Top Ten Reasons Why Smart People Procrastinate

booksTop ten reasons why you procrastinate:

10. You’re really good at it.

9. You have no idea how not to procrastinate. Your entire academic career was built on it.

8. You can still get an “A” or produce something that impresses your coworkers.

7. Time pressure will make something dull a bit more interesting.

6. You’re overwhelmed by many things, including your own curiosity and creativity.

5. You delude yourself into believing that you do your best work under pressure.

4. You won’t disappoint anyone because their expectations will be lowered. You won’t disappoint yourself (as much) because your expectations will be lowered.

3. You’ve always been told that you’re so smart.

2. If you take plenty of time and fail, then your true stupidity will be revealed.

1. Perfectionism.

Can anything be done about this? Are you destined to live out your life as a prodigious profligate perfectionistic procrastinator?

Yes. And no. In that order.

Here’s what I suggest. Small steps. Nothing overwhelming or intimidating.

Start here:

You’re likely to love this post from the blog Wait But Why.

Then go here for more details from the same very funny procrastinating blogger.

Finally, you’ll be ready for a wonderfully comprehensive practical guide. This book.

And just so you know, a pattern of procrastination isn’t easy to change. Here’s why: “Confronting and changing long-held assumptions about you and your family can be unnerving and disorienting. This is why procrastination is so hard to overcome. It’s not simply a matter of changing a habit; it requires changing your inner world.”*

But it’s worth it.

“However, as you access capabilities and parts of yourself that have been held back by procrastination, you can derive great pleasure in claiming your whole self.”*

*Jane Burka & Lenora Yuen, Procrastination


To my blogEEs: Tell us why you procrastinate and if you’ve found any resources or techniques that have helped you deal with it. And thank you, as always, for commenting and sharing.

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

39 responses to “Top Ten Reasons Why Smart People Procrastinate”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    On a slightly more serious note, I finished five years at university (not to mention the twelve at school) memorising textbooks and mnemonics in front of the television only hours before exams. I too wrote my dissertation forty-eight hours before it was due. I achieved a distinction. I produced four months worth of work in the one week before finals. I fell asleep on the pavement (sidewalk) for two hours that day. It forced me to dissuade every prospective student from ever attempting ‘that’ degree’ because it was “a waste of time”; clearly far too easy to be worth anything. Should I feel guilty?
    It was suggested that I only did well at school because it looked like I had a photographic memory of sorts and so in essence a form of cheating. I’m not so sure about that, but I did feel that the extra pressure of having very little time, pushed me into a sort of hyper-energetic, no-option-but-to-memorise-it-all sort of zone. Having succumbed to adulthood more recently, I still cannot persuade myself to do it any other way. Sadly, I fail at meeting deadlines more often than I care to admit these days.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It can become a hard pattern to change. (I don’t think a photographic memory is cheating!) Hard to “succumb[ed] to adulthood.”

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Wait But Why! How funny 😀 …and then I literally decided that writing a blog looks like so much fun. I like funny. Then I went and opened a blog. I design websites for a living. I can do this easy-peasy. Wait,but… what am I going to write about? I found a Facebook post of mine about Natural Selection. It was funny. Then I found a blog on insects. Then I followed a link to an artist that makes scientific sculptures. Then I decided I should really finish my stainless steel Dung Beetle piece. What’s the taxonomic classification for a Dung Beetle anyway? Wikipedia. “Oh my god, I should be working on that client’s website.” Surprise. I’m procrastinating. Let’s go post a comment on rainforestmind.wordpress under the blog post about procrastination.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! Such a great example! 🙂

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Stainless steel Dung Beetle?

  3. Ashley Avatar

    I am procrastinating now because there is too much going on in my room (junk etc.) Too much to deal with!

  4. willskde Avatar

    The blog you suggested, “Wait But Why” is fantastic, thank you! Their metaphor of the pet monkey making you procrastinate is perfect for your rainforest concept, lol!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! I didn’t think of that! I’m guessing that the writer of that blog would benefit from this one!

  5. Abbie Robson Avatar
    Abbie Robson

    I find #6 a real issue – there are so many possibilities and ways to complete something that I get paralysed by choice. Then I end up leaving things til the last minute and producing something I see as mediocre at best. Then that turns me off doing anything at all because I feel like I never do anything well (even though my opinion of what is good differs from most others’ opinions). So I feel like I’m never achieving anything, which is so depressing (and having bipolar means that things being depressing can have longer term effects than for most people). In some ways I wonder whether the term ‘procrastination’ is the correct one for me, because in my mind it suggests a passive ‘putting things off’, as opposed to the almost hyperactive approach to getting something done that my brain seems to engage in. Getting so stressedh about making decisions that I end up doing nothing is a real issue for me – I’m going to read the other blogs to see if I can work out a way around it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Abbie. Thanks for writing. Maybe some other posts will be more helpful. And certainly, if you’re struggling with bipolar disorder, it’ll all be even more complicated. Glad you’ve found my blog.

      1. Abbie Robson Avatar
        Abbie Robson

        I found it a while ago and it’s been really helpful 😊 – my four year old son is very gifted, but it’s taken me years to realise that I have a rainforest mind too. It’s not something you’re supposed to say about yourself is it, but the realisation has been very important to me, if for no other reason than to stop doing myself down and saying Seth is ‘clever like his daddy!’

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Yes, it’s important to acknowledge your own rainforest mind. It’ll be good for Seth to see you accept yourself!

  6. byamtich Avatar

    I want a world where #8 and #7 combine, and I can produce something both impressive, speedy, and now. This is why improv skills (and habits of living) are so transformative: you get to show your skills on your feet, and there is no way to delay.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Interesting, Bob. Improv could be very beneficial for those reasons. What are “habits of living?” Is that a specific program?

  7. Atlas Educational Avatar
    Atlas Educational

    Couldn’t resist this because it’s true: I’m now caught between visiting your links and finishing my own blog post. Yes, you caught me procrastinating! Lol. I’ll be sure to check back! You’re always spot on, Paula!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Lisa. I hope you finished your post!

  8. holbart Avatar

    This summer, my husband and I have taken a different approach to vacations that has impacted my procrastination. Instead of going on one long trip that involves air travel, we have taken 3 mini, 3-4 day trips that are just two hours away. I bring this up because I’m noticing that I’m becoming much more in contact with my body by having structured, predictable times away. It’s like I’m beginning to feel myself again. For me, procrastination is so tied to feeling overwhelmed. It’s like I can’t detach enough to gain objectivity.

    With regard to my gifted mind, there has been a drastic change in how I orient to the world after recovering awareness of my gifted traits. I used to have one intensive hobby that I would funnel all of my energy into (like running, ballet, etc.), but now I’m trying to sort out the broad set of interests that express more fully the different aspects of my rainforest mind (art, reading, running, travel, writing, gardening, community development, serving at church, work, etc.). There is really only so much time in a day. Recently, I have spent a lot of time judging myself for procrastination with getting out for a run until I realized that, when I’m not going for a run, it’s often because I’m spending time doing one of my other interests, like writing or harvesting our bumper crop of tomatoes. It was helpful to put my procrastination in context. And, of course, let’s not talk about paying the bills, cleaning the house, feeding the cats, etc. . . Coordinating gifted traits is kind of a full-time job.

    I’m feeling a greater sense of peace these days. Thank you, Paula, for your consistent support to the gifted community. Your blog has played an important role in keeping me honest about my gifted traits.



    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m so happy to be able to help, Holbart. And your comments are helping others as well. “Coordinating gifted traits is kind of a full-time job.” Yep.

  9. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    Oh man, Procrastination: how I know thee.

    I literally have a MILLION things to say about it!

    But I’m sort of busy right now — and I’m kind of not feeling it at the moment — so I’ll get back to you on all that.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! Looking forward to hearing what you have to say, Mark.

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        I really was busy all weekend but I couldn’t resist making a quick joke about something that is actually a big problem for me.

        I think the list is pretty accurate, though no.6 and no.1 ring true the most for me: “6. You’re overwhelmed by many things, including your own curiosity and creativity.
        1. Perfectionism.”

        Being highly creative is a double edged sword. The up side is obvious. The down side is it is extremely difficult to turn off. The mind is constantly scanning, constantly analyzing, constantly searching to make new connections between previously unconnected things. Almost every activity becomes like entering a large old hotel — every floor, every hallway and every door contains new possibilities. It can be exciting to explore all these possibilities, but it can be exhausting too because you’re mentally juggling all these possibilities, while somehow trying to choose the best one. And just knowing how many possibilities there are in any endeavor can lead to perfectionism. Why settle for what is behind door number 1 on the 1st floor when there are hundreds of more floors and doors to explore?

        I also like the idea of “gestation” as mentioned above. Sorting through all those possibilities can take a long time, especially if you rely more on intuition and feeling than logic. Knowing what is the best choice often means waiting for a strong gut feeling, and moving on before that gut feeling strikes can actually be very uncomfortable or even distressing, even more than the possibility of being punished or labeled as lazy for not complying with a schedule or deadline.

        I will add to the top ten list a personal reason I struggle with procrastination: it often takes a huge amount of energy to get going on things, even things I am really looking forward to doing. My thinking and behavior patterns are a lot like a steam locomotive: they take a long time to get warmed up and moving, but once up to speed it’s pretty hard to stop. One book on ADHD (I can’t remember which one), broke ADHD down into 4 subtypes depending on how easily the Add’er became engaged (sufficiently stimulated) and disengaged (was able to turn the attention to something else).

        The type that struggles to become engaged but also struggles to become disengaged was nicknamed “The Daredevil”. Sounds about right to me. I am not just a sensation seeker and actually have many fears; but (especially when I was younger) doing extreme sports was my way of becoming satisfactorily stimulated, the danger and intensity forcing the mind to become quiet and focused in the moment.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Great description of what it can be like to be highly creative, Mark. How difficult that must be at times. Most times? Interesting steam locomotive analogy. Lots to think about here!

        2. Charley Avatar

          Thanks for your comments here. They ring closely to my son who could be described as ‘daredevil’ too similarly I suppose to myself too.

        3. willskde Avatar

          Mark, thanks for all that. Your locomotive analogy is definitely me. I’ve been working on a few paintings, and with artwork in particular I hesitate to get started (or pick it back up again, as it may take a number of sittings) but once I’m into it I could literally go all night, stopping only to use the bathroom or get more tea! Now that I think about it, I wonder if that’s one reason I hesitate to pick it up; knowing I’ll want to keep going and not stick to an end time. I can’t fathom telling myself, “I will paint from 7-8pm”, that feels like a foreign language I can’t grasp. Just when I’d get on a roll I’d have to stop.

  10. grammiem Avatar

    Procrastinating = being distracted by too many other thoughts keeping you too involved to focus on just one thing to accomplish ,,,,Well it seems that’s how my son’s brain works.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Maybe that’s not procrastination but the challenge of having a creative mind??

      1. grammiem Avatar

        Possibly? He more on the science and physics end of the hows and why and a billion great ideas,,ahh the challenges of raising children,especially this type! Sure keeps me on my toes

  11. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Great points, Paula. You write so well and sum it up so nicely. Procrastination is such a popular topic – I think because just about everyone does it. We all have our “specialties” – how we each tend to procrastinate. Probably my most popular blog post was on procrastination ( and I think it was because it hit a nerve for so many.

    Now what was it I was supposed to be doing instead of reading all of these blogs…

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! Thanks Gail. I look forward to reading your post.

  12. Aurora Avatar

    All so true! I remember in college that whatever I did or whenever I started a paper, I inevitably worked on it until 4 AM the day it was due!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for commenting, Aurora. Nice to hear from you!

  13. Kim Avatar

    I’m a big fan of this book, mostly because it treats the subject of procrastination – and those who procrastinate – with compassion, and not derision. Its premise is that all procrastinators are not alike, and that you need to find out why you do what you do in order to change your habits. I ended up learning a lot from reading it, and still refer to it from time to time when I get off-track.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Your assessment will be helpful to readers. Thanks, Kim.

  14. themonthebard Avatar

    Haven’t read any of the books you cite, but I do hope they’ve recognized the difference between procrastination and gestation. From the outside — and sometimes, from the inside — they look a lot alike.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I don’t think they do mention this. It’s a great point. People may be accused of perfectionism when they’re really in an incubation period with a creative idea. Is that what you mean? Very important to distinguish the difference. Thanks.

      1. themonthebard Avatar

        Exactly. “You’ve been having that baby for six months, already. You must be a world-class procrastinator!” 🙂

      2. themonthebard Avatar

        One of the wisdom-teachings of the druidic path I follow is to honor the darkness of winter, which is a necessary part of the sunny fecundity of summer. It’s a broad-reaching metaphor for the quiet periods of rest, reflection, renewal, and hidden gestation in all phases of both our own psychological lives, and the larger ecosphere around us.

        As I understand it, this has deep roots in the ancient Celtic society, as well: an appreciation for the liminal spaces between projects, between relationships, between seasons, between lives. A place to slow down and “do” nothing.

        Our US American culture is entirely pathological in this regard: the way we are taught from an early age that if we aren’t doing something, we’re wasting time — that if we aren’t making progress, we’re losing ground — that if we aren’t growing, we are dying. The truth is, any thing on this planet that grows without end is a cancer. That includes our species’ population, and our global economy.

        In my experience, “procrastination” is primarily an epithet thrown at people who aren’t jumping through the right hoops on someone else’s schedule, almost invariably for the benefit of the person setting the schedule, not the person jumping the hoops.

        I learned a fairly long time ago that if I simply stop worrying about “procrastination” or “laziness,” things flow. And then when I look back, I marvel at what has been accomplished.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Thanks for the more detailed explanation. I may have to write a post about this! Differentiating between procrastination and gestation. Excellent points!!

      3. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Oops. I meant “People may be accused of procrastination when…”