Counseling Service

Responding to the Student Who Procrastinates

Procrastination is putting off something that is in the student’s best interests to do, or doing less important things first.

Avoidance of important work can lead to stress, depression, shame, and guilt which, in turn, can cause the student to avoid the same tasks in the future.

While some students procrastinate because a given task is aversive, there is usually an emotional cause at the root of serious procrastination.

Emotional causes underlying procrastination may be classified into four categories:

  • perfectionism
  • fear of success
  • fear of failure
  • rebellion

  • See the student privately.
  • Help the student assess time management skills and refer the student to the Learning Assistance Service of the Counseling Center (301) 314-7693 for skill building.
  • Help the student set specific and realistic goals. Procrastinators often cannot see the trees for the forest!
  • Be clear with deadlines, limits, and consequences.
  • Identify how procrastination hurts the student and use his/her suffering as a motivator for change. Procrastinators will not seek help unless they are suffering from the procrastination.
  • Recognize that there are often strong emotions underlying procrastination, such as guilt, fear, anger, depression, panic, and shame. Chronic procrastinators may have low self-esteem and suffer extreme guilt.
  • Refer the student for individual or group counseling at the Counseling Center (301) 314-7651 when the student is suffering emotionally or academically from her/his procrastination.
  • Assuming that the student is lazy or stupid.
  • Communicating in ways that increase shame and, thereby, decrease motivation to change.
  • Being pushy because the student could respond with resentment or rebellion.
  • Conveying disappointment or irritation if the student does not make quick progress. Such messages may lead to a stand off, which is a relationship pattern that procrastinators often have with others.