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?
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