An illustration of an man laying in a hammock and looking at his phone surrounded by his coworkers working at their desks


erpetual procrastinators take comfort in the saying, “Better late than never.” But professors and bosses rarely agree with that line of thinking. In fact, experts say choosing to procrastinate often means choosing to be an underachiever.

When it comes to procrastination, there are several points of view:

Student: Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow?

Boss: Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

Mark Twain: Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

Everybody procrastinates sometimes. As children, we resent anything that interferes with play, according to Kenneth Wenning, PhD, LCSW. “Eventually, we learn to have a healthy relationship to the world of work,” says Wenning, who counsels students about a variety of issues at the Health and Wellness Center. He has long been interested in the psychology of procrastination and why smart students with dreams and goals allow this behavior to get in their way.

But there is a cure, he says with a reassuring smile, both for students and for anyone who lacks motivation. And it involves working through some steps. “Procrastinators can develop a much stronger work ethic by restructuring their thoughts and creating new work habits,” he says.

He describes procrastinators as having an overdeveloped play ethic and an underdeveloped work ethic. “Universities offer a buffet of knowledge, but procrastinators are settling for the crumbs of an education. It’s not just the papers and projects they avoid, but at a much deeper level, they are avoiding the acquisition of knowledge.” And it can be costly. The failure to complete work can lead to retaking classes and stretching the completion of a bachelor’s degree to five or six years.

Story Continues

An illustration of a busy office environment with people working, laying on their desks and talking with one another

Many common activities are actually forms of procrastination — socializing, napping, surfing the web, watching TV, shopping. “Social media and internet exploration, in particular, are so pleasurable, so enticing and so colorful that when the computer is turned off, the real world looks gray and colorless in comparison,” he says. Although procrastinators’ behavior may be similar, they can have differing underlying belief systems.

There are six distinct types of procrastinators Wenning identifies in a booklet he wrote and gives to students he counsels. The booklet also is distributed at the Learning Commons. The tips, which are gleaned from his career and from research by Michael Bernard, Albert Ellis and William A. Knaus, can apply to anyone. See if you recognize yourself.

1) Pleasure Procrastinators seek comfort, happiness and fun most or all of the time. They have a deep-seated dread of discomfort and cannot resist any temptation that promises immediate satisfaction.

Tip: Repeat the following rational ideas several times a day, almost as if they were a form of prayer or mantra to develop a strong work ethic.

  • I am strong enough to deny myself the pleasures of the moment in exchange for the pleasures that await me upon completion of my work.
  • If I continue to seek immediate gratification of my desires and needs, I will likely be a chronic underachiever in life and will quickly fall behind many of my peers.
  • My fun can wait, but my work cannot. After I produce a substantial amount of high-quality work, I will reward myself with some form of pleasure.

2) Entitled Procrastinators believe the world owes them a living and often expect great rewards for marginal effort. These individuals believe they should be given endless chances to make up work, be given extra-credit assignments after having failed original assignments, and be promoted through college and into a career simply because they exist.

Tip: Practice the following thoughts on a daily basis.

  • My sense of entitlement to rewards without work will actually keep many of the rewards of life beyond my reach.
  • It’s time to get rid of all the feeble excuses I use to explain my poor work performance and that I use to cover up my underlying belief that I should always get what I want without real effort.
  • Good intentions and grand ideas do not entitle me to anything.

3) Passive-aggressive Procrastinators resent being asked to complete tasks or learn complicated concepts and master new bodies of knowledge. They engage in silent rebellion against this unfair world by consciously or unconsciously not doing work, or doing it slowly, or by producing work of poor quality.

Tip: Consider the advantages of the following rational thoughts.

  • Responding enthusiastically to the high expectations of others gives me the opportunity to develop myself in new and exciting ways.
  • Resenting the world for being unfair and frustrating will not change the nature of this world.

4) Brilliant Procrastinators consider themselves to be so smart they can wait until the last minute to work on a project or study for a test and still achieve stunning results. They believe they work best under the intense pressure of immediate deadlines.

Tip: Use these ideas on a regular basis.

  • The best way to show the world my talent is to work carefully, thoughtfully and methodically and start it well in advance of due dates and/or exams.
  • Although I may be smart, it is not very smart to wait until the last minute to complete work. Procrastination will hide my talent under a cloak of mediocrity.

5) Perfectionistic Procrastinators often avoid work because they are terrified of making mistakes and/or failing at tasks. The anxiety associated with perfectionism is often so intense that work avoidance becomes the shortsighted, self-defeating remedy.

Tip: Reprogram your thinking with these ideas.

  • If I succeed at a task, I will feel great. If I fail, I will feel bad but I will not confuse feeling bad with being a failure. I can feel bad and still have self-worth.
  • I don’t have to be so worried about making mistakes because some of the best learning in life occurs through the analysis of mistakes.

6) Time Warp Procrastinators believe they have endless amounts of time to complete work and that the universal laws of time do not apply to them. In this time-warped world, every day is 48 hours long and every week has 14 days.

Tip: Break out of this dream state by practicing the following thoughts multiple times a day.

  • The seconds, minutes and hours on my watch are ticking by at the same rate of speed as the watches that my professors wear. I do not have endless amounts of time to do my work.
  • If I use my time wisely and efficiently, I might even have time left over for fun.

Try These Techniques

Once an individual has mastered the cognitive strategies outlined, Wenning says they can consider the following behavioral techniques to round out the overall plan to beat procrastination:

  • Unplug from email, social media and phone to create a “sacred bubble” of sorts where concentration is allowed to flourish.
  • Identify a reward that will be permitted only when a specified amount of high-quality work is completed. Choose rewards that increase motivation to get through the work and then onto the pleasure.
  • Do the hardest or most dreaded piece of work first, not last. Once done, the less difficult pieces can be finished with relative ease and less anxiety about what might lie ahead.
  • Break a project into manageable components to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety often can lead to avoidance in getting started and is fertile ground for procrastination.
  • Use a backward planning technique. This advice comes from Knaus, who suggests picturing a desired outcome, such as earning an “A” on an exam. Then think through all the steps needed to accomplish that.
  • Just get started. This is Wenning’s favorite. Procrastinators often avoid work because they are not in the mood to work and believe they will get to it later. Wenning says the inspiration to work often develops after the work has been started. He suggests doing five minutes of work on a project. If after five minutes, the feeling of wanting to work has not kicked in, make a decision to do five more. Usually within this time period, most individuals begin to feel motivated to push on and complete the assignment.

Or, in the words of educational psychologist Michael Bernard, “procrastinate later!”