Dealing with procrastination: Why it happens and how to fix it

Aleksandra Dragutinovic

Last updated on: June 22, 2022

According to research, every 5th person is a chronic procrastinator – and 95% claim they’d love to quit the habit.

So how do you stop procrastinating? And more importantly, when is procrastination actually good for you?

Answers to these questions are just some of the topics the article below covers. 

We’ll also talk about the impact of procrastination on other people and provide real-life examples. 

Moreover, we’ll share several methods that relevant experts recommend to deal with procrastination.

But first, let us define procrastination and examine the reason why it happens.

Dealing with procrastination: Why it happens and how to fix it

What is procrastination?

Piers Steel, a leading expert on the science of motivation, defines procrastination as “voluntary postponement of an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgment”. 

Wadkins and Schraw (2007) further pursue that procrastination happens when we work on trivial tasks instead of urgent ones, or perform activities we enjoy rather than activities that we should or would like to perform.

Procrastination infographic

Procrastination is closely related to poor time management skills —but, luckily, there are steps you can take and strategies you can use to deal with procrastination. 

But let’s first see which types of procrastination exist, before addressing its common causes and further possible solutions.

The 2 types of procrastination

While the essence of the concept is always the same, not all procrastinators procrastinate to the same degree. 

According to the frequency of occurrence, we can differentiate between:

  • Chronic procrastination — people who have constant problems to tackle or finish tasks on time.
  • Situational procrastination — people who delay work only on specific tasks.

Now, one type of procrastinators seems to be more common than the other.

In 2007, over 1,300 people from 6 different nations participated in a cross-cultural research on chronic procrastination. The results show that 28% of people self-identified as chronic procrastinators

And, the explanation for the dominance of this procrastination type could be that it’s only natural to want to enjoy the present moment, instead of thinking about the future version of ourselves. As a result, people tend to deliberately postpone their tasks. Like any other type of behavior, after a while, postponing tasks becomes a habit, and if the period in question is prolonged, a routine, which adds the “chronic” part to it. 

Negative effects of procrastination

Limiting one’s capabilities and missing opportunities due to procrastination is a common practice for people around the world. Apart from making you brush with your deadlines, procrastination can also bring physical and mental health problems, as well as a poorer overall performance at work. 

However, note that procrastination in personal life is perhaps even a bigger problem than at work — as the only supervisor is the same person as the procrastinator, i.e., you.

❌ Physical health problems

According to one study, if you avoid making decisions and often postpone your work close to the deadline, you’re more likely to suffer heart diseases, such as hypertension — because you feel stressed over your unfinished work.

For this study, Canadian researchers conducted an anonymous poll covering 980 people — and it turned out that a larger portion of people who postpone tasks for tomorrow suffered from hypertension than those that work on their tasks immediately.

Procrastination can also influence your physical health indirectly — one article indicates that people who procrastinate in other areas of their life, also tend to postpone going to the doctor for medical treatments and diagnostic tests.

❌ Mental health problems

Perfectionism leads to procrastination, and procrastination leads to time anxiety — i.e. the feeling that you’re always wasting your time. Time anxiety and stress are some of the worst effects behind procrastination psychology.

When you have a close deadline looming over you, you’ll feel anxious and stressed because you may not be done on time. 

Perhaps in an effort to excuse your tardiness, you may work on making the assignment perfect — and fall into a vicious circle, as perfectionism will likely hinder your ability to finish the said assignment in the first place.

And, because nothing is ever perfect, you’ll feel anxious and stressed — which may ultimately lead you to depression.

What’s worse, you still won’t be satisfied with your assignments, and likely won’t hand them in, anyway.

❌ Poorer work performance

Apart from various health problems, procrastination at work may bring you poorer performance — at least according to scientific studies.

According to Tice and Baumeister (1997), leaving your work for the last minute results in low-quality performance, as well as diminished welfare of the procrastinator.

On the topic of academic procrastination, Ariely and Wertenbroch (2002) add that students who are prone to bouts of procrastination tend to get lower grades than their peers who start working on their assignments on time.

❌Making poor decisions

Another terribly damaging effect of procrastination is — making poor decisions. Our decisions are connected to our emotions, and procrastination can boost only the negative ones. Also, the very fact you’re rushing through decisions, instead of taking your sweet time to properly think about it, changes the criteria upon which you’ll base your decisions. This is especially relevant for making financial decisions.

To sum up, if you tend to procrastinate often, it’s most likely that you aren’t using your potential and are limiting your growth as a person.

❌ A bad impact on other people

Being a procrastinator doesn’t only affect your life and habits. Quite the contrary, procrastination  has a direct impact on other people — your family, friends, and coworkers.

Understanding the possibility of negative consequences on other people may additionally motivate you to deal with procrastination at work and in your personal life.

The bad impact of procrastination at work

When a person procrastinates at work, their habit can negatively affect a whole team — even the whole company. Missing your deadlines can create a delay in other people’s work, which is especially frustrating for those who complete their tasks on time. 

Procrastination at work can thus severely damage one’s reputation, but it’s not only that. Procrastinators risk being perceived as slackers and untrustworthy, which may lead to other team members avoiding to work with them.

Moreover, rushing to finish the task because you’ve overestimated your capabilities significantly increases the margin of error. An unintentional mistake can thus reduce the quality of the end result, damaging not only your own reputation but that of the company as a whole. 

An extreme example of this is a client leaving the company because a procrastinator’s task had several dependencies. Submitting their part late made everyone else late, as a consequence, and a client found the company unreliable and unprofessional to cooperate with.

The bad impact of procrastination in personal life

Similarly as in the work environment, procrastination in personal life makes others perceive you as unreliable and untrustworthy. You don’t want to be THAT person, a procrastinator who is always late for family gatherings and important events. Tension can build up and negatively affect your interpersonal relationships.

Another thing we’ve mentioned is that procrastination can lead to making poor decisions, which can also lead to damaging relationships — with family members, friends, and a partner. 

Chronic procrastinators are also more likely to continually postpone important conversations, which can be a significant source of stress for their partner. Such a slow-burning crisis is extremely dangerous in the long run, as the issue can only grow over the years.

And it’s not only about serious talk — small issues such as constantly delaying your household chores can also lead to a huge problem.

Overall, procrastination will make other people think they can’t rely on you. 

Why do people procrastinate?

Low-self efficacy is the underlying cause behind procrastination — when we don’t believe in our ability to finish something, we develop low self-esteem, which prompts us to procrastinate on said task.

Procrastination is not a problem related to modern age — even though nowadays, technology and the Internet have enabled people to be more entertained while procrastinating. 

However, there’s evidence that this tendency of postponing our tasks dates back to the beginning of civilization. 

Here are some examples throughout distant history:

  • The translation of hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt, dating back to 1400 B.C. reads: “Friend, stop putting off work and allow us to go home in good time.
  • Fast forward to 800 B.C. when Greek poet Hesioid wrote a poem “Works and Days.” There he says not to “…put your work off ‘till tomorrow and the day after, for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work.” 
  • Cicero also spoke about procrastination in his famous orations against Marcus Aurelius, estimated around 44 B.C., claiming that “slowness and procrastination are hateful.” 

We can conclude that procrastination is (and has always been) a common behavioral tendency among people — regardless of their heritage, culture, and nationality.

However, there are some distinctions on a more individual level — actually related to the personality type. 

The Big 5 traits and procrastination

In a research paper on procrastination, Steel investigates some patterns that are relevant among procrastinators and connected to the OCEAN — or the Big 5 defining personality traits:

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness 
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness 
  • Neuroticism

The results of the study show the personality traits that are connected to procrastination:

  • Low conscientiousness — there’s a high correlation between the lack of conscientiousness and tendency to procrastinate. It only makes sense, as the trait of conscientiousness implies diligence and the desire to do one’s work well and on time.
  • Low agreeableness — there’s a high correlation between the lack of agreeableness and tendency to procrastinate. Interestingly, disagreeableness is connected to traits associated with rebellion, so this group of people tends to procrastinate because it’s hard to agree with externally imposed schedules. Moreover, the delay makes them feel like they’ve reasserted autonomy.
  • Low extroversion — a certain correlation between the lack of extroversion and tendency to procrastinate also exists.But to a much smaller extent. The reasoning is quite simple — introversion can indicate lower levels of engagement and energy.
  • High neuroticism a weak positive correlation between neuroticism and tendency to procrastinate was also found, explained by the factor of impulsiveness.

In the end, no correlation was found between openness to experience and tendency to procrastinate.

 6 most common reasons why people procrastinate

So, it turns out that many people procrastinate. But why does that happen in most cases?

Here are the most common reasons behind your desire to postpone or delay an activity:

  • Lack of structure and accountability
  • Finding the tasks unpleasant
  • Viewing the deadline as a distant future
  • Feeling overwhelmed with work
  • Fear of unknown and fear of failure
  • Perfectionism

Now let’s get into detail and discuss what are the best ways to deal with procrastination (in accordance with each reason.)

Steps to stop procrastinating

Once you’re on the right track of understanding the “why” part, you can start getting over procrastination. But, it doesn’t happen overnight, you ought to understand that first. 

Think of it more as a journey, or developing a habit. 

Therefore, your approach to it should focus on one step at a time. Here’s how you can tackle each of the 5 most common reasons for procrastination we’ve listed above.

⚠️ Lack of structure and accountability

Micromanagement is often lauded as detrimental, especially at the office — but, its polar opposite in the form of a lack of structure, direction, and supervision, leads people directly to procrastination.

This doesn’t mean that all people are slackers by definition, who stop working as soon as there is no supervisor at sight — it’s just that a certain level of supervision and order goes a long way in encouraging people to be responsible and accountable with their work.

Otherwise, people might fall into the well-known temptations brought to you by intriguing Facebook posts, funny Twitter tweets, and endless YouTube videos of cute puppies falling asleep.

For this reason, understanding how you allocate your time to different tasks and activities is the first step in developing structure. There’s no doubt that time tracking software is the easiest way to gain that insight. 

Clockify screenshot

What Clockify offers is an intuitive solution, which can be your stepping stone by helping you:

  • Streamline the order of your tasks
  • Limit your distractions
  • Reflect on your behavior and habits
  • Work on improving your structure

⚕️ How to solve this problem?

Studies on the topic of supervision suggest it is somewhat necessary — according to the Hawthorne effect, people who know they are being supervised are more accountable with their work — and, we can conclude, less likely to procrastinate at work.

But, in order to avoid having supervision turn into micromanagement, the best practice is to find the golden mean between the two extremes — if you are a supervisor, settle for providing some light guidance and advice, as well as clear instructions.

When people are aware of what is expected of them, what their deadlines are, what skills they need to tackle a task, what rewards they’ll get for successful completion, as well as what are the consequences of potential failure, they get the necessary context for their work.

Eventually, this information helps them make schedules, push forward, and stop procrastinating at work.

Alternatively, if you are the procrastinator in question, find an accountability buddy — the very presence of another person will help you be more accountable and responsible, and, naturally, less likely to procrastinate at work.

⚠️ Dealing with unpleasant tasks

Sometimes, a problem or task can be difficult and with seemingly no optimal solution.

Other times, a task can be so lengthy and complicated that it threatens to take up most of our time. In any case, when we are faced with an unpleasant, lengthy or difficult task we don’t really want to do — we usually take our time before doing it.

Luckily, there are ways around this.

⚕️ How to solve this problem?

If a task is not only unpleasant but also unnecessary, feel free to eliminate it — you can do this for all tasks that aren’t urgent or important. Simply go over your to-do list every day, and find tasks you can eliminate, cut back on or minimize.

  • If an unpleasant task is somewhat important and urgent, you’re advised to keep it on agenda, but you can perhaps delegate it.This can be a string of personalized emails you can ask a colleague to go through and reply.Or a sink full of dishes you can ask a family member to wash, as a favor you’ll return later.
  • If you find a task unpleasant because it will take a lot of time to finish, call your friends or colleagues for help.For example, if you simply must clean up your basement (in order to avoid a rat or similar infestation in the future), ask for a favor from your friends. You’ll finish faster and likely find a number of fun artifacts hidden in corners you can all laugh over. In the end, to award your friends for their help, order a couple of pizzas and set up a movie night with drinks.
  • If a task is almost excruciatingly unpleasant, but unavoidable, try finishing it within a short time period, to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. For example, if you have to write a short, but detailed report, select a day when you’ll tackle it, and simply power through. You’ll finish faster and feel the weight from your shoulders lifted almost in an instant.

⚠️ Viewing a deadline as a distant future

It seems that the more time you have to finish an assignment, the more you’ll feel at ease to procrastinate on it. 

The reason this type of procrastination happens is something called present bias. The phenomenon stems from the hot-cold empathy gap, proposing that our future selves usually seem so distant that we feel detached from them. 

Or, as everyone’s favorite cartoon dad Homer Simpson would say: “That’s a problem for future Homer! Man, I don’t envy that guy!”.

Let us provide an example of present bias — you have 2 months to finish a 15-page detailed research proposal, so you lay back, relax, and put off doing any real work on it. And, sooner than you know it, it’s 3 days before the deadline, and you’ve barely put together an outline — and you finally understand what’s at stake.

Therefore, viewing a deadline as a distant future is sometimes a reason we procrastinate.

Moreover, we find it hard to understand just how stressed, tense, or under pressure we’ll feel when a future, distant deadline closes in.

But, the distant future tends to creep up on you, as you realize that the future always turns into the present and that you haven’t really done anything you were supposed to do.

💡 Clockify pro tip: 
This is for those of you who tend to adjust their pace to the workload and the amount of time they have to finish it — so read about Parkinson’s law to fix that issue.

⚕️ How to solve this problem?

To make sure this doesn’t happen and you bridge the hot-cold gap, you can make the deadline seem more immediate and closer to your “present” self — the best practice is to parse a long-term task into smaller, separate sections each marked by their own deadline and reward that awaits you upon completion.

Therefore, the best way to overcome present bias and enjoy the future as well, you have to think about your schedule in advance. 

You can start by practicing short-term planning and then move to creating long-term schedules.

The consequences of situational procrastination usually aren’t too damaging but, there’s another issue related to it — doing something occasionally can lead to developing a habit. So you better watch out.

💡Clockify pro tip:
 If you’re not sure what’s the difference between long-term and short-term planning, the answer lies in another one of our blog posts.

⚠️ Feeling overwhelmed

Sometimes you simply have too much to do — lengthy research proposals, filling out and sending a report to your supervisor, endless meetings, business lunch, 20 important emails to respond to…

When you feel swamped, it sometimes seems much more convenient to duck for cover than to dive into all that work.

So, instead of answering 20 important emails, you may find yourself rearranging your archived documents and cleaning up old computer files — which wasn’t in your to-do list, to begin with.

⚕️ How to solve this problem?

To avoid feeling overwhelmed you can start taking time to plan your tasks — decide on the order in which you’ll tackle the tasks, decide when you’ll tackle them, and how much time you’ll ideally spend on each.

Always make sure to define your bare minimum for the day — this is a task or two you’ll absolutely finish by tomorrow.

Aim only to finish these crucial tasks, and do the rest if you have the time.

Parsing your work into smaller chunks and more days will also help you feel less overwhelmed and more likely to focus — decide what you’ll do each day, and remember that less is always more. So, fewer tasks per day and a few dedicated hours each day will do.

On occasion, you can work 2 to 4 hours on a weekend — you’ll ease the workload for next week, but still leave enough time to enjoy typical weekend activities. But, make sure to be strict regarding your working hours — otherwise, the 2 to 4 hours can turn into the whole day you’ve planned to work, but procrastinated.

⚠️ Fear of the unknown and fear of failure

In order to have a task assessed, people have to finish it and hand it over for evaluation — but many choose to procrastinate because they fear what results and feedback they’ll get.

The longer you procrastinate, the more you’ll push back the moment you’ll get the results, whether they turn out to be satisfactory, excellent, average, or even poor. The problem here is not knowing what to expect.

One deeper fear that stems from our fear of the unknown is the fear of failure — after all, if you don’t do something, you can’t fail at it. This fear is caused by low self-confidence, which leads to stressing over some impending task because we don’t believe we are able to pull it off.

⚕️ How to solve this problem?

To beat the fear of the unknown and fear of failure, first you need to redefine your goals — instead of making “reach success” your only goal, make “learn something new” your new goal. That way, even if you “fail”, you’ll have the positive benefits of having learned something from the mistakes that led you to results you’re not completely satisfied with.

Another great way of beating fear in order to avoid procrastinating on a task is to visualize your potential obstacles — compile a list of all the potential problems you may encounter down the road, and think up solutions for them. That way, you’ll know you’re covered for all potential pitfalls, so it will be less tempting to procrastinate.

⚠️ Perfectionism

The other side of fearing that we’ll fail is wanting to pursue a task to perfection. So, we make changes, additions, tweak it, and polish it — and we postpone the moment when we’ll call it quits.

According to Hillary Rettig, and her book “The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block”, people who strive for perfectionism have a fixed mindset — they fear that their tasks will fall short of perfect, so they postpone tackling them in the first place.

⚕️ How to solve this problem?

To help get rid of a constant need to control everything and aim for perfection, the crucial step is to admit that you’re not perfect.

Once you admit that you are not perfect, and that, likely, no one really is, you’ll be on the best possible road to stop postponing tasks and get things done. It’s because you’ll know they don’t need to be perfect in the first place.

Expert tips and strategies on how to stop procrastinating

Many experts and productivity coaches have weighed in on the subject of procrastination and tried to find a solution to it, or at least some ways to deal with such a common issue. 

Here are some expert tips from the best books on procrastination pointing out several methods that will help you stop procrastinating. Try it out, some of them may turn out to be a perfect solution. Moreover, there’s no doubt you’ll learn something about yourself during the process.

Follow the “2-minute rule” ⏰

In his book “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”, James Clear proposes that we deal with habits we seem reluctant to embrace by tackling them only 2 minutes at a time.

So, instead of tasking yourself to “Read a book chapter each night before bed”, task yourself to “Read one page of a book before bed”. Also, instead of tasking yourself with “Folding the laundry”, task yourself with “Folding one pair of socks”.

The gist here is finding an easy pre-activity to start with, before going head-on into a challenge. Subsequent activities can be more demanding, but it’s important to begin with something easy. This way, you’ll ease into a task, and be on the best possible way to tackle it right.

Create an “unschedule” 📅

In his book “The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play,” Neil Fiore recommends procrastinators to create “unschedules”, and prioritize their rest over their tasks.

This is basically a time management technique with an unexpected twist — instead of blocking time for work activities (the ones you usually procrastinate on), block specific time in your schedule for non-work activities (hobbies, socialization, meals, exercise, other leisure activities…).

Also, make sure to always schedule in at least an hour of fun activity — and take at least one day per week off from work.

“Unschedules” follow a system that you’ll want to pursue what you really have no time for, from all your scheduled appointments — and in this case, it’s your work.

Once you fill your calendar with everyday activities, the small time frame you have left for your work will become evident. This approach will help you realize that you don’t have nearly as much time for your projects as you originally thought, which will prompt you to use the unscheduled time in your calendar for work. 

Increase motivation ➡️

The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done”, by the already mentioned Piers Steel, proposes that the key to stopping procrastination is increasing the right kind of balance for our:

  • motivation
  • value
  • expectancy
  • impulsiveness
  • delay

First, always make sure that your motivation for work is higher than your motivation for distractions. 

For example, you’ll need to make the effort to understand the importance of finishing an important project proposal, over the importance of watching a fun, but random TV sitcom during the time you should be working.

Value of the task quickly follows. This is your understanding of how much you enjoy a task and how much you’ll enjoy the promotion once you get it.

Next, you need to assess your expectations, and how much you expect you’ll succeed with a task — and how much you expect to be rewarded for success.

What follows is your impulsiveness — i.e. how likely you are to focus or get distracted.

The last thing you need to consider is the delay between the present time and the time when you’ll have to hand over a finished assignment.

For optimal motivation, work on finding a way to increase your task value and expectations and decreasing impulsiveness and delay. Remember, higher value and expectations increase your motivation, and higher impulsiveness and delay decrease it.

When procrastination may be good for you: inspirational stories

Now, we’ve seen why procrastination may be a problem and how to fix it. But, there’s the other side of the coin, too. Despite the phenomenon of procrastination often being mentioned for its detrimental effects, it actually has some benefits.

So let’s examine the 4 main reasons why and how procrastination can be beneficial for you.

✅ Working under pressure works for some people

The expression “Deadline is the best motivation” didn’t come out of nowhere. Working under pressure simply works for some people, so if you can relate to the expression, no worries. 

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation work on an individual level and thus dictate the difference in what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Some people manage to write bestsellers and score high on their papers, simply by postponing work until the last minute — because “being under pressure” actually inspires them.

The entire idea stems from the Yerkes-Dodson Law which proposes that a certain level of arousal when we’re faced with a task can help you finish that task in a more satisfying manner.

So, when we’re a little nervous (and we’re likely to be nervous over an assignment we haven’t done that’s due for tomorrow), it’s a sign that we’re anxious about our results, which will usually make us work harder for them.

But, this is true only to a certain point — if you’re a nervous wreck, you likely won’t be able to think, let alone finish a task with flying colors.

✅ Having less time for a task helps you focus

When you have only a day or a couple of hours before a deadline, every inch in your body is aware that there’s no room to slack away further — so you’re almost certainly going to focus your full attention on the task in question.

In turn, there’ll be a lesser chance that you’ll get distracted, and your invested efforts and dedication is likely to help you make the most of your task.

Once you immerse yourself in a task as minutes and hours go by and bring you closer to your deadline, you’re also likely to work faster.

✅ Procrastination encourages you to tackle other tasks

Avoiding work on one task may inspire you to work on another. Why is that the case? 

Well, in a desperate effort to avoid working on a difficult, complicated, unpleasant task you’ll likely shift your attention to other tasks that may not be as important but are still on your to-do list.

This reason is more of an indirect benefit of procrastination, a by-product of your “refusal” to tackle a task.

So, if your “worst” task, or “frog”, includes organizing a lengthy meeting with your team over problems caused by a difficult client, then procrastinating on said task may inspire you to answer your emails, write an outline for a project proposal, think of a great idea for your next team-building outing, or simply finish some crucial private errands.

You may not tackle your priority task, but you’ll clear your schedule for it for another day — when you’ll also be able to test whether you’re one of the people who perform work better when under pressure.

✅ Procrastination lowers your expectations

Some people who fear they’ll fail, tweak their tasks to no end and worry about the possible outcomes — but only if they have the time to.

Though perfectionism usually leads to procrastination, at times, procrastination can actually help you drop perfectionism — when you’re pressed with a looming deadline, you usually don’t have time to make something perfect.

As a result, you’ll lower your expectations, but still, perhaps score high — because you’ve dropped the impulse to make something perfect, and focused on the gist of your problem, you’re likely to have found the easiest and most effective way to solve it.

Procrastination examples: real-life procrastinators and their stories

Average Joes and Janes seem to procrastinate on an everyday level. But, that doesn’t mean famous people are exempt from the habit. Some people will thrive while others will face negative consequences. So let’s check out some real-life examples, in order to fully understand almost everyone procrastinates, at least occasionally.

World’s most famous procrastinators

Sometimes, procrastination happens to famous people. Many of them have procrastinated while working on matters that made them famous in the first place.

Here’s to name a few, for inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln 🎩

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a crucial moment in American history, as far as speeches go — and Lincoln finished the iconic address the morning he gave it. However, despite popular myths, he didn’t write it on an envelope during the train ride to the event.

This delay in writing happened because Lincoln allegedly didn’t want to write anything down before he had formulated the speech in his head. So, he only finished his closing thoughts the evening before, and only finalized the entire piece at that very morning when the address was to take place.

An apparent example of procrastination done right.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 🎹

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the socialite among composers. He’d often go out drinking with friends to lavishing parties before premieres and stay until late. And, for at least one composition, this seemed to be the winning formula.

While they were out drinking and partying one night, it occurred to one of Mozart’s friends that Mozart hadn’t yet written an overture for his opera “Don Giovanni” — despite the fact that the premiere was scheduled for tomorrow.

This prompted Mozart to savor a few drinks before going back to his room around midnight, to compose the overture. He managed to create a beautiful piece, and it took him only 3 hours to do so.

But, his wife Constanze had to tell him fairy tales such as Cinderella, Aladdin and the like, in order to keep him awake long enough to finish.

Leonardo Da Vinci 🎨

Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most famous painters in the world today. But, during his time, he was considered unreliable by peers and patrons.

He’d start working on multiple projects, only to later abandon them, and he’d often fail to deliver on contracts — though he was commissioned to finish the painting Virgin on the Rocks in 7 months, it took him 25 years to do so.

In 67 years of his life, he finished 15 paintings and a small number of architectural designs.

However, his work is now greatly appreciated and his Mona Lisa is often considered the most famous painting in the world. As one might expect, it took no less than 15 years to finish.

Victor Hugo 📚

Victor Hugo, the famed French author, was especially notorious for his procrastination — though he had a strict deadline to finish “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, he managed to put off doing any real work for a year.

When he was given another 6-month deadline, he turned to an unusual method to help him stay focused. He locked all of his clothes away and left himself with nothing else to wear but one shawl.

Considering he had no clothes to go out in, he spent the remaining time before publication finishing up his book, naked.

He managed to finish and publish the book two weeks earlier than the deadline.

Franz Kafka 👨‍⚖️

The Czech writer Franz Kafka used to blame his day job for taking away the time he’d otherwise spend writing. But, as it turned out, this was just a clever excuse.

Kafka’s first job required he work from 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. until 2  p.m. or 3 p.m., which, in terms of day jobs of famous writers, was considered long. But, Kafka later left this job in favor of one that demanded fewer working hours, leaving him with more potential time to write.

However, he’d usually use up this free time for a 4-hour-long nap, dinner with his family, a walk, and some exercising — even the time he’d spend writing mostly came down to writing letters or entries in his diary.

And yet, he managed to write “The Trial”.

Margaret Atwood 🧵

Margaret Atwood, the author of the now famed “Handmaid’s Tale,” claims that procrastination is the reason she managed to write it (alongside her other work).

Her winning formula includes procrastinating the entire morning before settling down to work no earlier than 3 p.m.

Such a routine seems to work considering she has, thus far, written 18 poetry books, 17 novels, 8 short fiction stories, 8 children’s books, 10 non-fiction books, 3 graphic novels — and even 2 librettos, 3 television and 1 radio scripts.

Douglas Adams 🌌

Apart from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams gave us (and lived by) an insightful quote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

He claimed to hate writing, and always procrastinated to no end. However, he eventually managed to produce 9 books in his lifetime — but only because he’d lock himself in a room and force his editors and publishers to watch over him, to make sure that he actually works.

Truman Capote 🥐

Truman Capote, American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and screenwriter, famous for books “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood”, truly took procrastination to the extreme.

One novel he signed a contract for, “Answered Prayers”, was scheduled to be finished by January 1968 — Capote even got a $25,000 as an advance for it.

When he missed that deadline, the contract was re-negotiated to a trilogy of books, slated for completion by January 1973 — with $750,000 worth of an advance.

But, time went by, Capote accused his lover of stealing the manuscript (though he later all but denied the manuscript even existed), and the deadline kept being pushed back.

Eventually, Capote was so overwhelmed with other projects, personal problems, the unexpected success of his previous novels, as well as his own perfectionism, that he never managed to finish “Answered Prayers”.

An unfinished version of the novel was published after his death.

George R.R. Martin 🐉

And, lastly, though it’s an unconfirmed, debatable matter, fantasy writer George R.R. Martin is often accused of procrastinating on finishing up the 6th installment, “The Winds of Winter”, in his well-known “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series. To the point that these “accusations” have become a running joke on the Internet, with people drawing up detailed timelines that show Martin’s procrastination process.

Perhaps in an effort to put everyone’s minds at ease, Martin has recently disclosed his own method of beating procrastination. He goes to a remote mountain hideaway, doesn’t reveal his whereabouts to anyone, and then works on “The Winds of Winter”. Similarly, when he was finishing the previous book in the series a couple of years back, he forced himself to focus on writing by working “in a bunker” in New Mexico for a month.

Procrastination stories of everyday people

It’s not just the famous who procrastinate — it’s the people around us, as well.

Ironically, on Reddit and Giant Bomb, most topics that cover procrastination are filled with people who are procrastinating while browsing the forums. One especially ironic example is a poster who learned what the word “procrastinating” even means while procrastinating on said forum.

Many people have tried various procrastination “tactics”, with varying results — so here are some of the most interesting procrastination examples:

When waiting until the last minute to work on a paper is a good idea…

Looking up at a clock, and thinking: “I should have started days/hours ago, look at the time!” seems to be the norm. But, it doesn’t always have to end badly for the procrastinator.

🔹One student always starts writing his essays around 2 a.m. and finishes them just before they’re due, say, 7 a.m. He usually gets an A+ for the work he churns out that way. In contrast, when he starts working on a writing assignment gradually, a week before the deadline, he gets a poorer grade.

🔹One class of students went over 15-20 hours of working on their papers — except one. This student spent 45 minutes in total on the writing assignment, and when the professor announced the results, it turned out that everyone had failed. Well, everyone except for the “slacker” student who managed to get a B.

🔹One student had a unique way of covering for procrastinating on a paper. He did not start writing his paper until the morning it was due. And, though the deadline was set for one of the first classes of the school day, he showed up at the end of the day dressed in a formal suit and tie. This served to make the impression that he was at a formal event, and thus unable to hand in his paper sooner. He got an A.

When waiting for the last minute to work on a paper is NOT a good idea…

According to the latest time management statistics, between 50% and 95% of students are procrastinators. Academic procrastination is common and writing papers a day before they’re due seems to be a usual occurrence. The longer the paper, the longer people seem to wait before tackling it.

🔹The most extreme example was postponing the writing of 4 separate essays until the very last day before the deadline for each. The problem was that it took the procrastinator in question too long to realize that all 4 essays were due the same day.

🔹Writing 22,000 words in 36 hours seems like a herculean task. But, sounds less heroic when you realize that the person in question really had 4 months to finish the piece.

🔹 A similar (yet less extreme case) was a poster who postponed a 10,000-word essay for the last 4 days before the deadline — despite initially having 11 weeks to finish the essay.

🔹One procrastinator realized he had to finish a 10-page paper before the next morning. So, he started writing at 1 a.m., finished at 5 a.m., and had but 1 hour of sleep, before going to hand over the paper.

🔹One university student had a good explanation for not handing in his paper on time — despite waiting two days before the deadline to start writing. After working on Saturday, he woke up on Sunday practically blind, due to an unfortunate combination of wash soap and forgetting to remove his contact lenses before sleep. So, he really couldn’t finish his work on time. In the end, his professor was understanding of his plights and extended his deadline. But, this only shows that you can’t always count on the last day before the deadline to work.

Other examples of procrastination resulting in success

Procrastination that brings success to the procrastinators comes in various forms. Here are some other procrastination stories of success.

🔹An assignment required students to go to museums, interview employees, and make summaries from their stories. But, one student didn’t have the means to travel to the museums. Yet, he also failed to make the effort to explain this to the professor. Instead, he made a PowerPoint presentation about why the initial museum needs to create a better, more interactive website. As it turned out, the professor and the museum board were already discussing the same thing, so the student passed the class.

🔹One procrastinator had to write 80 pages worth of screenplay in one night. So, he relied on 7 energy drinks in total to help make it happen. The final result of these efforts was a B+. But, such a large number of energy drinks is far from recommended, whatever your motives behind it may be.

🔹A writer had a 12,000-word contract for a children’s book. She procrastinated on it until the last day, and finished the book at midnight, only to go out immediately after. The first time the writer in question read the entire piece was after it was published.

🔹Apparently, it’s also possible to procrastinate responsibly. One poster followed the practice of putting off his homework in order to leave more room to perform the activities he enjoyed. But, he’d always make the effort to wake up earlier in the morning, to make up for the lost time.

Unexpected procrastination stories

Sometimes, procrastination can surprise us. Here are several examples of the unexpected results of procrastination.

🔹An employee in a company nearing bankruptcy eventually had to do 3-employees worth of work on a regular basis, because a lot of people got fired. But, he had to continue working in order to qualify for a house mortgage. Once he did, he quit the job. But not before leaving behind 3 months-worth of unfinished work.

🔹One woman spent 6 years refusing to pay a $68 parking fine. But she also never bothered to contest the fine, despite believing the parking sign misled her into making the mistake in the first place. In the end, a police officer turned up to say she’d go to jail if she doesn’t pay the fine. By then, the fine had built up to $6000 in total.

🔹One other poster was told that he was a procrastinator by a bag of fortune cookies — twice. He wanted to take his time going over a bag of fortune cookies to find the perfect one, but the first two that he drafted said: “Procrastination is the thief of time”. This is one of the most famous procrastination quotes of all time.

Procrastination guide

Wrapping it up

To sum up, procrastination is more common among people than you’d think. It happens for an abundance of reasons, such as fear of failure or lack of motivation. 

So don’t be too harsh and beat yourself up, because you’ll only end up even more stressed about your deadline. Moreover, even though procrastination often gets a bad name, it is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can conclude from the examples above.

However, if the deadline getting closer is just stressing you out, without any benefits such as increased focus, the solution is simple — crawl, walk, run. Start working on improving your habits on self-regulation. 

Understanding how you allocate your time to different tasks and activities is the “crawl” part and, as we’ve mentioned, time tracking software is the easiest way to do so. 

✉️ It’s such a complex issue, so we’d like to hear your ruling — based on your experience, is procrastination good or bad? Also, how do you deal with procrastination? If you have an interesting story about the unexpected result of procrastination, don’t be shy and share it! Write to us at and we may include it in our next update of this article.

Aleksandra Dragutinovic is a time management and productivity writer who has appreciated and used tools to improve her productivity since she was a child. She couldn't imagine her life without a planner (or several) and is always on the lookout for the latest time management and productivity techniques and strategies to test (and write about).

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