What Type of Procrastinator Are You?

In her excellent book, Procrastinator’s Success Kit: How to Get What You Really Want From Yourself, Alyce Cornyn-Selby identifies eight different types of procrastinators. It’s a fabulous book, packed full of strategies for addressing each of the eight procrastination styles. I can’t do justice to it in a single post, but I thought I’d create a little quiz for you to help you identify and understand what kind of procrastinator you are:

Which of the following excuses do you use most often when procrastinating?

A. “I don’t have enough information yet to make a good decision.” or “I don’t feel inspired yet.”
B. “I work well under pressure (so I might as well wait until someone pressures me to do this).”
C. “I’ll do it my own way, and on my own time.”
D. “To do it right, I need to wait until I have/am…”
E. “If you’ll just trust me, I’ll take care of it. Soon.”
F. “I can’t say no to my boss/mother-in-law, I have to do it. Eventually.”
G. “I’ll try to do it, but…” or “I’ll do my best.”
H. “I don’t feel like doing it yet.” or “This doesn’t feel like the right time.”

My most common excuse is D, although I sometimes fall back on A and H. Which excuses do you use? I’ve briefly summarized the eight types that Ms. Cornyn-Selby has identified. Read on, and see if you recognize yourself…

A. The Back Burner Procrastinator: Knows that if a task is delayed long enough, someone else will do it, and prefers to avoid committing to the wrong decision by never committing to anything at all. Often ignores problems in the hopes that they will go away. Wants to feel competent but fears they are not.

B. The Action Junkie Procrastinator: Can’t do anything without the adrenaline rush of an impending deadline. Prioritizes things by how urgent they seem, and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by leaving things until they are urgent. Wants life to be more exciting, and when life doesn’t provide that excitement, they find ways to create it.

C. The Rebellious Procrastinator: Doesn’t just rebel against actual authority, but also rebels against their own to-do list and against all the things they “should” do. Procrastinating is a way of asserting independence and taking back control of their lives. May “forget” to do things they don’t think they should have to do. Seeks an outlet for their anger at injustice, but are afraid to rebel against the things that are truly important to them.

D. The Perfectionist Procrastinator: Determined to avoid criticism, would rather not do a task at all than do it imperfectly or fail at it. Often does things at the last minute and rationalizes that if they can achieve “good enough” by doing things at the last minute, they would have achieved perfection if they’d had more time. Tries to meet their own high standards, but fears doing their best and discovering that it isn’t good enough.

E. The Crazymaking Procrastinator: Takes responsibility for tasks that affect other people, then procrastinates on them. Will fight for the right not to complete the task. Having the responsibility makes them feel important; the sooner the responsibility is met, the sooner they lose that sense of importance. Others’ demands for the job to get done also reinforce this sense of importance by emphasizing the importance of the task. Wants to be valued and appreciated by others.

F. The Nice Procrastinator: Doesn’t want to disappoint people or start a conflict by saying “no,” so instead says “yes” without intending to do the task. May try to distract others from their procrastination with little gifts or compliments, to soften the disappointment of the job not getting done. Wants to maintain good relationships and be liked, but is afraid to set boundaries or express negative opinions.

G. The Don’t Rely On Me Procrastinator: Uses “learned helplessness” and/or unreliable behavior to protect themselves from being asked to do things they don’t want to do. Seeks a sense of personal freedom and (sometimes) solitude, but gets it at the expense of their reputation.

H. The Feeling Good Procrastinator: Believes that they should strive to feel good all the time; avoids tasks that take them out of their comfort zone. May look for signs that this is (or is not) the right time to tackle a task. Hopes that circumstances may change in a way that will make the task easier or more comfortable to do. Seeks comfort and reassurance that they are on the right track.

Notice that each of the types is trying to get a particular emotional need met by procrastinating. The Back Burner procrastinator wants to feel good about their abilities, the Crazymaking procrastinator wants to know that others value them, the Don’t Rely On Me procrastinator feel stifled and is trying to carve out time for themselves. Chances are, you’re not even aware that you needed these things, but your subconscious does, and it’s trying to help you get them the only way it knows how–by putting up roadblocks to the things it sees as dangerous.

Ironically, procrastinating often has the opposite effect than we intend: rather than making us seem more valuable and competent to others, it makes us seem less so. Rather than making our lives genuinely interesting, it creates extra stress that exhausts us physically and emotionally, leaving us even less able to enjoy the good things we have.

If we’re going to eliminate our tendencies to procrastinate, we’re going to have to address those underlying emotional needs that aren’t getting met in our lives. Why don’t you have more time for yourself, and is there something you could do to take some of your time back? Why don’t you feel valued by the people around you, and how could you change that through positive action (rather than the negative action of procrastination)? What do you really want to rebel against, and what constructive action could you take to change that situation?

I wasn’t surprised that I’m a Perfectionist procrastinator. My perfectionist tendencies have been sabotaging me for years. I have difficulty meeting my own high standards. So my small step for this week will be to write down those standards, then ask myself if each one is a) reasonable, b) necessary, and c) applicable to every task, or specific to a certain type of task. If a standard is not reasonable, I’ll replace it with one that is, and I’ll post it on the fridge, where I can see it every day, as a reminder that I don’t need to do everything perfectly.

What underlying emotional need is your procrastination trying to meet? Did you fall into one of the eight types above, or did you identify a different emotional need that’s driving your procrastination?

Can you think of a more positive way to get that emotional need met than procrastinating?

P.S. Nook users, The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Eating is now available at bn.com too!

Also, if you missed my guest post at The Writing Playground last week about the four steps for completely committing to a goal, you can find it here: Forget About the Glass — Be Both an Optimist and a Pessimist

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16 Responses to What Type of Procrastinator Are You?

  1. Lexxy says:

    I always enjoy your blog posts! I am B it fits me more than the others but I do have a hint of C and D in there as well. ( eeek C just makes me cringe lol) Ehh crap there might be some H as well…. Very eye opening from this perspective!

    I think for me it is sticking out and just doing it while getting excited about the project at hand. I need to obtain a better outlook on my daily activities as well. I think procrastination effects more than just our professional lives, it also effects our personal. Little thing like putting off the dishes can be utilized to help with procrastination by actually doing them without the “ugh” little steps yes?

    • Lynn says:

      Hi, Lexxy! Thanks for sharing your results! πŸ™‚ Yes, when you do little tasks instead of putting them off, you’re training yourself not to procrastinate, and developing a mindset that helps you tackle the bigger things. There’s a Zen teacher named Cheri Huber who says “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

  2. Suzanne says:

    Love this post. Who knew there were so many reasons and whys to procrastinate. I printed this off and will have my teenage son read it who is making me crazy, and he is indeed E the crazy maker. And I am an H. Very enlightening. Thanks.

    • Lynn says:

      Thanks, Suzanne! I’m so glad you found it helpful, and hope that it gives you a place to start in talking with your son about his procrastination. πŸ™‚

  3. Very nice! We can all find a little bit of ourselves in this article. And more importantly, we can make a needed change. Thank you.. HL

  4. PatriciaW says:

    Do we have to pick just one? I can see B,C,D and a little H in myself. I wonder if there are particular types that tend to group together.

    • Lynn says:

      Hi, Patricia! No, you don’t have to pick just one, although the one you use most commonly is likely pointing to an underlying emotional need that you might want to address.

      You might find yourself switching between types in different situations: maybe you procrastinate on your novel out of perfectionism (fear of not being good enough), but you put doing the dishes on the backburner because you know someone else will get sick of the mess and do them for you. πŸ™‚ And maybe that arrangement is working so well for you with the dishes that you don’t want to address that particular form of procrastination.

      In terms of applying these, I’d recommend choosing something that you genuinely want to stop procrastinating on and identify the excuse that you’re using for that particular task. Look at the underlying emotional need that’s driving your procrastination and find a way to get that need met in other ways.

      For example, maybe instead of procrastinating on doing the dishes, you could trade that chore for something that your living partner doesn’t want to do that you don’t mind (maybe he hates taking out the trash and you don’t mind). Or if you’re feeling insecure about the novel and that’s what’s keeping you from working on it, maybe an affirmation for building self-confidence or asking for encouragement from your writing partner will get you going again.

  5. Jan says:

    What kind of procrastinator is it that does everything immediately and on time for everyone else but puts her own work/joy/novel writing last… so last that it doesn’t get done? I procrastinate on myself while I expend my time on family, friends, and outside commitments. What does this say?

  6. Lynn says:

    Excellent question, Jan! To answer it, we need to look more closely at why you put others first.

    Do you feel that you can’t say no when people ask you to do things for them (or assume that you will do things for them)? Does the idea of telling someone “No” make you feel like you’re a bad person? Do you have a hard time setting boundaries with other people and end up resenting them for treating you in ways that you wouldn’t prefer? If this is an accurate description of you, then you’re a “Nice Procrastinator.”

    But maybe you’re putting other people first because you feel like you need to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend, perfect daughter? In that case, you’re probably a “Perfectionist Procrastinator.”

    Or maybe you’re so anxious about writing that every time you sit down to do it, the butterflies in your stomach turn into an angry swarm of bees, and the specter of failure looms so darkly overhead that you’re using the things you “have” to do for other people as an excuse for avoiding that discomfort and anxiety? In that case, you’d be a “Feeling Good Procrastinator.”

    Remember that when someone identifies “types” of anything, they’re making generalizations. In order to understand your own behavior, you may need to dig a little deeper into your personal motivations. These are eight general reasons that people procrastinate, but maybe the source of your procrastination is coming from a less common ninth reason. πŸ™‚

    Also, I’m assuming that this is a procrastination problem (you have time to write but choose not to) rather than a scheduling problem (you haven’t set aside actual time to write).

    So tell me more…when you find yourself choosing between doing something for someone else and working on your novel, what specific thoughts go through your head? What emotion are you experiencing?

    • Jan says:

      Thought provoking, very thought provoking. I’m a “list” person, always have been, but I’ve never considered why “I” am not on the list! Perhaps I should start there. My “schedule” has always revolved around everyone else but has also been in a state of flux to accommodate emergencies. Perhaps I need to declare a writing emergency at a set time each day! Thank you for your insights.

      • Lynn says:

        Jan, please do add yourself to the list…and when you do, pay attention to how you feel as you are writing your writing time down on the schedule. Guilty? Doubtful that you’ll be able to keep that writing appointment? Stressed because your writing appointment is crowding out something that someone else is going to be upset you’re not doing? Afraid that time will be wasted?

        Declaring a “writing emergency” might be the only way to get others around you to back off and give you the time. πŸ™‚ But also, I wonder how many of those “emergencies” you are constantly accommodating are true emergencies — i.e. someone is injured and needs to go to the hospital, something is on fire, the power just went out, the car stopped running, a hurricane just hit and water is coming in under the front door?

        How many of them were simply things that other people really really really wanted you to do for them?

        How many of them were things that, if someone had planned ahead instead of leaving them to the last minute, wouldn’t have been emergencies at all?

        It can be hard to say to someone else, “I know you assumed that I’d do X for you, but I’ve got another commitment that I need to keep.” Especially when the people around you see your writing hobby as less important than their last-minute chores. Especially when everyone else believes they’re so busy that they don’t have time to plan ahead, and they know that if they cry “emergency” at the last minute, some kind and helpful person like you will step up to the plate and take over for them.

        Your choices are: a) write while other people sleep (parents will small children may find that this is their only option), b) tell people you’re not available during your writing time and mean it, or c) learn to write in very small increments.

        When my stepkids were small and I was staying home with them all day, I used to do all three: I’d stay up an hour after kids and husband went to bed several nights a week, I’d go to a cafe once a week for an hour while my husband played with the kids or took them somewhere fun (like out for frozen yogurt), and I’d shut myself in the bathroom for five minutes at a time during the day and scribble lines of dialogue for the scene that I planned to write the next night. When I worked full-time and had a four-hour daily commute, I read and took notes on a craft book in the morning, wrote during lunch, and sometimes wrote some more on the bus ride home. It was the only time I had — the weekends were filled with chores, and I got home so late in the work week that it was bedtime by the time my husband I had finished dinner. It wasn’t my ideal schedule, but it was my only option at the time.

        Your schedule and your relationships are unique, so you’re the only person who really knows where the possible writing times are and what you’d need to do to start using them. And you’re the only person who’s going to make sure the writing happens–no one else in the world cares about your writing as much as you do. If you’re waiting for someone else to say, “Hey, I’ll do the laundry and make cupcakes for the bake sale so you can get the next scene of your novel done,” you’re probably going to be waiting for a long time. πŸ™‚

        • Jan says:

          Just wanted to check back. I put myself on the “to do” list today and never got so much done! I especially enjoyed reading about your 10 minute intervals. It was life changing. Thanks so much.

          • Lynn says:

            Thanks for sharing your results, Jan–it’s great to hear that you found something that works for you! I’m so glad that you made so much progress just by making the change of adding yourself to the to-do list! πŸ˜€

  7. Brock says:

    Just where is the facebook like link ?

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