Procrastination is not a question of time management. It’s deeper than that.

Some people think that we are not good at managing our time, so we procrastinate; it looks like we don’t realise how long an assignment might take for instance and we don’t pay enough attention to the ticking clock. Actually, we might be managing our emotions instead. It’s quite possibly not a scheduling issue at all.

Tim Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University in Canada, along with Fuschia Sirois, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield in England, say that “procrastination functions as an emotion-regulation strategy that provides short-term mood repair”.

In their report: Procrastination, Health and Wellbeing, they describe how when we are faced with tasks we find ”difficult, unpleasant, aversive or just plain boring or stressful”, it’s often easier to simply avoid them (imagine that lengthy essay you haven’t started yet, or the washing-up piled high in the kitchen sink that you have promised you would do); some people are prone to “engaging in self-defeating delay at the expense of the future self”.

In other words, they are not able (or willing) to picture the consequences of what they are doing. The late essay equals bad grades, which can lead to less likelihood of a good university, for example. Pychyl and Sirois argue that “feeling more connected to the future self can have important benefits for health and well-being”.

Another reason for putting off tasks could be low self-esteem - thinking that you can’t do it right so you may as well not do it at all.

What the two psychologists suggest is that although we benefit in the very short term by giving the chores that seem like real bores a miss (short-term mood repair), in fact what this signals is that there are problems with self-control and self-regulation.

Sirois defines procrastination as “The voluntary, unnecessary delay of an important task, despite knowing you’ll be worse off for doing so”. Since procrastination is known to lead to not only worrying under-achievement, but also increased levels of anxiety and stress, it’s important to address it before the problem gets you down or becomes chronic. There is a good chance that it can quickly spiral out of control.

Five ways to conquer procrastination:

Self-compassion: don’t be hard on yourself. If you have let yourself or others down in the past, it’s not too late to turn it around. We all make mistakes. We mustn’t dwell on them. Just do your best.

Attach meaning to the task: Sirois suggests you write down why the task is important to you. How will completing it make you feel?

Start small: Don’t allow the task to seem overwhelming. One step at a time. Break the task up into a series of (manageable) mini-tasks.

Reward yourself: use reinforcement such as doing something you want to do, as a reward for having done the thing you didn’t want to do.

Set Targets: For example plan to do the background reading over 4 days, one hour each day; then write a detailed plan the following day; finally write up the essay in 90 minutes.

Recommended reading

Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control) - The New York Times (

Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being | ScienceDirect

Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time - BBC Worklife

Why do we procrastinate, and how can we stop? - The Washington Post