For an individual, procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the disapproval of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. These combined feelings can promote further procrastination. While it is normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological or physiological disorder.
The word itself comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow). The term's first known appearance was in Edward Hall's The Union of the Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York, first published sometime before 1548. The sermon reflected procrastination's connection at the time to task avoidance or delay, volition or will, and sin.
The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a higher-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the "dreams and wishes" of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential.
Author David Allen brings up two major psychological causes of procrastination at work and in life which are related to anxiety, not laziness. The first category comprises things too small to worry about, tasks that are an annoying interruption in the flow of things, and for which there are low-impact workarounds; an example might be organizing a messy room. The second category comprises things too big to control, tasks that a person might fear, or for which the implications might have a great impact on a person's life; an example might be the adult children of a deteriorating elderly parent deciding what living arrangement would be best.
A person might unconsciously overestimate or underestimate the scale of a task if procrastination has become a habit.
From the behavioral psychology point of view, James Mazur has said that procrastination is a particular case of "impulsiveness" as opposed to self control. Mazur states that procrastination occurs because of a temporal discounting of a punisher, as it happens with the temporal discount for a reinforcer. Procrastination, then, as Mazur says, happens when a choice has to be made between a later larger task and a sooner small task; as the absolute value of the task gets discounted by the time, a subject tends to choose the later large task..
While procrastination is a behavioral condition, these underlying mental health disorders can be treated with medication and/or therapy. Therapy can be a useful tool in helping an individual learn new behaviors, overcome fears and anxieties, and achieve an improved quality of life. Thus it is important for people who chronically struggle with debilitating procrastination to see a trained therapist or psychiatrist to see if an underlying mental health issue may be present.
People who exhibit decreased impulse control and procrastination appear to be prone to internet addiction.
Some students struggle with procrastination due to a lack of time management or study skills, stress, or feeling overwhelmed with their work.
Student syndrome refers to the phenomenon that many students will begin to fully apply themselves to a task only just before a deadline. This leads to wasting any buffers built into individual task duration estimates.
For example, if a group of students goes to a professor and asks for an extension to a deadline, they will usually defend their request by noting how much better their project will be if they are given more time to work on it; they request this with the intent to distribute their work time across the remainder of the time until the deadline. In reality, however, most students will have other tasks or events that place demands on their time. They will often end up close to the same situation they started with, wishing they had more time as the new delayed deadline approaches.
This same behaviour is seen in businesses; in project and task estimating, a time- or resource-buffer is applied to the task to allow for overrun or other scheduling problems. However, with student syndrome the latest possible start of tasks causes the buffer for any given task to be wasted beforehand, rather than kept in reserve. Like students, many workers do not complete assignments early, but wait until the last minute before starting, often having to rush to submit their assignment minutes before the deadline. A similar phenomenon is seen every year in the United States and Mexico when personal tax returns are due, as large numbers of people queue until their post office closes, in order to get their tax return postmarked.
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