Know Yourself Better: What Kind of Procrastinator Are You?

Stop Sign with Procrastination Way street sign

On the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Elizabeth and I often pose “know yourself better” questions. It’s surprisingly hard to know ourselves! When we get better insight into our own values, quirks, and nature, we often identify patterns or spot possibilities to make ourselves happier, healthier, more creative — and more productive.

In episode 391, in a discussion of productivity, we asked listeners, “What kind of procrastinator are you?”

We identified several kinds:

  • Procrasti-clearing or procrasti-cleaning — I write about this challenge in my book Outer Order, Inner Calm
  • Procrasti-creating — I remind myself that “Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.” For all my fellow Game of Thrones lovers, it sure seems as if George R. R. Martin is procrasti-creating about finishing The Winds of Winter.
  • Procrati-viewing — we’ve all done it!
  • Procrasti-scrolling — and the related procrasti-shopping
  • Procrastic-waiting — wait for someone else to encourage you or invite you to go ahead, such as a mentor or advocate
  • Procrasti-gaming — Elizabeth mentions our Try-This-at-Home suggestion to “Delete a soul-sucking app” from episode 91
  • Procrasti-claiming — making questionable claims about the rules that apply or limitations that exist: “I can’t work at night,” “I’ll do better if I begin in the new year”

After the episode aired, listeners identified additional forms of procrastination:

  • Procrasti-snacking — so common!
  • Procrasti-caffeinating — can’t start without a beverage
  • Procrasti-researching — this is a particular issue for Questioners, who can fall into analysis-paralysis
  • Procrastic-caring — putting off your own task because you’re caring for someone else’s wants first. One listener made a helpful point: “The first step in eliminating this one is defining wants vs. needs for the people in your life. Children need to be fed, but they may be picky and want elaborate kinds of meals that take way too much time and effort.”

Sometimes, as many people observed, a bit of procrastination can be useful:

  • “I use housework to procrastinate on writing, but sometimes it works since mindless activity can let my brain develop ideas and get that ‘aha’ to break through blocks.”
  • “Sometimes, doing a quick and easy task helps me overcome the anxiety of tackling a big or overwhelming project.”
  • “I have to get all the stuff on my phone done before I can focus on other stuff, or else it just bugs me and keeps my mind distracted.”

The key is to make sure that this kind of procrastination is limited, so that it doesn’t take up so much time and energy that we don’t tackle the main task.

Elizabeth had a helpful way to decide whether a form of procrastination is helpful, by thinking about the idea of mise-en-place. In cooking, you “put everything in its place” — you pull tools and ingredients together, so once you begin, you can work easily and efficiently. Elizabeth told me, “We can ask ourselves, is this mise-en-place? Am I clearing off my desk so I can settle down? Am I getting a cup of coffee to help me tackle my work, or am I preparing an elaborate meal?”

As with any know-yourself-better question, clarity brings insight. Once we know the kinds of procrastination we tend to use, we can more easily spot unhelpful patterns.

Also, keep in mind that there’s a difference between “sprinting” and “procrastinating.” Sprinters deliberately wait for the pressure of a deadline to help clarify their thinking and boost their energy. By contrast, with procrastination, people feel as though they should be working, and they wish they could work, but somehow they can’t make themselves.

Most of us probably have a few favorite forms of procrastination.

Mine are: procrasti-clearing, procrasti-creating, procrasti-claiming, and procrasti-caffeinating. Now that I know this aspect of myself, I can better guard against falling into this kind of delay.

How about you — if you procrastinate, what categories appeal most to you? How do you guard against them?



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