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Procrastination: The Contributing Factors

While some individuals procrastinate to a lesser extent and manage to complete tasks reasonably promptly, others struggle to accomplish much of anything.

Broadly speaking, three categories of factors contribute towards procrastination.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors are the internal workings that affect a person’s behaviour – their beliefs and attitudes. These factors are often deeply rooted within a person’s psyche, and shape how they perceive themselves, their abilities, and the world around them.

  • Fear of Failure:
    Fear of failure isn’t simply a fear that the individual might be unable to complete the task, it is a fear that they might mess the whole thing up. This is a safeguard against failure – because you cannot fail something if you did not start it in the first place.
  • Perfectionism:
    Much like fear of failure, perfectionism may result in a person simply not starting a task in an attempt to avoid making mistakes. This can have adverse consequences in the long run because we learn by making mistakes.
  • Lack of Motivation:
    When a person is, on a psychological level, not committed to something, they lose their intrinsic motivation to complete the task. This is tied to a person’s identity – a person who doesn’t see themselves as regularly going to the gym will struggle to do so on a regular basis.
  • Low Self-Confidence:
    If a person does not believe that they can do something, or that they can do it well, they will lose confidence in their ability to do that thing.
  • Avoidance of Discomfort:
    Many situations can be uncomfortable and a lot of people are nervous about tasks such as public speaking. This is tied to a person’s perception of themselves, their abilities, and how other people see them.

Cognitive Factors

Cognitive factors involve the mental processes and strategies people use to perceive, interpret and respond to situations. These factors are all about how an individual thinks, reasons, and problem-solves.

  • Task Difficulty:
    When someone feels a given task is beyond the scope of their abilities, they are going to try to slow things down.
  • Poor Time Management:
    If someone finds it challenging to manage their time, they will face difficulties in effectively planning and completing tasks. Time management is a skill that can be acquired through learning.
  • Distractions:
    Instead of applying themselves to a task, procrastinators will often find ways to distract themselves – task-switching, social media and overpreparation comes to mind.
  • Instant Gratification:
    Gratification normally follows upon completing a task, but when a task is expected to take more time and effort to complete, a procrastinator will likely avoid working on it, preferring to instead work on smaller tasks so they can reach ‘gratification’ sooner.

Environmental Factors:

These are external factors which impact the way an individual behaves, and are often situational and can sometimes be outside of the control of the individual.

  • Lack of Structure:
    While a lack of structure can sometimes be about how a person chooses to interact with their surroundings, a lack of structure may be tied to their environment. Absentee management, or a lack of external support mechanisms can impact a person’s accountability, especially if they have no self-accountability.
  • Unclear Deadlines:
    If a person does not know when a given task is due, their only option is to complete it at the earliest opportunity, but this is likely to create unnecessary stress, which may lead to procrastination.
  • Absence of a Clear Goal:
    Alongside unclear deadlines, an unclear goal is difficult to work towards. Has a task been properly communicated? Does the individual understand the steps required to complete the task and do they know what the expected end result is?

Any given instance of procrastination may be tied to more than one factor. I recently discussed identifying procrastination. Identifying the causes is just as important – once you understand where a person’s procrastination comes from, you can sit down with them and work towards a solution.

For more on this series, also read Procrastination: What does it look like?, or visit our channel on YouTube.