How often do we try and fail to work ourselves up to tackle some undesirable task? Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started, so dealing with procrastination frees up our energy and time, and gives us a big boost in mood.
Procrastination is always a challenge, but it's perhaps more difficult, or at least different, now that so many more people are working from home. For many, it's still not clear exactly what their future schedules will look like—all remote? all in person? hybrid?—but across professions, working in an office isn't the same automatic, five-days-a-week assumption that it once was.
And when we're working from home, instead of from an office, challenges change. Things may be better, they may be worse, but they're different.
I have all kinds of tricks and hacks to help myself with procrastination, and I wrote 8 Tips to Stop Procrastinating, but since I wrote that list, I've created my "Four Tendencies" personality framework, which is another tool to use in fighting procrastination.
All these procrastination problems and solutions can be experienced by any of the Tendencies, but some are particularly attractive to Upholders, or Questioners, or Obligers, or Rebels.
In a nutshell, the Four Tendencies personality framework sorts people into four categories, based on how they tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a request from a friend) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year's resolution).
Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.
In a nutshell:
- Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
- Questioners question all expectations, and they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense; they respond to inner expectations
- Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
- Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
(Want to know your Tendency? Take the quick, free quiz here. More than 3.2 million people have taken the quiz.)
The Four Tendencies influence the kind of procrastination people tend to experience, and the strategies that are most helpful in battling it.
A favorite procrastination technique among Upholders—though all Tendencies use it—is working. Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination!
As an Upholder, when I’ve got a big task that I'm reluctant to start, I get a very strong urge to tackle my email inbox or to make a dentist’s appointment.
I’m not slacking off, I reassure myself—I’m not reading in bed or watching TV. I’m working, I’m being productive!
But the fact that I’m busy doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m using my time well. In fact, I’m often wary when I get a sudden urge to do a certain kind of work—like re-organize the books in my office. In my book Outer Order, Inner Calm, I write about "procrasticlearing," when we get the very strong urge to clear clutter—not from the true desire for outer order, or to prepare to focus, but from the desire to delay work on some unpleasant task.
Because when I have an important looming task, that’s what I should tackle. Other work, even if "productive," is just procrastination.
Analysis-paralysis is a big challenge for Questioners. That's when Questioners' desire for perfect information makes it hard for them to make a decision or move forward. They want more, more, more information. It's not true procrastination, perhaps, but it has the same effect of causing delay in the accomplishment of important tasks.
Questioners can remind themselves that most decisions don’t require extensive research. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. Remind yourself that usually, it's more efficient to get started than to delay indefinitely. Use deadlines, limits, and trusted authorities to help arrive at a decision so you can start. (In my book The Four Tendencies, I explain these strategies in greater detail.)
For Obligers, the solution always comes down to the same thing: outer accountability. Get a form of outer accountability. One classic technique: Set a deadline. Things that can be done at any time are often done at no time. Decide by what date a task needs to be completed—then tell other people, so that they’re counting on you to have completed it, and if possible, create other external consequences.
But really, any form of outer accountability is useful.
For instance, Obligers might think of their duty to be a role model for others, or their obligation to their future-self. "Right now, I feel delaying making this appointment, but future-Gretchen will be so happy that this task is accomplished."
Rebels can think about their identity: “I’m creative,” “I'm reliable, and other people can count on me to keep my commitments,” “Nothing stops me from doing my best work.” Or they can challenge themselves: "No one believes I can get this task done by the end of the week, but I'll show them." Or they can think about how they want to be free from control. "The big tech companies are trying to keep me scrolling for hours, so I can't work on my report, but no one hijacks my mind."
Work from Home and Procrastination
For each of us, understanding ourselves, and our own particular challenges related to procrastination, is more crucial than ever before, because so many more people will be working from home post-pandemic.
Working from home, working from the office...there are pros and cons for both, and different people experience the situations differently.
It's important to notice ourselves. Are we procrastinating more, now that we don't have a co-worker on either side of us? Now that we're not running into our boss by the coffee machine? Or are we procrastinating less, because the lack of commuting hassle gives us more emotional wherewithal to tackle demanding tasks?
- Obligers, if you're having trouble completing tasks because no one's around, consider giving yourself new forms of accountability.
- Questioners, if you find yourself spinning off into research into the best brand of standing desk, give yourself limits on research time.
- Rebels, if you're finding it more tempting to goof off, remind yourself of your work goals—what do you want? Good numbers, respect from your colleagues, the appreciation of your manager, proof to yourself of what you're capable of?
- Upholders, if you find yourself spending too much time working on jobs that don't really matter, remind yourself of what your true priorities are.
For more discussion of procrastination:
- Do You Struggle with Procrastination Now that You’re Working From Home? How to Get Things Done During COVID-19.
- Are You a Marathoner, a Sprinter, a Procrastinator? Weigh In.
- 8 Tips to Stop Procrastinating.
- A Little Happier: Working Is One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Procrastination.
- Beware of Fake-Work and Make-Work.
How do you fight procrastination? Have you found ways to tap into your Tendency to help overcome it?
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Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.
The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.