Procrastination technically refers to the avoidance of a specific task or work which needs to be accomplished. But this technical explanation doesn’t begin to capture the emotions triggered by the word. For most of us, the word procrastination reminds us of past experiences where we have felt guilty, lazy, inadequate, anxious, or stupid–or some combination of these. It also implies a value judgment; if you procrastinate, you are bad, and as such, you lack worth as a person.

Procrastination and Its Causes

In order to understand and solve your procrastination problems, you must carefully analyze those situations where your work is not being completed. First, determine whether the cause is poor time management; if so, you will need to learn and develop time management skills. If, however, you know how to manage your time but don’t make use of those skills, you may have a more serious problem. Many individuals cite the following reasons for avoiding work:

Procrastination Takes Many Forms

Once you have surmounted the emotional block by acknowledging your procrastination (guilt, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy), and after you have analyzed the underlying causes, you need to clearly specify how you procrastinate. Consider the following examples.

  1. Do you act as though if you ignore a task, it will go away? The mid-term exam in your chemistry class is not likely to vaporize, no matter how much you ignore it.
  2. Do you underestimate the work involved in the task, or overestimate your abilities and resources in relationship to the task? Do you tell yourself that you grasp concepts so easily that you need only spend one hour on the physics problems which would normally take you six?
  3. Do you deceive yourself into believing that a mediocre performance or lesser standards are acceptable? For example, if you deceive yourself that a 2.3 GPA will still get you into the medical school of your choice, you may be avoiding the decision to work harder to improve your grade point average and thus may have to alter your career plans. This form of avoidance can prevent you from consciously making choices about important goals in your life.
  4. Do you deceive yourself by substituting one worthy activity for another? Suppose you clean the apartment instead of writing your term paper. Valuing a clean apartment is fine but if that value only becomes important when there is a paper due, you are procrastinating.
  5. Do you believe that repeated delays are harmless? An example is putting off writing your paper so you can watch five minutes of your favorite television program. If you don’t return to writing the paper after five minutes have elapsed, you may stay tuned to the television for the entire evening, with no work being done on the paper.
  6. Do you dramatize a commitment to a task rather than actually doing it? An example is taking your books on vacation but never opening them, or perhaps even declining invitations for pleasurable events, but still not pursuing the work at hand nor getting needed relaxation. This way you stay in a constant state of unproductive readiness to work–without ever working.
  7. Do you persevere on only one portion of the task? An example is writing and rewriting the introductory paragraph of the paper but not dealing with the body and the conclusion. The introductory paragraph is important, but not at the expense of the entire project.
  8. Do you become paralyzed in deciding between alternative choices? An example involves spending so much time deciding between two term paper topics that you don’t have sufficient time to write the paper.

What to Do about Procrastination

If you can visualize yourself in one or more of these vignettes, you may be ready to overcome your problems with avoidance or procrastination. The following is a list of additional steps which may help you to deal with your avoidance problems:

Effective Planning

The larger, more involved, the project, the more difficult it is to plan effectively to carry it out. The following steps may be helpful:

Need Additional Help?

Should you feel you would like more suggestions for coping with procrastination, the Counseling Center is available to help you. You may call the Counseling Center at 405-574-1326 for more information, come by the 3rd floor of the Student Center (Room 305), or send us an email at