Procrastination Explained: Why Do We Procrastinate?


Elyza Tuan '23

A Montrose student, Ava Ryan ’23, in distress

Procrastination. Oh, how we all hate it. Many a night, I’ve sat at my desk waiting for inspiration to strike while I scroll meaninglessly through Instagram, or click on video after video on YouTube. And since the internet is infinite, I could be scrolling… well… infinitely! That’s not comforting!

So, after a while, I realize how much time has gone by and I jostle out of my trance-like state and– oh! It’s ten o’clock already?

What do we do about this endless mind-numbing cycle? It is so important now more than ever to re-establish our routines and start off the year strong. A new school year means another chance to set ourselves up for success, another chance to challenge adversity and conquer it.

But first, we need to understand why we procrastinate. Consider what your thoughts and feelings are when anticipating a hard homework assignment. Are you allowing them to take free reign of your system? By letting feelings like fear of failure, dread of doing a hard task, or sadness in not doing something more fun take the steering wheel, we put our responsibilities in the hands of the erratic mess of spontaneity that is our emotions.

From this article, “Why procrastination is about managing emotions not time,” I learned that it all has to do with costs and rewards. Tasks cost us effort, effort that seems so daunting and laborious when anticipated. In completing a task, we get rewards which involve a bunch of brain science that I don’t quite understand, that is to say, we feel good after. The problem with procrastination is that we want the rewards but are truly frightened by the effort it will take to get the result we want, and something in our minds exacerbates the negative, blowing the entire situation out of proportion. 

And this is where the perfectionists become procrastinators. Speaking from experience, I used to associate the brain rewards with perfection, so I thought anything less than that wouldn’t give me the satisfaction of completing a task. I used to get so scared, not only of the effort it would take, but also the life altering sequence of events that would butterfly from this one imperfect homework assignment. 

If I didn’t get a 100% on this homework assignment, that means I would fail the upcoming test, which means I’d fail the class, which means I won’t graduate, which means I won’t go to college, which means I won’t get a job, and then I’ll be poor and sad and lonely. So obviously that kind of daily spiral isn’t ideal.

Social media is a big culprit in allowing for this kind of procrastination as well. It is a method of escapism from reality, from the homework you’re dreading, and from the all-consuming downward spiral. I’ve found that when scrolling on TikTok, there is an unlimited source of things to laugh at. However, your laugh when you encounter the first funny video will be different from your laugh when you get to a funny video one hour later. You can see how the brain rewards decrease rapidly in that short interval of time. And although we know it will never replace the hard earned rewards of work, it is enough in the moment to obstruct reality and give you fake brain rewards that actually do more harm than good.

Another mindset is the ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ mindset. Suddenly, tomorrow seems like the perfect length of time away: not too far that it seems like you are avoiding the task, and not so close that you actually have to take action. 

After doing some research, I stumbled upon a system called structured procrastination, a method explained by John Perry in his article “On Procrastination. Basically, there is some big task at the top of the list that you are avoiding, and to take your attention off that task, you complete smaller tasks to fill up the time. For example, I’m writing this article right now because I have homework I’m avoiding. The pitfall to this technique is that eventually, the things at the top of the list have to be completed at some point, so that is when you replace those with a ‘big task’ like answering that important email. This method really fails when you run out of the smaller tasks and the only ones left are the actual hard ones. Also, sorry to whomever’s important email I’m not responding to.

In my opinion, this method isn’t the best way, but it is a step in the right direction because at least you’re being some form of productive, however menial it feels. It isn’t easy jumping right into productive thinking, so if you’re really in the deep of procrastination, this might be a good start.

So how do we fight it? For me, it’s an ongoing cycle. Since it’s my junior year, I’m leaning into my productive side and really organizing my time, but like it said in the first article I mentioned, it’s not just about time management. It’s about emotional management too. There are days when I get through all my homework before 9:30 and there are days where I’m finishing the assignments due that day in the study hall, lunch, or student life block right before (and yes, there are days when I have to use all three). And that’s fine. It’s exhausting sometimes and we can’t be homework machines. The important thing is seeking to improve, find a better way, and take action.

So I encourage you to start thinking about what makes you a procrastinator. Is it perfectionism, laziness, fear, or something else? Let’s become procras-TODAY-ers. Yup. I made that pun.

Shout out to Chaitanya Aurora ’23 and Mrs. Whitlock for sharing this Ted Talk with me that inspired this article.

by Elyza Tuan ’23, Assistant Co-Editor-in-Chief