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Health & Balance

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When Procrastination Is a Problem, and How to Fix It

By Paula Spencer Scott
WebMD Feature

Procrastination is a long word for this quick idea: later. It's telling yourself you'll do things "tomorrow" or "when I feel more like it."

When is putting things off a problem?

Everyone delays or puts things off sometimes, and that's fine, says Timothy Pychyl, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. You might postpone a meeting because of a schedule conflict, or to give yourself time to prepare. Procrastinating becomes a problem only when it hinders your relationships or getting your work done.

For about one in five adults, procrastination is a real, long-lasting problem.

Why we delay

The things people put off tend to be boring, hard, time-consuming, or maybe they lack meaning to us. Or we worry that the results won't be perfect. When you avoid doing what seems less than pleasant, you get a little mood boost. But this bump doesn't last. The avoided thing still hangs over you, causing guilt and stress.

The real reasons we procrastinate lie deep within human behavior. We tend to view things in the future as less real or concrete. The later risks of not doing something (or the rewards of getting it done) seem less real, too.

Putting things off is a habit. We're wired to do what's easy -- in this case, delaying doing something we don’t find pleasant. And habits are hard to break.

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