Procrastination is a common experience in school, at work, and even sometimes responding to a friend’s text. It’s more than just laziness and it doesn’t mean that you don’t value time. Procrastination is the manifestation of an emotional block that keeps you from doing what you need to do.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is a behavioral pattern in which an individual puts off doing a task, despite the obvious negative consequences of the delay. For example, a student might put off writing an assignment until the night before it’s due. The result is that they must pull an all-nighter, their assignment is not well-written, and they’re stressed out. While the student knew that they shouldn’t wait until the last moment to start their assignment, something held them back until it was no longer possible to put it off any longer.

Procrastination can have large negative impacts on wellbeing. People who procrastinate may face relationship conflict with those around them, especially if their delayed action on tasks impacts their friends, family, or partners. Their grades or job performance may also suffer as a result of their procrastination. When it comes to taking care of themselves, procrastination can lead to putting off medical attention, healthy living habits, and more.

Origin of procrastination

Procrastination is often viewed as a sign of poor time management. However, therapists view procrastination as the result of an emotional block. It is both a contributing factor to the development of a mental health condition and a key symptom of an already-existing mental health condition. Many people who have depression, anxiety, ADHD, or PTSD have issues with procrastination.

Many people procrastinate on tasks that are implicitly connected to an uncomfortable emotion. Because behaviors generally connect to how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking, putting off important tasks can be a manifestation of an underlying emotional issue. This could include fear of imperfection or failure. It could also come from the stress of internal and external pressure. Grief might play a role in someone’s motivation to complete tasks. When we view procrastination from this perspective, we take a more empathetic approach to addressing it.

Symptoms of procrastination

When someone procrastinates, they’re generally aware of the fact that they’re setting themselves up for stress. This, plus the negative consequences of the procrastination, may result in feelings of self-resentment, disappointment, frustration, anger, or sadness. They might feel ashamed or guilty, and pile on self-judgment. This can lead to a decrease in mental health.

For those who aren’t sure if they are procrastinating but find themselves regularly pressed for time, here are some examples of unconscious avoidance of a situation, feeling, or task:

  • Wanting to start a new exercise program but waiting until the “perfect moment”
  • Getting a missed call from your partner, but instead of calling them back, you call your friend
  • On your way to a friend’s party, stopping by the store to buy random household items
  • Before leaving the house for work, scrubbing your shower floor or engaging in other deep cleaning behaviors

Therapy for procrastination

Therapists who specialize in treating procrastination will help clients recognize instances of procrastination. They’ll encourage clients to reflect these situations and to identify the emotions that led to the procrastination. Because procrastination can be tied to internal thoughts, therapists will teach clients how to change their thought patterns.

The therapist’s goal is not to teach clients how to better manage their time. Instead, their goal is to empower clients to pay attention to their emotions and get to the bottom of why they engage procrastination behaviors. They’ll also address any other mental health conditions or symptoms that are present so that clients can live comfortable lives.