What Type of Procrastinator Are You?

Have you ever had something that you just have to get done, but you’re putting it off?

Of course you have!

Procrastination is a universal challenge.

Take me for example. This blog did not come easily—I found a million reasons to put off writing it. But I don’t think of myself as someone who procrastinates. I’m normally a “doer.” Which led me to wonder why?

Procrastinators can’t be intentional

Procrastination is so relevant to the topic of intentional living. We can have great intentions about accomplishing many things, but then…we don’t carry them out. Or, we wait until the last moment to do them, creating needless stress and anxiety for ourselves (and others).

Curiously, it turns out that not all procrastinators are the same. There are different reasons why we put things off—or don’t do them at all—which require different solutions. In other words, procrastination is a symptom of some other underlying cause.

What type of procrastinator are you?

According to authors Sapadin and Maguire in their book It’s About Time! The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them, there are six types of procrastinators. So, I’ve used six different women to illustrate these. Can you identify yourself amongst them?

1. The perfectionist

Amy has really high standards for herself. And when she doesn’t live up to them, her self-esteem plummets. She puts things off to avoid feeling that way, or to avoid the perceived criticism from others. Her motto is,”If I can’t do it perfectly, then maybe I shouldn’t do it at all.”

The problem:

Amy attaches her worth to her achievements. If she doesn’t do a task just right then she’s failed. Or, if she doesn’t do it herself (flawlessly) then it won’t be done “right.” She can’t rely on others to get it done because they might mess it up or do it the “wrong” way, and then how would she look?

The solution:

Amy needs to embrace mistakes. They’re coming whether she wants them to or not. Mistakes are for learning, and learning is essential to growth. That doesn’t mean she has to deliberately make mistakes, but changing her mindset about them will help tremendously when they do happen.

Another way for Amy to overcome procrastination is to delegate. She needs to start with small things that won’t “make or break” her life. For example, let someone load the dishwasher or fold the towels a different way. The dishes still get clean and the towels still get folded, even if the way that they happened is not her way.

2. The dreamer

Ideas come naturally to Leslie. She loves to dream about all the things she wants to accomplish—in vivid Technicolor. Her creative imagination comes alive through the pages of magazines that display beautiful homes. Her professional aspirations are inspired by blogs and articles she reads. Her ideal relationship is depicted through the movies and books she enjoys and she mentally jet sets around the world continually—without ever going anywhere.

The problem:

Leslie could spend a lifetime dreaming (and probably will). Her dreams are BIG. Accomplishing them will be no small feat. She knows that. She doesn’t want to think about that.

That’s because actually turning her dreams into reality will take self-discipline and effort.

She finds it far more fulfilling to imagine life as it could be, rather than accomplishing the steps to get her there. So Leslie stays in dream mode as long as she can. The perfect relationship, the ideal career, a beautiful home—all easily imagined from the comfort of her armchair. 

At some point though, Leslie’s going to look back at her life and realize that she hasn’t achieved any of the things she’s dreamed about.

The solution:

Leslie needs to STOP imagining her future as a big colorful picture and instead focus on one specific thing to accomplish today that will move her toward those dreams. She can do that by breaking down the big picture into bite-size, achievable steps. That way she can keep her eyes on that small step in front of her…and then the next one…and the next one…and the next one, and not get too overwhelmed.

3. The overdoer

Candace’s brain is working constantly—it never shuts off. For her, every waking moment is an opportunity to achieve or learn something. So when she’s cooking, she’s practicing her presentation for tomorrow’s staff meeting. When she’s walking the dog, she’s listening to a podcast. When she’s relaxing in bed, she’s catching up on world events with her smartphone.

Her schedule is also full. She’s on the school board, she directs the church choir, she’s organizing the annual fundraiser for her son’s volleyball team and she’s team leader for a new work project.

The problem:

People ask Candace to get involved because when she does, results happen. But sometimes Candace takes on too much and then she has to put other (important) things off because she over-committed herself. Unfortunately, what she tends to put off most is her own self-care.

Candace’s achievements may be impressive to the outside world. But for her, they’re never enough. Productivity that pleases others makes her feel useful and valued. However, putting herself last is a sure-fire path to ultimate burnout.

The solution:

Candace needs to prioritize her time and her relationships. She needs to realize that her true worth is attached to who she really is—the daughter of her Heavenly Father—not to what she does for others. Once she understands that, she can manage herself (and her time) better. She can establish healthier boundaries around her top priority relationships, and learn to say no to other people and situations when she needs to.

4. The defier

Ann agrees to do lots of things before she’s actually made up her mind to do them. And sometimes she doesn’t really want to do them at all! Sometimes she even questions why she has to do them. Instead of saying no, she says yes but drags her heels when it comes to actually following through.

Ann also doesn’t like overt conflict. She says yes to things without internally committing to them because she doesn’t want to fight or argue. She may fear the consequences of not agreeing.

Ann often feels that she doesn’t have a lot of control over her circumstances. She has a passive personality style so she’s easily pushed around by more dominant personalities: her mother, her husband, her boss, even her children. She imagines saying no to those people all the time. She carries on pretend conversations in her head or writes emails or texts that are direct and assertive, but in reality does none of these things for fear of the consequences. Instead, she delays.

The problem:

People don’t see why Ann procrastinates. They only see that she does. Their frustration with her grows the longer she fails to follow through on her word. They begin to see her as lacking integrity. They may eventually view her as unreliable, inconsistent and even dishonest.

The solution:

Ann needs to improve her conflict resolution skills first. Being able to assert herself is a healthier way of communicating, rather than committing to something but not following through. Though conflict often isn’t fun or pretty, most people will respect her more when she’s more open and direct.

5. The worrier

June is afraid to fail. Sometimes she’s also afraid to succeed. She’s afraid that things might not turn out right.  She’s afraid that they’ll be too hard. She’s afraid that they’ll get messed up by things (and people) she can’t control.

So, she puts things off. Her motto is, “I can’t do that because what if….” June’s fear of the unknown keeps her from trying. She finds it far safer to just maintain the status quo. Even with things she has to do, she still puts them off until the very last moment.

The problem:

June doesn’t like change. She likes things to be predictable and safe.  She has her routines and she’s comfortable with them. There are so many things that could go wrong—and she worries about that. Her negativity often spirals into catastrophic thinking, which frightens her into indecision. Trying something new is risky, so she plays it safe—and does nothing.

The solution:

June needs to deal with her worries. If they are holding her back from living (and enjoying) life, she may have an anxiety disorder that needs professional treatment. Learning to manage her anxious thinking will help, as well as improving her decision-making skills. She does that that by writing out her fears and then challenging them with the facts. This helps her to sort through what’s real and what’s not. She should ask herself:

  • What’s the supporting evidence that what I believe will really, truly happen?
  • How likely is it that my fear will materialize in the way I think it will?
  • How often have my fears actually come true in exactly the way I imagined?

Next, she needs to list out the potential problems with each decision, as well as the possible solutions to each one. She can then consider her options and move forward. Over time June will be able to look back on good decisions she’s made, and things she’s already accomplished, which will help boost her confidence.

6. The crisis maker

Vivian believes that she is at her optimum best when she waits until the last minute to get things done. She likes the adrenaline rush that comes from facing an imminent deadline. Deadlines that are too far away don’t motivate her. That extra pressure pushes her to excel, or so she believes; without it, life is boring.

The problem:

There are inherent problems with Vivian’s approach.

The first is that she assumes her best work is done under pressure. But in reality, the time constraint she’s put on herself leads to cutting corners and throwing things together. If she’d taken the time to methodically work toward her goal, she could have put a lot more thought (and effort) into the quality result she wanted.

The second problem is that Vivian is being selfish. While it may have worked for her in school when she was the only one affected, now other people have to constantly wait on her. That creates stress for them, as their work and ultimate success is impacted by her procrastination.

The third problem is that not everything that Vivian wants or needs to accomplish has an external deadline. Either she will accomplish them because she’s internally motivated to—or she won’t.

The solution:

Vivian’s need to perform under pressure can be met by scheduling regular time for short but intense bursts of productive energy. She can make consistent headway yet still challenge herself to get as much done as possible during these scheduled times. Giving her brain time to relax afterwards also allows her to reflect back on what she produced and still have time to make changes or improvements on her work. It also allows others to give feedback and/or contribute their efforts too, well before any deadline.

Battling procrastination requires more than just knowing why

Knowing why you procrastinate isn’t enough. You need to realize that there’s also a battle going on in your brain.

When we have a task that we aren’t doing, it’s often because we find it boring, difficult, ambiguous or meaningless.

Instead of resolving this, we put the task off—indefinitely. And while there’s no logical reason for doing so, there is a part of our brain that reacts to things, not out of logic but out of emotion—the limbic system.

The battle going on in your head might sound something like this…

“I really should get off this couch and vacuum the house.” – Prefrontal cortex

“But I don’t want to do that. It’s much more fun sitting here reading this engaging book.” – Limbic system

“You’re going to wish you’d done the vacuuming later though. You’ll be happier with yourself if you do it now.” – Prefrontal cortex

“Maybe, but I don’t care. I can do it this afternoon. Why does it even matter if I vacuum? It’s just going to get dirty again in a day or so.” – Limbic system

And on it goes.

Which part of your brain wins?

That depends on you. If you habitually surrender rational thought to the emotional part of your brain, then chances are you struggle with procrastination a lot. But if you want to win the battle against procrastination, then fight! Don’t let your emotions lure you into complacency.

Don’t surrender your intentional life to procrastination

I know which type of procrastinator I tend to be. Do you know your type? Maybe you’re a combination of more than one. 

Most importantly though, how does procrastination keep you from having the life you want? Or the life God wants you to live?

What are you going to do about it?

 

Sources:

1. Sapadin, Linda and Maguire, Jack; It’s About Time! The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them, Barnes & Noble, 1996

2. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_96.htm

3. https://hbr.org/2017/10/5-research-based-strategies-for-overcoming-procrastination

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