Procrastination is a fairly common behavioural trait that might be more common than we think. People have dealt with habitual delays and hesitation since times immemorial. The renowned Greek poet Hesiod cautioned in 800 B.C., “not to put your work off until tomorrow and the day after”. Putting off tasks, delaying important duties, and ignoring your to-do list is something many of us struggle with on occasion. But Procrastination is also a risk factor for poor mental and physical health, so it is important to overcome it and evaluate if it is a symptom of something larger.

Why people procrastinate according to science

Our limbic system is the neurological powerhouse that controls our emotions and memory. That is, we feel first, think later. And to avoid experiencing negative feelings, we may avoid tasks that seem overwhelming or inconvenient. Factors such as fear of failure, unpleasantness, and anxiety can be barriers to putting off tasks indefinitely or until there is no choice left.

Here are some key reasons for procrastination

  • Feeling anxious about the outcomes – for example, a visit to the doctor.
  • Insecurity about one’s ability to complete the task
  • Feeling bored or tired
  • Poor time management(thinking there’s more time to get the task done)
  • The self-belief that you perform better under pressure.

When should you worry?

If procrastination is such a common behavioural trait, how do you know if it’s cause for concern?

Chronic procrastination is a pervasive tendency to unnecessarily delay decisions or actions. It is rooted in various causes including anxiety, and fear of failure and has a significant impact such as increased stress, poor financial outcomes, poor health, etc.

There are a few tell-tale signs of chronic procrastination that you should watch out for:

You face serious consequences because of your procrastination 

Many individuals put off doing things at the risk of serious impact. One example would be not paying bills on time even at the risk of being evicted or getting shut-off notices. At work and school, these translate into poor performance reviews and poor grades.

You put things off in multiple areas of your life

Chronic procrastinators don’t just shirk duties at work. They may habitually cancel on their friends or put off doing things for their house, their garden, their own finances and health.

You don’t seem to have control over procrastination 

Even when you are aware of the consequences in your personal and professional life, you may not be able to stop putting things off.

You are in denial

Many chronic procrastinators cannot admit their tendency to themselves or anyone else.It impacts their relationship with loved ones but they cannot come clean about it.

Analyzing the root cause

While procrastination in itself does not comprise a mental illness, it might be a sign of something larger. One of the first steps to do if you find yourself fighting a losing battle with procrastination is to consult your physician and identify if there is a deeper cause.

Procrastination is associated with certain mental health diagnoses. Here’s a breakdown of the connection between the two:


A person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder finds it hard to concentrate and complete a task. Procrastination is then a common challenge with ADHD. There is also a tendency for ADHD individuals to focus on the next bigger and brighter task.


People with depression lack motivation to get anything done, even if it’s a relatively easy task.


An individual with anxiety may find even simple tasks overwhelming. They might worry about the possible outcomes and scenarios where something might go wrong, leading to delays.

Bipolar Disorder

Procrastination is often seen in those with bipolar disorder in both its manic and depressive states. When going through a depressive state, a person may have apathy and lack the motivation to do anything, whereas, in a manic state, the person may neglect some tasks in favour of others.

Treating chronic procrastination

There is growing evidence to support that procrastination is a problem of emotion regulation and not poor time management. People’s emotional triggers influence how they think and feel, which in turn leads to self-sabotaging behaviour such as procrastination. Whether your procrastination is rooted in a psychological disease or something else, an assessment can lead you to the right path. Selecting relevant anti-procrastination techniques can help you implement a sustainable change and overcome self-limiting behaviours.