3 Signs You're Becoming a Procrastinator

Max Phillips


I was a fresh-faced university undergraduate reeling from the heavy load of coursework my lecturer had just dumped on me. Taking a closer look, the first 3000-word essay seemed easy enough. Besides, it wasn’t due for another six weeks, so I had plenty of time. In the UK, the first year of your degree doesn’t factor into your final grade — you just need to achieve 40% and pass. So yes, you could say I was a bit careless.

I did an English degree. The very first module— ‘Critical Thinking’ — left me dumbfounded. I finished every lecture more confused than when I entered and felt inadequate. By this point, I was barely keeping afloat.

I’d been thrown in the deep end and was just about treading water. Nevertheless, we were given a choice of ten questions. Ten! The indecision droned on for weeks. I had no idea what to do.

Then the due date arrived.

I went to bed the night before knowing I had a monumental task ahead — the planning, researching, writing, and editing of my first university-level essay. I woke up and started at 7 am, handing it in at 3:55 pm — five minutes before the deadline. I got 52%. I was disappointed but hardly surprised. I’d procrastinated away the acres of time I could’ve utilized.

For the duration of that year, I slipped into the same habits. Several times I completed an essay in one day, achieving average results. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d moved from occasionally procrastinating and became a procrastinator.

Procrastination doesn’t just relate to work; it encompasses our everyday lives. Interactions are filled with it, as people put off leaving their job, sending a follow-up email, or asking someone on a date.

Sure, it’s okay to do it from time to time. I sometimes find myself staring out of the window instead of working. The problem arises when you become a procrastinator. That’s when you absorb the typical behavior until it becomes habitual. Then, like 18-year-old me in his cramped university halls, you are a victim of indecision. Before you know it, you’re hammering yourself for “never getting anything done.”

So how do you stop it? How can you tell if you’re verging on becoming a procrastinator? You look out for these common, but often overlooked signs:

You regularly put work off.

The grind isn’t glamorous — it’s ugly and complicated. Everyone likes talking about their potential future but struggles with the present day. Consequently, you find something else to do that you know you can do. For instance, I am very good at watching clips of The Office for the 100th time instead of beginning my next project.

There is safety in what we know. Accomplishing a task you are certain you’re able to finish can boost your confidence. There is nothing detrimental about that — at first. When you continually put that phone call, project, or workout on hold, it is time to realize where you’re going wrong and change.

When given an easier option, most people will take it. Instead of researching and planning in the weeks before my essay was due, I kept pushing it back until I had no choice but to do it all in one day. The more you delay, the more pressure you’re putting on your future self.

There is always an excuse.

After graduating, I spent months thinking about wanting a job. I didn’t even know what it was; I just knew I wanted something. During the search, I received an invitation to a ‘graduate day’ in London. I presented myself to a room of other graduates and had to take part in a few group exercises.

I was incredibly uncomfortable with the presentation part. So, I looked for excuses to not go. Work was the main one, but I ultimately concluded that I needed to give myself at least a chance. Nothing came of it, but I learned a lot about myself. I realized what I don’t want to do, which nudged me in the right direction.

Taking action often requires you to leave your comfort zone. You, perhaps quite literally, don’t want to get off the sofa and do some work. “I’m too tired.” “My washing will be done in an hour so I can’t go to the gym.” A procrastinator amplifies excuses to protect themselves from any discomfort.

You say “if” instead of “when.”

Let’s say you want to become the manager at your firm, but you know there is a lot of hard work to be done. You say:

“If I get the job.”

That is leaving a lot to chance. With the first word, you doubt yourself. You’re ever so slightly sinking back into a state of motion, showing signs of becoming a procrastinator. Your action may not be as driven. Of course, it’s not the end of the world, but the little things matter. Swap the above with when I get the job,” and you give the situation a sense of inevitability. You don’t know whether you will get it, but that isn’t important. You know you’re going to put in the required work, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Procrastinating won’t be the end of you, but becoming a procrastinator will certainly grind your progress to a halt. Before you know it, you’re doing that project the day it’s due or startling to building your summer body two weeks before you go. These signs represent the first lily pad you need to hop from if you want to get to the place you’re daydreaming about. Notice these, and you’re already taking action.

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