Procrastination and laziness: Are they the same?


Adrienne San Jose

Helron Zheng procrastinating in the commons.

Note: This story was first delivered by Sophomore Emma Cohen as a speech. We have edited and published that speech here.

My name is Emma Cohen, and I am a procrastinator. After a long fight against my own procrastination, I can’t believe I’m standing in front of you all today. I’m here because I want to share some very valuable information, and things you should reconsider when thinking about procrastination. Now, I’m sure the first thing you think of is the Webster’s Dictionary definition, which is “to put off intentionally or habitually.” However, what I’m wondering is, what is procrastination to you? Do you think the effects of procrastination on the different aspects of your life are positive or negative? And lastly, how does it affect the people around you? I found my answers from a survey I conducted within my school as well as articles from the Washington Post and Psychology Today. However, what started me down the path to finding answers to these questions was a Ted Talk by Tim Urban called, “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator.” He explains it in a more light-hearted way and proposes the concept that a procrastinator never learns how to control these habits, but in the case of a deadline, they always come around. According to Urban, everyone procrastinates, but there are two types of procrastination: when there is a deadline, and when there isn’t. When a deadline doesn’t exist in someones plan it can make them a spectator in their own life from their lack of motivation. Urban notes that a procrastinator has two things in their brain, a “rational decision maker” and, in his words, an “instant gratification monkey.” This monkey takes the wheel when something is too hard or doesn’t seem interesting and leads you down the path to things that are easier and more fun. When this goes on for too long and the deadline approaches the “panic monster” wakes up and scares this monkey away, so it forces the rational decision maker to do some crazy things like pull all-nighters and push the work out so it is complete by the deadline. I gathered some very valuable evidence from this demonstration but I wanted to go further and consider the other things that hold people back, and this is when I came across another Ted Talk by Charly Haversat called “Perfectionism holds us back. And here’s why.” This is when I found the missing puzzle piece to my research. Perfectionism is the fear of failure and it keeps people from completing things because they don’t want to accept that something doesn’t fit their standards. In most cases though, this work has a deadline and things will be due. Charly shared a quote by Voltaire that says, “perfect is the enemy of the good” which in other words means, if i can’t do it perfectly, why do it at all. Finally, this is where I connect perfectionism to procrastination. Psychology Today says it best, “what makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation… Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination.” By wanting all of your work to be top-tier or perfect you push it off. In the end this creates the spiral effect Tim Urban discusses, of doing the fun and easy stuff until the deadline approaches and you can’t push it off any longer.

To dive deeper into this connection and topic itself, I created a survey. With the help of my friends I got a total of 70 responses. My overall purpose in creating it was to hear from people in my school community. I wanted to see what others’ definitions of procrastination were and what it means to them. I was also looking forward to seeing the difference in results when it comes to it being positive or negative in their life.

My survey included 11 questions of varying topics and perspectives. Some tie together the three big main ideas: perfectionism, procrastination, and laziness. Others ask about how their procrastination affected their peers, and how their’s affected them. I even asked about the types of results they get from work that has been put off. This survey as a whole was a self evaluation in hopes that one could better recognize when they procrastinate.

There are some questions that stand out in importance to me, that I would like to share with you all today. First being the question: would you consider yourself a perfectionist? In the results I gathered, 49 out of 70, or over half of the individuals, said yes. In asking this I hoped of getting a response that reflects the idea that most people want their best shown and will make excuses, thus reflecting how perfectionism could potentially lead to procrastination.

Another thing I often see myself doing is focusing on smaller things first, and saving the larger things such as projects and presentations to do last minute. Because of this I asked: do you do the smaller, less significant things first? The survey came back with results in my favor again, over half said yes, which reflects that I am not the only one who has these habits. If a large percentage of people also do the smaller assignments first, what does that say about us? From these results and further connections to other sources we can gather it to be a leading cause to the confusion between laziness and procrastination, and this now leads to my final question.

For this, I wanted to tie all of these questions together by sharing a question that affects me and many others on a deeper level. I would like to reiterate the concept or idea that procrastination is the symptom and not the disease. We know this because Psychology Today references the inability to concentrate and the lack of motivation as symptoms of a mental disorders like depression, anxiety, low self esteem and even neurological disorders such as ADHD. I asked: have you ever been called lazy. This had overwhelming results. 57 of the 70 people said yes, which is 82% of the people who participated. This means that out of a group of 70, over three quarters of the respondents have been mistaken for being lazy. This can eventually result in low self esteem issues and depression caused by thinking one isn’t good enough or that the things they create are worthless. That question required an outside perspective, so then I asked more personally: do you think laziness and procrastination are the same? Here we are presented with conflicting results.  Although a majority responded that the two aren’t synonymous, there were still a strong percentage that stated they were, thus further proving that a lot of people still think the two are similar, in the end giving procrastination a negative connotation.

I’ve presented this to you so you can see the clear misconception of the difference between laziness and procrastination and how ones perfectionism can be tied into it all. From an outside perspective, ones habits could be seen as an act of laziness or lack of care. And honestly from the outside it does really look that way. A procrastinator has all the same character traits as a lazy person, but the more you know about them the better you can differentiate this trait. According to the Washington Post, researchers say, “it’s not a matter of being lazy or poor time management, as many smart overachievers who procrastinate often can attest. They say it may actually be linked to how our brain works and to deeper perceptions of time and the self.” I also suggest not jumping to the conclusion that someone is lazy being that, as i stated earlier, procrastination is a symptom, it doesn’t happen without a reason.

Procrastination may be the symptom for a bigger issue, but it doesn’t make assignments, such as this article, impossible, and that’s what I’m here to prove today.