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Procrastination Definition: What Is Procrastination?

Arthur Worsley
by Arthur Worsley
M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
Looking for a good procrastination definition? Well, you’re in the right place! Here on The Art of Living I mostly talk about: But the first step in tackling any problem is understanding it thoroughly. So let’s look at 4 different ways to define what procrastination really is.

Procrastination Definitions: What Is Procrastination?

The most direct way to define procrastination is with a dictionary. My concise Oxford English Dictionary defines procrastination as:
Procrastination: To delay or postpone action. Meanwhile, Wicktionary describes procrastination as:
Procrastination: The act of postponing, delaying or putting off, especially habitually or intentionally.
Pretty straightforward! Let’s move on to the etymology of procrastination…

Procrastination Etymology: Where Does Procrastination Come From?

So where does the word procrastination even come from? According to Miriam-Webster, procrastination is made up of two parts:
  • Pro: From the latin meaning “forward”; and
  • Crastinatus: From the latin meaning “of tomorrow”.
Put them together and you get “pro+crastination” or, literally:
Procrastination: Assigning something for tomorrow
Which is fairly consistent with our procrastination definition! But what if we look at it a third way? What if we define procrastination by its synonyms…

Procrastination Synonyms: Words Like Procrastination

One of my favorite ways to understand words is to look at their synonyms. So what are some words like procrastination? Here’s a selection from
Procrastination: Hesitation, pause, wavering, delaying.
And here’s a few more from my concise OED:
Procrastination: Indecision, dallying, deferring, dithering, playing for time, stalling.
What’s really interesting here is that both the definitions and the etymology of procrastination above are fairly neutral. I could have great reasons for deferring things to tomorrow, as well as bad ones. It’s not until we get into synonyms for procrastination that we start to see how we’ve come to associate procrastination almost exclusively with negative character traits like indecision and irresoluteness. Alright, one last stop! What’s the opposite of procrastination? Can we define procrastination by its antonyms?

Procrastination Antonyms: The Opposite of Procrastination

Like our procrastination synonyms, most antonyms of procrastination are associated with emotionally charged (in this case, positive) words. Here are some examples from
Procrastination Antonyms: Timeliness, punctuality, promptitude, alacrity.
That’s certainly one way of defining procrastination. But the truth is, seeing procrastination as bad and taking action as good is overly simplistic. That’s why my favorite definition of the opposite of procrastination comes from cognitive psychologist, David Rosenbaum and his colleagues. For the opposite of procrastination, they offer:
Precrastination: The tendency to do too soon what might be better done later.
The truth? Procrastination isn’t always the enemy. Sometimes it’s our brain saying we’re doing the right thing at the wrong time. Other times it might be stopping us from doing the wrong thing entirely! If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve discuss those thoughts here and here in more detail. And in the meantime, I hope you leave here with a better procrastination definition than you arrived with and understand what is procrastination a little better.

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