The Definition of Procrastination

Definition(s) of Procrastination

Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, meaning “forward, forth, or in favor of, ” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow” (hence the name of this site, http://www.procrastinus.com).

However, to go beyond this notion of delay is to encounter a variety of opinions. Not everyone believes it means the same thing. Here I review the synonyms, the dictionary definitions, other researchers’ perspectives, and that of my own. You can decide what is the most accurate. Personally, my favorite examination of procrastination occurs in the following award winning video by John Kelly.

 

Synonyms

cunctation, dawdling, dilatoriness, dillydallying, lollygagging, shillyshally

Dictionary Definitions

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition
To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness; to postpone or delay needlessly.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
The act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off to a future time; delay; dilatoriness.

Cambridge International Dictionary of English
To keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.

WordNet (r) 1.7
Slowness as a consequence of not getting around to it.

Encarta World Dictionary
To postpone doing something, especially as a regular practice.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
To put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.

OED
Defer action, especially without good reason; be dilatory.

Academic Definitions

Psychological Pain
Procrastination is delay in conjunction with subjective discomfort (e.g., Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).

Intended Action
Procrastination is when we delay beginning or completing an intended course of action (e.g., Beswick & Mann, 1994).

Irrationality
Procrastination is the illogical delay of behavior (Sabini & Silver, 1982)

The Procrastination Equation’s Definition

The elements from previous definitions are useful. Procrastination is usually seen as an exclusively negative phenomenon, requiring the inclusion of some characteristic such as psychological pain or irrationality. Also, procrastination should only deal with intended tasks as there are many thousands of things we could be doing right now and it becomes cumbersome to think that we are putting them all off. I tried to incorporate these useful elements in my definition of procrastination:

To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay.

As irony abounds when you are working on procrastination, I did contact the scholars at OED to get this definition included. As they responded:

“As it happens, we have recently worked in this part of the alphabet, and a revised entry for procrastination was published in the online dictionary on 14 June. I shall of course add the material you kindly sent to the OEDs files, so that it can be considered by the editors when they are next working in this area.”

When did I contact them originally? June 28th, two weeks too late. But last I checked, it has been seven years and no update from them either.

 

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