3 Reasons Why We Procrastinate - And How To Overcome Them!

“Doing is better than perfect.” – Facebook Company Motto

There you sit. You have the goal in front of you, but you are not quite sure how you need to proceed. You have visualized what this project will look like when it is finished and you cannot wait to see it completed.

But for whatever reason it just does not feel like the right time to get started right now. You feel a little “off”. You do not know exactly where to start and there is not enough time on your schedule to get everything you would want to get done.

Then you take a moment to think, “you know what? Tomorrow looks like a much better time to do this.” 

No matter what project it is that you are working on, we all follow this script. 

A big assignment at work. 

A passion project that you are doing in your free time. 

Cleaning out your garage.

Going for a run. 

And countless other examples. 

A whopping 95% of people admit to procrastinating at least some of the time. And forgive me if I don’t quite believe the 5% of people who claim to be saints. [1

To procrastinate is human, but it is also dangerous. The effects of procrastination do not just prevent things from getting done, but they also add an extraordinary level of stress to our lives.

In a study of college students, those who procrastinated the most – even the ones who claimed to “work best under pressure” – performed worse on every single academic measure. They were also much more likely to get sick from the stress, all-nighters and junk food that they ate in order to cram for their final exams and term papers. [2]


So where does this desire to procrastinate come from? Researchers have found 3 sources that, depending on your personality, lead to your likelihood to procrastinate.


We have an amazing ability to visualize the future. This has given us the inspiration to build pyramids, cathedrals and skyscrapers. But when we focus our attention on these huge works of beauty, we feel discouraged and lose motivation when we start laying the foundation and see how far we are from achieving our goal.

This leaves us feeling impatient, anxious and hopeless. So, to avoid these feelings, we put the work off for another time. We hope that if we put the work off until tomorrow, we will get over these feelings and be able to make some real progress.

Or, even worse, we put the work off forever because we feel like any effort we put towards our goal is hopeless. We start believing that we will never be able to create the beautiful, perfect project that we have in our minds. [3]


The second reason that we procrastinate is because we are impulsive. We are excited when we visualize our project, but when the monotony of the process comes, we get bored with it. In order to escape the boredom and improve our mood, we do something more fun. 

So we put off the term paper until tomorrow so we can play a video game right now. We put off our jog so we can spend time at a happy hour with colleagues after work. And we put off cleaning the garage so we can watch the next episode of our favorite TV show.  

Procrastinating due to impulsiveness is the most dangerous form of procrastination there is. In fact, the people who report the highest level of chronic procrastination are those who are the most impulsive. [3]


As humans, we value rewards that are right in front of us much more than ones that are abstract or that we have to wait for. This is why countless experiments show that people will take $50 today rather than $100 a month from now. This is a phenomenon called “delay discounting” and it is another key reason why we procrastinate. [4]

We may not even see watching TV or browsing the internet as that big of a reward. But if we can do them right now and procrastinate our important work, they seem much more tempting. This also means that if we try to be productive now, and use a future reward to incentivize us, it will seem less appealing (frizbee doesn't seem as exciting when you have to wait 4 hours to play).

This obviously puts us in a bind as we cannot even properly incentivize ourselves to buckle down and get to work. Leaving us even more likely to procrastinate.


The key to defeating procrastination has been on the minds of men as far back as even St. Augustine who said, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

Mankind has been in a constant struggle to put first things first and execute today what can easily be put off until tomorrow. If I had the answer to this age-old question, I’m sure I would be given the key to the city and some sort of medal for increasing man-kind's productivity across the globe.

Unfortunately I do not have the ultimate answer – no one does. But I will give you some proven tactics to give you a fighting chance against this phenomenon that is as old as man.


There is perhaps no bigger segment of chronic procrastinators than writers. We have the almost cruel fate of having a blank canvas on which to paint every day. We do not have a 9-5 working schedule. We don't have a boss. Many of us do not even have clients to meet with on a regular basis to add some sort of structure to the day. We have nothing but time, a keyboard and a deadline.

So it is in writers that we find the best methods of overcoming procrastination. The first comes from Raymond Chandler, the author of The Big Sleep, who realized that every time he procrastinated, it was because he found some other type of productive activity to do. 

Instead of writing, he would read the newspaper, read works by other authors, write letters, and many other positive things. This made him feel better about his decision to procrastinate, but it meant that work was not getting done. [1]

But rather than impose disciplinary measures on himself to never, ever, procrastinate again; he decided to give himself the power of the “nothing alternative”. During the time he set to work, he could either spend that time writing, or sit there doing nothing. If he really could not think of anything to write, he could look out the window, stand on his head or get lost in his own thoughts, but he could not actually do anything. This gave him motivation to get his work done without making it feel like he was imprisoned by his work schedule.

So the next time you know that you need to get work done, give yourself these two options – work or do nothing. This allows your brain to still feel free without giving you the fun distractions of everything else you could be doing.


The next proven tactic was devised by Robert Benchley who claimed that “he could summon the discipline to read a scientific article about tropical fish, build a bookshelf, arrange the books on the shelf, and write an answer to a friend’s letter than had been on his desk for over 20 years." 

All he needed to do was make sure that none of these things were his top priority.

Just like Chandler, he realized that he did positive work that was not his top priority. So he simply set a to-do list and got everything done on that list that wasn’t the most important thing he had to do.

Obviously this method can only be taken so far. If you have a deadline for tomorrow and you absolutely need to get it done, this won’t work for you. But if you haven’t found the time to clean your garage out or catch up on a book you’ve been meaning to read, set aside some time where those things are not as important as, say, going to the gym. They may just seem more appealing to you and you will still spend the day making real progress.


Most of the time that we procrastinate it is because we realize how much work it is going to take to do the entire project rather than focusing on simply what we can do to make progress.

Breaking the larger task into smaller, more manageable chunks, prevents us from getting completely overwhelmed. If we see the next task as “achievable” our brain will be less likely to procrastinate by seeking something else to do. [5]

If you feel like you can’t break the project up into chunks, try following the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and just get to work. This is a short enough time to prevent our brains from becoming overwhelmed by the task, yet long enough to actually make progress.

Ideally, you would work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, then repeat until the work is complete. But even if you do not follow this entirely, at least you will still be 25 minutes closer to being done!


The biggest thing that causes us to procrastinate is our imagination. We believe that the task is going to be much more painful, arduous and boring than it really is. If we can just get started on the project, we can see that it is not nearly as bad as we have set up in our minds.

In fact, the process of completing the thing that we really want to put off is intrinsically rewarding and fills us with confidence. This feeling will always be more rewarding than the activity we choose to do while procrastinating. [1]

But we cannot know that it is not as bad as we believe or get this rewarding feeling of accomplishment unless we get started.


Almost every single person on this earth struggles with procrastination. Doing today that which can easily, practically, even rationally be put off until tomorrow is in our very nature. Unfortunately in our busy lives, where we always have more on our to-do lists than we have time to get them done, this can be dangerous. Chronic procrastination leads to poor results, high stress and even illness. 

Overcoming procrastination is not easy, but it can be done. Following one of the techniques listed above will help make it easier for you to put first things first. But the most important thing to do is simply get started. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of minutes to immerse yourself in the project and remove the procrastination temptation!


  1. Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press.

  2. Tice, D., & Baumeister, R. (1997). Longitudinal Study of Procrastination, Performance, Stress and Health: The Costs And Benefits Of Dawdling.Psychological Science, 454-458.

  3. Steel, P. (2007). The Nature Of Procrastination: A Meta-analytic And Theoretical Review Of Quintessential Self-regulatory Failure. Psychological Bulletin, 65-94.

  4. McGonigal, K. (2012). The willpower instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it. New York: Avery.

  5. Allen, D.(2001). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. New York: Viking.