the problem, you are spending time avoiding it.

When you spend time avoiding it, you are obviously not putting any effort into solving it, which only escalates the potential for a bigger problem.


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Positive Procrastination

But, as Dr. Muskin has also pointed out, some people actually enjoy procrastination. He has concluded that some people enjoy the “thrill” of waiting until the last minute to do something.

They enjoy the heart pounding and the challenge of doing the task right before the deadline. But, in most cases, this is not why people procrastinate.

If you are someone who procrastinates on purpose, The Creativity Research Journal concluded that it can help for certain tasks. There is a such thing as procrastinating productively.

Procrastination has actually been used by people like those who won the Intel Science Talent competition to trigger stress that may be needed to produce positive action.

As you have probably heard from many success stories, a lot of the most successful people on the planet actually waited until they were “at rock bottom” before they took the actions needed to start achieving great things.

Of course these people did not put themselves through poverty or other tough times on purpose just to help them take action, it was because they didn’t have the motivation to do what needed to be done until they had no other options left.

For some people, they use variations of procrastination and stress to create that trigger of motivation and action on purpose.

Others may procrastinate on purpose to fully understand the problem that needs to be solved and process it over a period of time so that they may make the best decision on a course of action.

Studies have proven that procrastination, when controlled on purpose, can be an asset, but for most people is something that just needs to be minimized.


Are There Two Main Types Of Negative Procrastination?

Professor Joseph R. Ferrari of DePaul University has done very extensive research on causes of procrastination and has said that there are actually two main types of it: people delaying making decisions and people delaying taking action.

If you delay making decisions, you are probably very dependent on others to make them for you.

You may be more submissive and let someone else make the decision and take the blame if anything goes wrong.

On the other hand, if you tend to avoid taking action, according to Ferrari, it could be because of low self-esteem.

Maybe you don’t believe you will be able to carry out the actions necessary or are afraid of what people might think of you if you do carry them out.

Do you feel like you fall into either of these categories of procrastination?


Evidence May Suggest Your Environment Or Nature Are Related

According to research from Oklahoma State University and Professor Ferrari, time perspective (how you interpret your past, present and future) is a factor in one’s likelihood of procrastinating.

If you focus more on bad things that happened to you in the past, you are more likely to be more resentful or bitter.

When you do tasks that relate to negative experiences like this in the past, you may have a bad view towards it and try to avoid it altogether.

Your environment has also been linked to procrastination through research. According to The American Psychological Association, procrastination often starts at school where a lack of urgency or consequence from not getting tasks done may allow students to think they aren’t worth taking seriously.


Do You Hate Other Procrastinators?

If you are reading this book, the whole point is to help you stop being a procrastinator right? So how on Earth could you actually hate procrastinators when you technically may be one yourself?

Professor Ferrari actually found that procrastinators are extra critical of other procrastinators, especially if you are a woman.

When procrastinators are asked to evaluate work performance of other procrastinators with similar work habits as them, they are much harsher to them than their harder-working co-workers.


Do You Ever Get In A State Of “Flow”?

Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes “flow” as a state of deep absorption or engagement in something that can be very positive for things like work.

But, procrastinators tend to take this same trance or “flow” state and apply it to non-productive things as Andrew Thatcher of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa concluded.

It can actually be linked to problematic internet use (when people spend too much time online and are somewhat addicted).

Science suggests that a state of “flow” can be very productive or cause procrastination depending on what you direct it towards.

If you procrastinate, it may be a question of whether or not you are causing yourself to be in a trance doing unproductive things like scrolling through social media images on an app, instead of doing a task that would be more productive.


Maybe It’s Just How Our Brains Work

The way you brain works may actually play a big part in why it can be so easy to procrastinate. Believe it or not, there is actually a lot of activity going on your brain when you procrastinate.

In fact, neuropsychological and behavioural research has linked procrastination to the executive functioning in the pre-frontal cortex of your brain.

These executive functions deal with:

  • Emotional control
  • Working memory
  • General orderliness
  • Task monitoring
  • Task initiation
  • Activity shifting
  • Impulsiveness
  • Self-monitoring
  • Planning and organization

The pre-frontal cortex of your brain actually deals with your long-term thinking and your willpower. This sounds like what would cause procrastination doesn’t it?

When the reward of the task you need to complete feels abstract, the limbic region overrides the pre-frontal cortex and we end up just going for the quick fix (or what we feel more comfortable doing – procrastinate).

The limbic system deals with immediate concrete rewards. It actually has a direct line to our basic emotions, which arise in the amygdala.

The decision to get on with the work that needs to be done has to actually pass through the limbic system and the pre-frontal cortex.

Because our brain is structured this way, it can be very easy for it to give into the easy, more comfortable decision to put something off instead of facing it head on and figuring it out.

Here is a diagram of how your brain is structured regarding procrastination.


brain procrastination


The Different Brain Parts In Play Causing Potential Procrastination:

  1. Lateral prefrontal cortex (pre-frontal cortex) – used for planning and organization
  2. Anterior cingulate (pre-frontal cortex) – used for preventing impulsive behavior and maintaing attention
  3. Dorsolateral prefrontal region (pre-frontal cortex) – used as the working memory, decision making
  4. Ventrolateral prefrontal region (pre-frontal cortex) – used for decision uncertainty, updating of action plans, motor inhibition
  5. Cortcostriatal circuitry (limbic system) – executive functioning may depend not only the pre-frontal cortex, but on corticostriatal circuitry using dopaminergic neurotransmission (fluctuating networks across the brain).

Whether we need to get the task done or not, with how our brain interprets your thinking about the task and how important it is, can determine if you end up just going for the “quick fix” or procrastination.

Basically what your brain is trying to figure out is what the reward of completing the task is, how important it is, what negative feedback could you get if you don’t do it, and how bad you want to do it. This means it could all come down to your mindset or attitude toward the task that will determine how you brain interprets whether you should take action or put it off.


The Scientific Equation For Gauging Your Procrastination

Researchers on procrastination have actually come up with a scientific equation that allows you to figure out if you are more or less  prone to procrastinating on a certain task based on a few variables that tend to cause it.

Utility = E x V / I x D

Utility – This is the end result. It stands for the desirability of the task.

E – This is the expectancy for succeeding at the given task.

V – This stands for the value of completing the given task.

I – This is the immediacy or availability of the task.

D – This is the person’s sensitivity to delay.

The higher the utility the less likely we are to procrastinate because it means that the task is more desirable for us to take action on.

What you may do is factor in a scale of 1 to 10 for each variable and use the formula for any given task to see how likely you are to procrastinate instead of getting it done.

This equation can allow you to understand which of those variables you may need to work on the most and where problems may lie in your own psychology.

The more desirable you can make a task sound, the more likely you are to get it done.



If you can learn to think differently about a task in a more positive manner than you are used to by thinking of the benefits of completing it instead of the drawbacks, then you can help yourself be less lazy as well as more productive.

Work on developing a mental toughness and understand which kind of procrastination you suffer from so you can pinpoint how to deal with it. What do you think are the leading causes of procrastination?

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    2 replies to "Why Do We Procrastinate? The Data Behind Procrastination"

    • Jignasha

      Very interesting research. I am a PhD student, a chronic procrastinator and try to overcome it since last 3 months but failed.

    • Rafe Kabir

      Thank you for the amazing article.

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