"Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator," says Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago and author of 'Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done.' "Twenty-five percent of men and women are serial procrastinators. They do it at home, at work, and in relationships. This isn't just putting off a task or two; it's a lifestyle."
The reason behind all this procrastination, however, has long been unclear; some experts have called it a learned habit, others a predisposed trait. According to a growing body of evidence, it may actually be more akin to a mood disorder – in which procrastinators are perpetually trying to stay in good spirits. "When faced with something we don't want to do, we act like 6-year-olds," says Timothy Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and author of 'Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.'
"By not doing a task, we get a quick feeling of reward – immediate mood repair." Procrastinators avoid the task at hand, researchers have found, to try to get around hard effort, to delay judgment that follows a finished task, and to seek out more immediate pleasure. The good news: Procrastination is a learned pattern that we can change. "Don't think about whole tasks, how much effort it will take, or doing it perfectly," says Pychyl. "Just chip away and momentum will build."
You can also lower the threshold of engagement, or make it easier on yourself to do something that requires effort. "I love drinking a cold Guinness after work, but I also enjoy riding my bike," says Pychyl. "If I leave the beer on the kitchen counter and set the bike next to the door, when I get home I'll see warm beer, stick it in the fridge for later, and hop on the bike."