Why Do People Procrastinate? 7 Reasons Why We Waste Time

Reams of paperwork await you, the garage needs cleaning, and your car's due for an oil change, but you're putting it all off. Why do people procrastinate? Here, we lay out common causes.

why do people procrastinate

Why do people procrastinate? There are all kinds of reasons—among them the temptation to push aside a big project in favor of more relaxing pursuits. In such cases, experts say, it's helpful to keep in mind the long-term goal.

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Ever wonder why you spend hours binge-watching a TV series even though you’re on a tight deadline? Or why you feel compelled to clean the house when faced with an overwhelming project? Or why you keep putting off that oil change for your car? The reason could be—wait, just a sec. I’ll get back to telling you right after I watch this video of a baby panda…. Where were we? Oh yeah—I was going to answer the question, “Why do people procrastinate?”

Countless factors can be to blame for frequent procrastination. From being bored to delaying something we find difficult, putting things off could be an inefficient coping mechanism. Or, we could blame genetics. The following list touches on those and other reasons that will shed light on why people procrastinate.


Now that we’ve discovered why we’re procrastinating, it’s time to fix the problem—not after you’ve had a snack, scrubbed the toilet, and texted five friends. Learn how by reading our post Procrastination Problems? These 15 Strategies Can Resolve Them.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

Putting things off is common habit—and some of us struggle with it more than others do. Why do people procrastinate? Consider these reasons:

  1. Genetics. A study in the journal Psychological Science found that 46 percent of our tendency to procrastinate is heritable. Being impulsive is 49 percent due to our genes. The researchers also found that genetics tied to impulsivity overlap with those tied to procrastination. In other words, we are likely impulsive because of our poor goal management skills.
  2. A desire to regulate mood. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, procrastination is highly linked to other behavioral, genetic, and neurological traits. These include impulsivity, difficulties regulating emotions, and problems with motivation. The researchers found that people may procrastinate in an attempt to regulate their moods in the short term.
  3. Boredom. Why do people procrastinate? If you’ve ever hated doing something because it is monotonous or tedious, you’ll understand the desire to waste time. Distraction techniques could include anything from writing thank-you cards or making phone calls to filing paperwork or keeping track of bills.
  4. The Internet. In a study of 818 adolescents, German researchers found that those who were insufficiently controlled or monitored while multitasking on the Internet (e.g., doing homework while using various applications) were more likely to suffer from “high trait procrastination,” a.k.a. irrational task delay.
  5. Loss of long-term goals. It’s easy to live in the moment and focus on things that provide instant gratification—for example, writing a to-do list, getting a snack, or watching “Try Not to Laugh” videos on YouTube. Working on a long-term project can seem less appealing, whether it’s studying for next week’s exam, building a shed for the back yard, or creating a monthly spreadsheet for work. So the enormity of a task may overshadow the goal behind the task, which is where procrastination comes into play.
  6. A desire to delay bedtime. Yes, some of us even procrastinate our sleep away. According to Dutch researchers, those who procrastinate at bedtime fall into three categories:
      • Deliberate procrastination. People who procrastinate deliberately feel they deserve extra time for themselves.
      • Mindless procrastination. Those who procrastinate mindlessly do so as a result of becoming “immersed in their evening activities,” thereby losing track of time.
      • Strategic delay. These procrastinators claim to believe going to sleep later would help them to fall asleep more easily. Instead, researchers believe they may actually be suffering from undiagnosed insomnia.
  7. Fear. Ever worry that your work won’t be good enough, or that you won’t do well despite putting in loads of effort? Do you struggle with perfectionism, often stressing that the result won’t be up to your excessive standards? These are common reasons for putting things off. “Fear of something. . . is often fear of not doing well or being smart enough,” says Marion Jacobs, Ph.D., a California-based licensed clinical psychologist. For example, some may procrastinate in studying, waiting until the night before an exam to cram. The reason? If the resulting grade isn’t as high as expected, they can blame it on not giving their best instead of seeing it as a reflection of their intelligence levels, Dr. Jacobs explains.

Is Procrastination a Mental Illness?

No, says Leslie Connor, Ph.D., LLC, a licensed psychologist in Wilmington, Del., procrastination is not a mental illness. “It is more a learned behavior for coping with a problem or problems,” Dr. Connor explains. “However, for some people, their procrastination is a reflection of diagnosable depression or anxiety. But the behavior of procrastination is not considered a sign of mental illness.”

When Should You Seek Help?

That said, if you can’t stop procrastinating—i.e., you really cannot avoid putting things off—you may need to seek help. As soon as procrastination interferes with your normal, everyday life, the problem has become big enough to treat. The effects may be serious, Dr. Connor explains, “if procrastinating prevents you from holding a job or having a healthy relationship.”

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Shandley McMurray

Shandley McMurray has written several of Belvoir’s special health reports on topics including stress & anxiety, coronary artery disease, healthy eyes and pain management. Shandley also has authored numerous articles … Read More

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