AskDefine | Define procrastinate

Dictionary Definition



1 postpone doing what one should be doing; "He did not want to write the letter and procrastinated for days" [syn: stall, drag one's feet, drag one's heels, shillyshally, dilly-dally, dillydally]
2 postpone or delay needlessly; "He procrastinated the matter until it was almost too late"

User Contributed Dictionary



  • From etyl la procrastinatum, past participle of procrastino < pro + crastinus < cras


  • italbrac RP /prəʊˈkræstɪneɪt/
  • italbrac US , /proʊˈkræstəneɪt/ or /prəˈkræstəneɪt/


  1. To put off; to delay taking action; to wait until later.
    He procrastinated until the last minute and had to stay up all night to finish.
  2. To put off; to delay something.
    "...procrastinate the inevitable." - Dick Vitale


To put off; to delay taking action; to wait until later
To put off; to delay something

Extensive Definition

Procrastination is a type of behavior which is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.
For an individual, procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the disapproval of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. These combined feelings can promote further procrastination. While it is normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder.
The word itself comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow). The term's first known appearance was in Edward Hall's Chronicle (The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancestre and Yorke), first published sometime before 1548. The sermon reflected procrastination's connection at the time to task avoidance or delay, volition or will, and sin.

Causes of procrastination


The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a higher-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the "dreams and wishes" of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential.
Author David Allen brings up two major psychological causes of procrastination at work and in life which are related to anxiety, not laziness. The first category comprises things too small to worry about, tasks that are an annoying interruption in the flow of things, and for which there are low-impact workarounds; an example might be organizing a messy room. The second category comprises things too big to control, tasks that a person might fear, or for which the implications might have a great impact on a person's life; an example might be the adult children of a deteriorating elderly parent deciding what living arrangement would be best.
A person might unconsciously overestimate or underestimate the scale of a task if procrastination has become a habit.
From the behavioral psychology point of view, James Mazur has said that procrastination is a particular case of "impulsiveness" as opposed to self control. Mazur states that procrastination occurs because of a temporal discounting of a punisher, as it happens with the temporal discount for a reinforcer. Procrastination, then, as Mazur says, happens when a choice has to be made between a later larger task and a sooner small task; as the absolute value of the task gets discounted by the time, a subject tends to choose the later large task..


Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual's ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention and increased procrastination. This is similar to the prefrontal lobe's role in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), where underactivation is common.

Academic procrastination

While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting, where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students' time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination".
Some students struggle with procrastination due to a lack of time management or study skills, stress, or feeling overwhelmed with their work.

Student syndrome

Student syndrome refers to the phenomenon that many students will begin to fully apply themselves to a task only just before a deadline. This leads to wasting any buffers built into individual task duration estimates.
The term originated in Eliyahu M. Goldratt's novel-style book Critical Chain. The principle is also addressed in Agile Software Development.
For example, if a group of students goes to a professor and asks for an extension to a deadline, they will usually defend their request by noting how much better their project will be if they are given more time to work on it; they request this with the intent to distribute their work time across the remainder of the time until the deadline. In reality, however, most students will have other tasks or events that place demands on their time. They will often end up close to the same situation they started with, wishing they had more time as the new delayed deadline approaches.
This same behaviour is seen in businesses; in project and task estimating, a time- or resource-buffer is applied to the task to allow for overrun or other scheduling problems. However, with student syndrome the latest possible start of tasks causes the buffer for any given task to be wasted beforehand, rather than kept in reserve. Like students, many workers do not complete assignments early, but wait until the last minute before starting, often having to rush to submit their assignment minutes before the deadline. A similar phenomenon is seen every year in the United States and Mexico when personal tax returns are due, as large numbers of people queue until their post office closes, in order to get their tax return postmarked.

Types of procrastinators

The relaxed type

The relaxed type of procrastinators view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them by directing energy into other tasks. It is common, for example, for relaxed type procrastinating children to abandon schoolwork but not their social lives. Students often see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts. This type of procrastination is a form of denial or cover-up; therefore, typically no help is being sought. Furthermore, they are also unable to defer gratification. The procrastinator avoids situations that would cause displeasure, indulging instead in more enjoyable activities. In Freudian terms, such procrastinators refuse to renounce the pleasure principle, instead sacrificing the reality principle. They may not appear to be worried about work and deadlines, but this is simply an evasion.

The tense-afraid type

The tense-afraid type of procrastinator usually feels overwhelmed with pressure, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals and many other negative feelings. Feeling that they lack the ability or focus to successfully complete their work, they tell themselves that they need to unwind and relax, that it's better to take it easy for the afternoon, for example, and start afresh in the morning. They usually have grandiose plans that aren't realistic. Their 'relaxing' is often temporary and ineffective, and leads to even more stress as time runs out, deadlines approach and the person feels increasingly guilty and apprehensive. This behavior becomes a cycle of failure and delay, as plans and goals are put off, penciled into the following day or week in the diary again and again. It can also have a debilitating effect on their personal lives and relationships. Since they are uncertain about their goals, they often feel awkward with people who appear confident and goal-oriented, which can lead to depression. Tense-afraid procrastinators often withdraw from social life, avoiding contact even with close friends.



External links

procrastinate in Danish: Overspringshandling
procrastinate in German: Aufschieben
procrastinate in Spanish: Procrastinación
procrastinate in French: Procrastination
procrastinate in Galician: Procrastinación
procrastinate in Hebrew: דחיינות
procrastinate in Lithuanian: Vilkinimas
procrastinate in Japanese: 先延ばし
procrastinate in Polish: Prokrastynacja
procrastinate in Portuguese: Procrastinação
procrastinate in Simple English: Procrastination
procrastinate in Finnish: Viivyttely
procrastinate in Swedish: Prokrastinering

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abandon, be dilatory, continue, cut, dally, dawdle, defer, delay, drag, drag out, draw out, dwell on, equivocate, extend, filibuster, gain time, goldbrick, goof off, hang, hang back, hang fire, hesitate, hold off, jump, lag, leave, leave loose ends, leave undone, lengthen, lengthen out, let alone, let be, let dangle, let go, let pass, let ride, let slide, let slip, linger, linger on, loiter, make time, malinger, miss, omit, pass over, pass up, pause, play for time, poke, postpone, pretermit, prolong, protract, put aside, put off, shelve, shilly-shally, shirk, skip, slack, spin out, stall, stall for time, stall off, stay, stooge around, stretch out, suspend, table, talk against time, tarry, temporize, tergiversate, trifle, vacillate, waver
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