Have you ever put off paying bills, stayed up late doing homework at the last minute, or even avoided planning a fun event? We’ve all procrastinated before, but some people have the tendency to procrastinate more than others. Procrastination, which is often mistaken for laziness, is the active practice of avoiding stressful or unpleasant (but important) tasks by replacing them with less important tasks. These less important tasks are typically easier or more enjoyable, and make you feel better in the moment. (Laziness, on the other hand, is related to inactivity and unwillingness to do any tasks.)
For example, if you have a looming deadline at work but find yourself scrolling social media sites or striking up casual conversations with coworkers instead of getting your work done, you’re engaging in procrastination. It may seem harmless in the moment, but chronic procrastination (frequently avoiding important tasks) can negatively impact your mental and even physical health.
Why do we procrastinate?
The idea of procrastinating has been around for thousands of years, and comes from a Latin term External Site that roughly translates into “for tomorrow.” Surprisingly, procrastination is not a unique personality trait and has nothing to with the ability to manage your time. Research shows procrastination External Site is a tactic we use to cope with negative emotions, like boredom, anxiety, stress, insecurity, frustration, resentment, and self-doubt, that we associate with certain tasks.
This explains why you might have failed to stop procrastinating in the past. Though they may seem promising, trying tricks to increase productivity or improve time management and organization ultimately don’t address what actually causes us to procrastinate.
The impact of procrastination on your health
If you procrastinate every now and then, you likely won’t see any harmful health effects. However, if you find yourself avoiding important tasks frequently, it can cost you more than just your productivity over a longer period of time.
Chronic procrastination External Site has been shown to cause stress, low levels of life satisfaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor physical health (from a lack of nutrition and physical exercise), chronic illness, sleep deprivation, and even high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In addition to impacting your health, chronic procrastination can also lead to poor grades in school, underperformance at work, and financial struggles External Site from putting off important responsibilities.
How to stop procrastinating
Procrastination may make us feel better in the moment, but in the end it’s a self-defeating behavior that most people would actively choose to stop. If you’ve unknowingly trained your brain to avoid negative feelings by procrastinating, it can be hard to change that habit. The key? Finding a better reward for your brain than avoidance — one that can help relieve challenging feelings without harming your long-term health.
Want to avoid and ultimately overcome your tendency to procrastinate? Try some of these tips:
- Figure out your procrastination triggers. Do you avoid tasks that you find challenging, don’t interest you, or seem frustrating? Once you know what’s triggering your procrastination, you can address it directly. For example, if you avoid boring tasks, finding a way to make them more fun — like putting on an interesting podcast, listening to your favorite songs, or taking breaks to get up and move — could help prevent you from putting them off.
- Ask for accountability. Some people perform better when they know they’re being held accountable by a friend, partner, or loved one. If you find yourself struggling to stay on task, ask someone you trust to check in with you regularly to make sure you’re motivated to continue making progress.
- Do your least-favorite tasks first. When you’re faced with a full to-do list, start on the tasks you’re most likely to avoid first. By setting aside time at the beginning of the day to get through the things you really don’t want to do, you give yourself the rest of the day to focus on the tasks you enjoy.
- Try forgiveness. Procrastination should not be viewed as a personal failing. Research shows when you forgive yourself for procrastinating Opens PDF, you’re less likely to do it in the future.
- Break it up. Getting started can often be the most challenging part of a task, so breaking up a large, daunting task into smaller parts can help reduce the chance of procrastination. If you have to draft a paper, for example, break it up into tasks like starting up your computer, opening up a blank document, and creating an outline.
- Adjust your mindset. You’re likely to feel unpleasant emotions around tasks that you “need” to do — which implies you have no choice. Switching it up to thinking about each task as something you “choose” to do can help you feel more in control and positive.
What to do when procrastination is part of a bigger issue
While procrastination itself is not a diagnosable mental health condition, it is a common symptom External Site of some mental health conditions — including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and anxiety. In particular, low self-esteem or fear of failure may be at the root of procrastination in those who experience depression and anxiety.
In these cases, working with a therapist or other mental health professional can be key in helping a person overcome procrastination. These professionals can help you identify why and when you procrastinate, rewire your brain to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones, and learn different strategies to cope with stressful situations.
If you're a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield member, you can find a therapist in your network Secure Site and check your health plan benefits by logging in to or registering for myWellmark®. You can also establish mental health care with a virtual mental health professional through Doctor On Demand® External Site, which is available to most Wellmark members.