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Why Do We Procrastinate?

Procrastination. There’s a good chance you’re doing it right now.

Almost 95% of college students procrastinate. 50% say that they procrastinate in a consistent and problematic manner.

Researchers have linked procrastination to lower salaries, shorter durations of employment, and a greater likelihood of being unemployed or under employed rather than working full-time

A survey by H&R Block indicated that procrastinating on taxes costs people on average $400 because of rushing and consequent errors, resulting in over $473 million in overpayments in 2002.

If we know there are negative consequences, why do we procrastinate?

Turns out, there are evolutionary reasons

“The history of procrastination likely began around nine thousand years ago, sprouting along with the invention of agriculture. Planting crops in the spring to reap them in the fall was our first artificial deadline; it was a task that civilization and survival required but not one we had evolved to perform.” - Piers Steel

What causes procrastination?

Instant Gratification

Procrastination occurs when the brain picks more immediate goals that favour impulses.

“In essence, procrastination occurs when the limbic system vetoes the long-term plans of the prefrontal cortex in favor of the more immediately realisable: and the limbic system, aside from being the quicker of the two and in charge of our first impulse, is often the stronger.

When near events get this evaluative boost from our limbic system, their vividness increases in our attention shifts to their immediate and highly valued consumable aspects (what we can see, smell, here, touch, and taste).”

Steel simplifies it using a formula


Our first variable is Expectancy

Many procrastinators believe they will fail. Thus they don't act.

Success requires balance of optimism and realism - not underconfident that you can't achieve anything and not overconfident such that you don't put in the effort.

Steel recommends the use of Success Spirals - where you take the time to set an ongoing series of challenging but achievable goals. And take the time to celebrate your small successes.

You don't have to post your small success celebrations on social media. Nobody has to know about them. But you'll see an improvement in self-confidence and motivation to pursue other achievements.


Our second variable is Value

Lack of energy is the number one reason for procrastination. For Value, you need both physical and mental energy.

Physical energy comes with getting enough sleep, exercise and identifying your peak performance hours for the most difficult tasks.

But what about mental energy?

If you don't see value in a task, you're not likely to do it. Finding Relevance In Work comes with seeking out a job that you're genuinely passionate about.

“If time flies when you're having fun, it hits the afterburners when you don't think you're having enough.” Jeff Mallett


In his book “The Procrastination Equation”, Piers Steel says more intense relationship with procrastination in comparison to expectancy and value. Unlike expectancy, value and delay, impulsiveness is actually linked to biology.

But there is one thing you can do to tackle it: remind yourself of the consequences of procrastination and sometimes even enforce punishment to teach yourself not to repeat it.

Drawing on behavioural economics, a few companies have come up with business ideas to motivate customers to stay on track with their goals.

Weight Watchers is an international company designed to punish people for putting on the pounds. It provides assistance and advice for getting to and maintaining a target weight. Once you are firmly established at your ideal size, you receive a free lifetime membership. But there is a catch. You must weigh in once a month and if you are more than 2 pounds or over, the membership fees are reinstated until you again shed the pounds.

Other brands include:

Clocky; the alarm clock that beeps and runs away from you to get you out of bed on time and SnūzNLūz: The alarm clock that donates to your least favorite charity when you hit snooze.


Our final variable is delay.

The further the goal, the less motivated you're going to be. For this, it may help to quantify your goal.

Ernest Hemingway combined both inputs and outputs, writing for six hours or producing about 500 words, a useful strategy.

Not to mention, breaking down long-term goals into short-term objectives and celebrating your small wins.

“Victory is worn not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”- Louis l'amour

In a world full of distractions, tackling procrastination hasn't exactly become easier.

But it is possible to take on one variable at a time. Pick one variable of the procrastination equation and work on it. Be it a success spiral, or looking breaking down long-term goal into short-term objectives.

What's one variable of the procrastination equation you're going to tackle to become more productive?

Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our video about Overcoming Procrastination.


  1. Steel, P. (2010). The procrastination equation: How to stop putting things off and start getting stuff done. Random House Canada.

  2. Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: a meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological bulletin, 133(1), 65.

  3. Nguyen, B., Steel, P., & Ferrari, J. R. (2013). Procrastination's impact in the workplace and the workplace's impact on procrastination. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 21(4), 388-399.

  4. Sirois, F. M., Melia-Gordon, M. L., & Pychyl, T. A. (2003). “I'll look after my health, later”: An investigation of procrastination and health. Personality and individual differences, 35(5), 1167-1184.

  5. Klingsieck, K. B. (2013). Procrastination in different life-domains: Is procrastination domain specific?. Current Psychology, 32(2), 175-185.

  6. Steel, P., & Klingsieck, K. B. (2016). Academic procrastination: Psychological antecedents revisited. Australian Psychologist, 51(1), 36-46.


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