Vidhi Kothawala
March 1, 2021


That feeling when you delay working on or completing some sort of task until the last minute or even past its submission deadline. Or the feeling when you needlessly postpone things despite knowing that doing so will result in unfavourable outcomes. Procrastination is common, and almost everyone has done it; for some, it became a habit, and for some, it didn’t. There may be a possibility that you have found yourself putting off schoolwork or chores, or other important tasks by dissipating your time in doing other things. Those things could be productive, such as organizing your closet, cooking yourself a meal, cleaning your bathroom, etc. Or they can be non-productive, such as watching TV, endlessly scrolling through social media, shopping online, etc. Either way, you were still not doing what you were supposed to do, whether productive or not. And this can have a significant impact on basically everything in your life. From your mental health to academics/work to your social life, all aspects of your life can be affected by procrastination.

There are many reasons why one feels the need to procrastinate, and there are also many different types of procrastinators. Have you ever thought of cleaning your room or doing the dishes but put them off because you didn’t feel like doing them? Not feeling motivated or inspired to do something at a particular time is one of the many reasons why people procrastinate. And as one waits for the “right time” to work on tasks, it never shows up, and most of the time, the task never gets fulfilled. Another reason for Procrastination is when people overassess the amount of time they have left to do a task. For example, you may have caught yourself procrastinating on a project that’s not due in a month because you have “enough time for that.” And just like that, the deadline is the next day, and you’ve only gotten a couple of sentences down.

Procrastination can also be a result of mental illnesses. For example, Depression can make one feel hopeless, helpless, and cause a lack of energy, which makes it hard to start and finish simple tasks. Depression also causes self-doubt, resulting in a lack of confidence and difficulty approaching tasks, which ushers one to keep delaying the work because it’s easier to put it off. People with OCD often have a maladaptive, unhealthy addiction to perfectionism, which leads to them being afraid to make mistakes, having doubts about whether or not they are doing the right thing, and being anxious about others’ expectations. OCD patients are also very indecisive, which is why they procrastinate instead of making a decision. Procrastination is also common among people with ADHD; distractions from external factors and internal thoughts can make it very hard to get started on a task, especially when it’s difficult or uninteresting.

More reasons for Procrastination are when one does not know what to do or how to do something, doesn’t want to work or get started on it ever, waits till the last minute, forgets, etc.

Since Procrastination is related to behavioural tendencies, it is also a subtopic under neuroscience and psychology. There’s a lot more going on in your brain when you procrastinate. According to Dr. Tim Pychyl, Ph.D., the head of the Procrastination Research Group, Procrastination occurs due to the battle between two different systems, the limbic system (amygdala specifically) and the prefrontal cortex. Whenever a procrastinator comes across something they find unappealing or frustrating, they most likely wouldn’t want to do it, possibly because they think it’s boring, may have poor results or cause negative emotions (anxiety). This is a response from the limbic system, and it determermines whether the task is unpleasant or not and further prompts the procrastinator to emotionally avoid the task.

The limbic system causes this avoidance because it’s making the person run away from what threatens them, which in this case is the said task that needs to be finished. The amygdala (part of the limbic system) has evolutionarily existed to get humans to run away from animals or natural situations that are considered to be a threat, and as society has evolved, the amygdala hasn’t; it still gives off the same reactions. It can’t tell the difference between important tasks that need to be completed or dangerous animals, so when it recognizes the task that’s being avoided as a threat, it creates anxiety and leads to a natural fight-or-flight reaction seen in nature; which in this case is to run away from the threat.

However, running away from the task only makes things worse because it’s not an actual animal that may eat you; it’s more of a responsibility that your brain disguises as a threat. The limbic system prompts one to avoid the task, while the prefrontal cortex induces one to ignore the negative feelings caused by the task that needs to be completed. It motivates the person to push through the unpleasantness and keep going because the end rewards of completing the job are worth it. However, a procrastinator’s brain functions differently. Their brains take many actions to stop the prefrontal cortex from taking control and helping them get through their emotional reactions. Most procrastinators prefer more immediate rewards that require little to no effort than rewards that require more time and energy, which heavily affects their choice of whether to move forward with the task or do something more effortless (watch TV, scroll through social media, etc.). The volume in the amygdala is more extensive than average in chronic procrastinators, which has more power in decision making, and it is also less connected to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (helps balance the amygdala’s reactions).

As stated before, Procrastination can have a severe impact on all aspects of your life, including your mental health. Procrastinating on a task would cause a lot of stress and anxiety, as you would constantly be thinking about the task and its upcoming deadline while you’re doing it; it will be a repetitive cycle, with the outcome only being poorer mental health. Procrastination will also cause heavy feelings of stress and anxiety, further leading to more severe mental illnesses such as Depression. Adding on, procrastinating will also lower one’s self-esteem. Even though people tend to procrastinate due to low self-esteem, as it makes them doubt themselves on their ability to do a task, pushing it back will only increase the low self-esteem and cause one to doubt themselves even more. Low self-esteem results in one holding themself back and self-sabotage, while Procrastination takes away confidence, which increases one’s low self-esteem. Procrastination would also cause feelings of guilt and shame, which can also cause self-hatred.

Furthermore, Procrastination also affects your life by making you lose precious time. The moment you realize you can’t go back in time and change things, you just have to live with the feelings of regret, helplessness and guilt, and there is nothing worse than feeling frustrated at yourself, knowing that this wouldn’t have happened if you had done things differently from the start. Procrastination can also come in the way of achieving your goals. Usually, goals are set to better our lives, and if you don’t work on your goals due to Procrastination, the possibility of a better life for you may be reduced. Wanting a career is considered a “goal,” and not meeting deadlines can cause you to miss out on promotions and even risk losing your job. To add on, your reputation will also be damaged. When you keep saying that you will do something and you don’t, your reputation will get ruined because nobody wants empty promises. Damaging your reputation comes with a decrease in self-confidence and self-esteem, which makes it even easier to procrastinate because you won’t be surprising yourself anymore. People will hold back on you for offers because they would think that you will procrastinate and then leave it to them to clean up the mess in the end. Lastly, Procrastination can also affect your physical health when exercise and nutrition are being avoided.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to work on Procrastination and getting things done on time. Firstly, you can make a to-do list and put a due date next to each item, as it will keep you on track and let you know what exactly you need to work on. Break down the things on your list into small, doable steps so it won’t be that overwhelming. Try your best to resist the urge to procrastinate, if you begin to drift away from your work, tell yourself that you will only work on it for a few minutes, this will give your brain a deadline, and you’ll most likely end up working for longer than the original few minutes you gave yourself. Try to eliminate all the things that distract you (social media, friend/family, local news, TV, etc.). Ask a friend or family to help you stay on track with important tasks; them checking in on your progress would help you stay motivated and increase your progress. Practicing mindfulness and meditation will increase your ability to focus and make the brain more capable of overruling the limbic system. Talk to a therapist or a counsellor; there may be a possibility that a mental health issue could be causing the Procrastination. Lastly, forgive and trust yourself, and reward yourself every time you get something done on that to-do list.

In the end, even though Procrastination is a huge problem in many lives, there are always solutions to problems. In this case, the key is self-care and wanting to grow as a person by working on yourself, whether it be by talking to a therapist or making a to-do list. It all comes down to self-growth; do you want to be a better version of yourself than yesterday?