problem loading...
The Psychology Behind Procrastination
June 24, 2022
Natasha Karolewska, Grade 11

It’s 1 am, and your chemistry test will begin in exactly 8 hours and 10 minutes. You’re sitting at your desk, flipping through your barely-legible lecture notes from twenty-something classes ago. You’re sleep-deprived, totally clueless when it comes to the structures and properties of macromolecules, and annoyed at yourself for leaving your studying to the last minute… again. 

But you’re not the only one pulling an all-nighter tonight. Researchers have estimated that between 50 and 95% of students procrastinate, so there’s a fair chance that your chemistry classmates are also opening their textbooks for the very first time today. 

Procrastination is defined as the irrational act of delaying a task despite realising the consequences that will follow. It’s a well-documented phenomenon that has fascinated researchers in recent years because the decision to procrastinate is entirely voluntary and not imposed on people. 

In the modern world, procrastination has been made easier by the widespread availability of distracting devices like cell phones, laptops, and TV. According to research, accessing social media and playing video games are among the most common ways in which students avoid their work. The driving force behind choosing these more attractive alternatives is the desire to avoid aversiveness and unpleasant feelings. In short, people procrastinate as a form of escape.

Among psychologists, procrastination is understood from several different perspectives. One of these is the differential perspective, where procrastination is considered a personality trait with links to low self-esteem, perfectionism, reduced conscientiousness, and inability to cope with unpleasant emotions. This implies that students who do not have confidence in their academic abilities and those who aspire for perfect marks are less likely to begin their work. 

Procrastination is also viewed from the motivational/volitional perspective. The fundamental idea behind this is that procrastinators have decreased self-regulation and self-control, resulting in a gap between action and intention. This suggests that the difficulty lies in effective planning and time management rather than the task itself. Most procrastinators have good intentions, but fail to follow them up with the appropriate actions. For instance, most students enrolled in AP courses understand the importance of getting a head start on exam preparation, but many of them still find themselves scrambling to review everything in the first week of May.

So, how do you stop procrastinating? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for dealing with this behaviour. Some studies have suggested that in more serious cases, treatment involves building a“procrastinational profile.” This is an extensive process that helps psychologists understand individual motives and personality traits so that specific needs can be catered for. However, for the average person looking to boost their productivity, experts recommend focusing on time-management skills and self-awareness. Strategies to avoid a last-minute cram might include everything from breaking a task up into manageable chunks to making daily schedules or avoiding noisy and crowded work environments. Installing browser extensions that monitor your activities could also be beneficial. 

In most cases, procrastination seldom has any disastrous effects on academic performance. Nevertheless, it does often increase stress levels and lead to poor sleep habits. So, next time you catch yourself reaching for your phone after school, remind yourself that you can always get around to procrastinating later.