Procrastination Part 1: What it Is and Why it Happens

So you have a big project or test coming up for your online course.  Maybe you have to write a research paper or study for that exam.  You find yourself getting distracted and procrastinating.

What is procrastination?

Merriam Webster defines the word procrastinate as “to put off intentionally and habitually”.  In other words, you may avoid completing an assignment by doing something else.  For instance, you may choose to watch television instead of reading for class or take a longer time preparing a meal instead of writing that discussion post.  Many college students struggle with procrastination, with reported estimates ranging from 80-95% of college students in general engaging in procrastination (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; O’Brien, 2002 as cited in Steel, 2007).  Therefore, you are not alone.

Why do people procrastinate?

The Academic Success Center at Oregon State University shares six reasons why people procrastinate (adapted from Academic Success Center, OSU, 2011).

1. Lack of Motivation

  • One of the main reasons individuals procrastinate is simply because they do not want to do whatever it is they have to do.
  • For example, you may feel because you are not motivated to write that ten page paper and that you cannot accomplish the task when in reality simply by starting the task you will be more likely to complete it.

2. Unsure How to Proceed

  • You may feel unsure as to what is the best course of action. In other words, you make lack the skills to proceed and are unable to move forward in the task.
  • For example, you may have to read several chapters in your text for a course, but you are a slow reader. Therefore, avoiding the task rather than admitting your reading struggles is deemed as an easier course of action.

3. Afraid of Failure

  • Being afraid to fail at a task is a big concern for many individuals. Rather than trying and failing, you may just not try at all. If you do not try, then you consider it as not failing.
  • For example, you turn in assignments or study at the last minute for a test. When you do poorly on either of these assessments, you say “Well if only I had more time, I would have done much better.” The reality is, if you had started the assignment or studying earlier, you likely would have done better on the assignment/test.

4. Afraid of Success

  • On the other side of failure is success. If you do well, then more might be expected of you next time. Therefore, you procrastinate to avoid success thereby getting around the expectations and potential success.
  • For example, you fear if you do really well on a paper then you will only have to work harder on the next paper to get the higher grade.

5. Not Interested in What You Have To Do

  • Not being interested in the material at hand is a big reason students procrastinate. It is important to note that while everyone has tasks (or even classes) they may not be 100% interested in, not everyone misses handing in assignments or procrastinates on completing them.
  • For example, you have to take a math class for your major that you really do not want to have to take. However, focusing on the material rather than procrastinating allows you to spend time doing things you’d rather do (e.g. hang out with friends or family).

6. Retaliation

  • Procrastination could be due to the fact that you want to rebel against “imposed schedules, standards, and expectations” (Academic Success Center, OSU, 2011). Maybe you don’t like your professor or your parents are pushing you to take a class you are not necessarily a fan of.
  • For example, your professor said something that offended you in the forum discussion so you retaliate by handing in assignments late. Just remember that doing this typically does not affect the party who has offended you, rather it impacts you (i.e. you receiving a bad grade).

Now that we have reflected on common reasons for procrastination, stay tuned for my next post on how to avoid and resolve procrastination issues.



Adapted from Academic Success Center (2011). Six reasons people procrastinate. Oregon State University. Adapted from Burns, D. (1993). Ten days to self-esteem. New York: Quill.

Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.


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