Procrastination and the Design Process


Why it happens and what we can learn from it?

Procrastination, by definition, is an action. An action of delaying or postponing something. Now whether that action is deliberate or subconscious is generally based on the individual, but several factors enable this.

When it comes to the Design Process as a whole, a few undisputed factors influence the process on a universal scale – function, feasibility, aesthetics and time. The function of any product of design is usually determined by its maker or those requesting its production. Feasibility depends on the economics of the design product and its constituents. Aesthetics make the product unique and give it a distinct identity.

But time, on the other hand, is one factor that is never in control of the maker/designer. Due to various reasons, the design process gets sidetracked from its timeline – sometimes this results in a better design, and sometimes not. It’s also no secret that procrastination leads to lost time. It can be hard to decide on an action when one is faced with so many options, and it’s even harder to make a decision in a timely manner.

A study conducted by Jennifer Aaker, director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, found that people procrastinate more when they have time constraints. When we are faced with a deadline or other limitations, we tend to feel less engaged in our work. However, when there is no such time limit or constraint, people tend to be more focused on the task at hand. Therefore, we can conclude that these factors are usually interdependent. 

But what are the possible reasons for procrastination and loss of time? Let us try to understand:

Reason #1: Abstract Goals

This generally occurs in the case of a beginner or newcomer who has little-to-no understanding of the workflows or structure of the design process that has been assigned to them. This difficulty in assigning goals and breaking down the structure into more manageable tasks is rarely under one’s control and therefore, requires intervention from a higher body of management.

Reason #2: Task Aversion

Task aversion can occur when one is forced to work on the same part of a design process over and over again. This is because tasks that are difficult to complete often make us feel uncomfortable or challenged in some way. We may worry that we won’t be able to complete them successfully, or perhaps we feel overwhelmed by the amount of work involved – the same way we might feel when faced with a stressful situation at work or at home.

This can lead us to avoid putting in effort until the last minute, which makes it harder for us to get things done. This is why it’s important to have enough motivation to keep going in such case of a pile-up of resentment for the task, or at the very least, to inform somebody of one’s state of mind.

Reason #3: Fear of Failure

Drawing on previous reasoning, the fear of failure is also a root cause of disdain for certain parts of the design process. When we’re afraid of failing, we put off things that we need to do just to avoid the pain of failure. We stay in our comfort zones, and we don’t take the risks necessary to succeed. But the truth is that failure is not something to be afraid of.

It’s just another opportunity for growth and development – and if we let fear keep us from taking risks, then we will never grow as designers, and as human beings. The first step to overcoming the fear of failure is to accept our fears – however irrational they might seem – and to remind ourselves that if we never take risks, we will never grow.

Reason #4: Decision Fatigue

decision fatigue and procrastination

Decision fatigue is a real thing. It’s a symptom of being overloaded with too many decisions to make. The problem with that is, if you have too many decisions to make, it can be hard to keep track of them all. Procrastination is often caused by decision fatigue, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices you have, it might be time to take a break for some self-care! You’ll be glad you took the time to recharge!

Reason #5: Perfectionism


This is one of the biggest reasons for any designer to fall into the trap of procrastination. Perfectionism is a self-defeating behaviour that people engage in to avoid the feeling of failure and can lead to procrastination. When you try to do something perfectly, it can be hard to trust your judgment and know what is “good enough”. The pressure to perform well when you are trying to do something perfectly makes it difficult for designers with perfectionism to feel good about their work and even keep them from starting anything at all. This, however, does not go to say that all perfectionists are procrastinators. But it is more likely that most procrastinators are also perfectionists.

Reason #6: Self-Sabotage

self sabotage

According to a recent study, self-sabotage is the biggest predictor of procrastination. Researchers surveyed over 1,000 young adults, asking them how often they felt self-defeat and whether this feeling was related to their tendency to put off tasks. They found that people who felt more defeated by their own thoughts were more likely to procrastinate – and the more frequently those feelings occurred, the greater the likelihood of procrastinating.

A designer facing issues of self-esteem or self-defeat will most commonly find themselves unsuccessful or ineffective in being able to complete tasks. This is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. They may feel so because of their lack of willpower or determination. They may even think that if they do not take action now, then nothing will happen at all. This can lead to major issues with anxiety, depression and stress due to the fear of failure. Therefore, such issues when unchecked, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and mental illnesses for the individual. 

Reason #7: Mental Obstructions

mental obstructions

Procrastination is a common issue for those with mental illness. Research shows that procrastination is one of the biggest reasons why people with mental illness tend to have lower self-esteem and lower educational outcomes.

Why does this happen? Well, part of it has to do with how our brains work. A lot of times when we get stressed out or anxious about something, our bodies release chemicals called “cortisol” and “adrenaline.” These hormones make us feel nervous, which causes us to put off taking care of more important things.

In the creative fields, mental illnesses become a huge obstacle to the design process – in that they obscure the fruition of a thought or idea into a concept and can meddle with the process as a whole. This is why there has been a recent boom in the number of designer-specific therapists and psychologists who specialize in working with creatives. These professionals understand how their clients’ unique mindsets contribute to their creative process—and they can help designers overcome their problems through therapy and medication.

“Hard work is not inherently virtuous.”

-Elizabeth Spiers

This phrase reminds us that none of the above issues need be dishonourable. The human experience is guided by the work we put into our lives and, thereby, comparison becomes the thief of joy. This knowledge makes it easier for us to accept our predicament and begin to heal ourselves from our productivity wounds. In a world of productivity hacks and productivity shame, the design process itself can greatly benefit from our acceptance of what balanced work should look like for the individual.


And now that we understand why procrastination happens and how each of these factors affect the design process respectively, we may begin to understand how it can be used to our advantage. Generally, the case with most designers involved in the creative process, is that they may suffer from a combination of some of the above-discussed causes. The first step is to become aware of one’s hurdles. An acute awareness of these issues must be followed by its acceptance, further trailed by integration of this awareness into one’s everyday practice. There are several unique strengths and weaknesses that can be learnt from integrating them.

Many successful designers and creatives also suffer the pangs of procrastination from time to time. If you’re a creative thinking individual who has found that there are too many obstacles in your way, alternatively, it might be time to do a little procrastination. Procrastination is a skill that can be learned and used for good. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad designer, it just means that you choose to do the less important things first and then get to the task at hand once you’ve properly organized your resources.

It might not solve all your problems but it will at least help you make better design decisions down the line. The key to this is to always allow your inspiration-sponge (read, your creative brain) to be active in the background of your tasks. That way you are constantly assimilating information while you procrastinate and then are consecutively able to use that information to your advantage. The best thing to do with what you’ve already got, is to try it out and see what happens!

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