Procrastination as a problem affecting human motivation and performance


Procrastination as a problem affecting human motivation and performance

Procrastination as a problem affecting human motivation and performance

Overview of procrastination

Procrastination is a term derived from the Latin word “procrastinatus.” The word itself is formed from the prefix “pro” meaning forward and “crastinus”, meaning “of tomorrow”. Therefore, procrastination is defined as the act of intentionally postponing or delaying an activity (Karen et al., 2016). It is a common experience in the day to day life. There are several types of procrastination ranging from academic and non-academic to behavioural and decisive. Schraw et al. (2007) provided criteria to which behaviour could be classified as academic procrastination: the behaviour must be counterproductive, needless and delaying. This, therefore, means that behaviour would not be termed procrastination when there is a valid reason for the delay in performing the task. A study conducted on academic procrastination at the University of Vermont revealed a 46% prevalence of procrastinating writing papers, 30% procrastination in weekly assignments and 28% procrastination of studying for examinations (Solomon and Rothblum et al.,1984). A similar study conducted among university students revealed that 70% of university students placed themselves as procrastinators.

While procrastination offers a short time sigh of relief, it comes with several psychological, physical, and economic consequences that may be detrimental to human health. Some individuals have persistently displayed procrastination of daily activities to the extent of disrupting their everyday life. In these individuals, procrastination has been associated with depression, irritability, diminished self-esteem, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, guilt and stress. Therefore, these individuals are candidates of mental health and should seek care from psychiatrists and trained therapists (Pychyl et al., 2000). Furthermore, it has been revealed that these kinds of individuals have insomnia. They generally find it hard to fall asleep. This can be attributed to the stress associated with procrastinated work (Hrustic., 2020). In a scenario where an assignment has a protracted deadline, non-procrastinators are more stressed with the assignment in the initial period compared to procrastinators. However, as the deadline approaches, procrastinators are more worried. Though largely associated with negative impacts, procrastination has increased perfectionism (Klingsieck et al., 2013).

Application of self-determination theory in understanding the problem

Self-determination theory is a major theory of human motivation and personality that attempts to explain the motivation behind individual choices. The motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation entails performing an activity because it is self-satisfying and not achieving an external goal. The latter is extrinsic motivation. Deci and Ryan highlighted three basic physiological needs that drive an individual to initiate behaviour. These needs include autonomy, competence and relatedness (Ryan and Deci et al., 2000). Autonomy allows individuals to make independent decisions and to be completely responsible for choices made. An environment that enables autonomy enhances individuals’ intrinsic motivation. Relatedness refers to the psychological need to interact with other people, feel connected, and obtain care from a particular group. Competence is an individual desire to control the outcome and show mastery.

Competence as a component of self-determination theory can explain the problem of procrastination from the motivational perspective. The ability of an individual to accomplish a particular task is self-satisfying and rewarding. Such individuals will tend to accomplish the desired jobs within the stipulated time and in the best manner possible. This intrinsic motivation is augmented by the positive feedback they obtain from their superiors. It guarantees a sense of self-worth to the individual (Bauer et al., 2018).

On the contrary, when individuals are unable to show carry out certain activities competently. Their self-esteem depreciates, and they will feel reluctant to accomplish the said tasks. Furthermore, if such individuals get negative feedback, they feel demotivated and their desire to show competence depreciates. With a lack of physiological need for competence, self-determination depreciates. Such individuals feel reluctant to accomplish assigned tasks and therefore tend to procrastinate the assignments and are at risk of accomplishing substandard work. Lack of self-determination render them hopeless, stressful and sense worthless. This can result in depression and other mental illnesses (Vallerand and Reid., 1984). A study conducted on the relationship between anxiety, procrastination, motivation and academic achievement highlighted a significant negative relationship between motivation and procrastination. Individuals who were less motivated were more likely to be procrastinators compared to individuals who were motivated. On the same, procrastination had a negative impact on academic performance bringing out the negative consequences of procrastination (Akpur., 2017). This research finding, therefore, clearly help us to understand the role played by motivation and self-determination in dealing with the problem of procrastination.

Application of self-determination theory in solving the procrastination

Solving procrastination revolves around restoring individuals’ self-determination. An individual should be able to satisfy the psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence. This can be achieved through several mechanisms. These include; fair evaluation of individuals goals, weaknesses, strengths and priorities, setting up attainable goals as opposed to goals that are practically impossible to achieve, motivating individuals through certain enjoyable activities and hobbies, rewarding individuals for tasks accomplished, among other activities (Macan., 1994). This solution is supported by the research conducted on the role of goal focus in dealing with procrastination. According to the research finding, focusing on the means of pursuing a goal lowers procrastination. This is more evident when fear of failure is high. An individual needs to be certain that they want to pursue a certain goal and analyze the circumstances surrounding the pursuing of the goal and the achievement of the goal (Krause and Freund., 2014).


Akpur, U. (2017). Predictive and explanatory relationship model between procrastination, motivation, anxiety and academic achievement. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research (EJER), 69, 221–240.

Bauer, Jack J.; King, Laura A.; Steger, Michael F. (2018). “Meaning making, self-determination theory, and the question of wisdom in personality”. Journal of Personality. 87 (1): 82–101. doi:10.1111/jopy.12381. PMID 29524331.

Hrustic, Alisa (2016-07-13). “How Procrastination Literally Keeps You Up At Night”. Men’s Health. Retrieved 2020-06-04.

Karen K. Kirst-Ashman; Grafton H. Hull Jr. (2016). Empowerment Series: Generalist Practice with Organizations and Communities. Cengage Learning. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-305-94329-2.

Krause, K., & Freund, A. M. (2014). How to beat procrastination: The role of goal focus. European Psychologist, 19(2), 132–144.

Pychyl, TA; Lee, JM; Thibodeau, R; Blunt, A (2000). “Five Days of Emotion: An Experience Sampling Study of Undergraduate Student Procrastination (special issue)”. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. 15: 239–54

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