Do you feel like you are always playing catch up, missing deadlines, or putting off activities you planned to do for things that are less important? If so, you are not alone. Twenty percent of individuals identify themselves as procrastinators.
According to researchers, procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years! Procrastination has become so common for some that they shrug it off and simply describe procrastination as a way of life.
The problem with procrastination is more than just not getting things done, or only done at the last minute, it is what it does to our lives overall:
- 40% of procrastinators have experienced financial loss, missing professional opportunities or paying extra in the long run in late fees after putting off paying bills, tickets or taxes.
- Our relationships are hurt and impacted resulting in higher rates of divorce.
- The accompanying stress and anxiety contribute to headaches, sleeplessness, lowered immune system function, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
- Our self-confidence, satisfaction and happiness have a negative impact
As a trained Nurse Practitioner and ADHD Life Coach for over 15 years, I can honestly say one of the most common challenges for my clients is procrastination… putting important tasks off…not being able to start a task…thinking there’s more time to complete a task. One client once said to me as we were exploring her procrastination: “I’m not a procrastinator… I am a time optimist!” In fact, she was not too far from the truth.
There are many different reasons people procrastinate and I call these your “procrastination style”. Following are seven procrastination styles, their pitfalls, and simple solutions. Which one(s) describe you?
The Optimist: This style of procrastinator truly believes they have plenty of time to complete a task. You can spot an optimist procrastinator because they seem upbeat, relaxed; even carefree in the midst of a looming deadline. That is until time runs out. The pitfall for many optimist procrastinators is that they have a different perception or sense of time than other people. To them, time is a vague intangible concept. One way to know if you are an optimist procrastinator is to consider how you currently keep track of time. Most optimist procrastinators will have few if any external tools, like clocks or alarms in their environment to help them keep track of time. If they do, often these will not be set accurately, or not in working order. One time optimist proclaimed, “I love clocks. I have lots of beautiful clocks in my home, I just don’t think they are working.”
I call this difference in the perception of time, being “time blind.” Similar to being color blind, optimist procrastinators may not even realize they experience time differently than most. Optimist procrastinators will also have difficulty accurately estimating time. For example, optimists will underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a task or be overly optimistic about how much they can complete in a small amount of time. Optimist procrastinators are known for “five-minute-itis”: thinking they can accomplish a list of tasks in only five minutes. They also can experience the passage of time differently. For instance, if they are innately interested in a task, two hours can seem like five minutes. However, if they are innately uninterested in an activity, five minutes can feel like two hours.
If this is you, here are strategies to improve your likelihood of success:
- Increase the environmental cues that remind you of time and the passage of time. Have analog clocks in every corner of your environment, including the bathroom and garage.
- Track how long common tasks or activities actually take you to complete. Most often, there is a huge “aha” when you discover realistically how much you can accomplish in a given time.
The Preparer: The preparer style of procrastination can be difficult to spot because these individuals seem to be so busy. Busy preparing, researching, gathering ideas, planning, and perfecting rather than actually tackling the important task…getting it done. Preparers can spend a whole lot of time getting ready. Unfortunately, and often surprisingly for even the preparers, these activities end up interfering with the actual task they want to complete. The pitfall for the preparers is to know when it’s time to stop preparing and time to get down to the doing – because getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.
For preparers, procrastination is a way of putting off the anticipated dreaded moment that it won’t be “right” and more importantly that they won’t be right.
Here is the answer for the preparer procrastinator:
- Adopt a mindset of aiming for progress rather than perfect. This doesn’t mean lowering standards or putting in less effort, it’s simply a shift in the focus of the outcome. Preparation is one of the first steps, but so is completion. Focusing on the progress and moving forward step-by-step means keeping mindful of not only the importance of getting ready, but of getting it done.
The Overwhelmed: This style of procrastinator can be spotted because they stop before they even get started. For this style of procrastination, tasks may feel too big to accomplish or they perceive it will take a lot of time to complete. For the overwhelmed, molehills definitely look like mountains. Standing at the bottom of that mountain paralyzes them. In addition, prioritization and planning can be difficult.
The result? The overwhelmed procrastinator is not sure where to start on a task or what to do after that. Instead, procrastination happens because they give up, check out, or decide to put it off until a “better time.” Secretly the overwhelmed hope the task will somehow become clearer, smaller, more manageable or take less time when they return to it.
Here are the keys to overcoming this style of procrastination:
- Break the task into smaller pieces from the beginning and start…anywhere. Another way to describe this technique is to chunk the project, task, or goal into smaller pieces. This serves to create more manageable parts to address.
- Consider that the task might not require as much time as you think it will. Approach the task in bite-sized chunks of time, say 15 minutes increments, rather than trying to accomplish the task in one sitting. This will allow you to see incremental accomplishments.
- Elicit the help of others. Having someone else around simply as moral support can help get past the initial hesitation of starting. Asking others, such as a friend, spouse, or boss, how they would prioritize or plan to accomplish a task can be a quick way to get down to business.
The Over-extender: The over-extenders are very popular, likable people. They are helpful, willing, and eager. These procrastinators are quick to say yes, take on more and more, and then end up juggling (unsuccessfully) too many things at once. Then, when they aren’t able to complete most of it, they blame themselves. To make up for their own perceived lack they get stuck in a vicious cycle. They offer to do more, hoping to compensate for the times they didn’t follow through, and again end up completing less. It is inevitable that something is going to get forgotten, lost, or put off until the last minute. And around and around the over-extenders go.
The key to turning procrastination around for the over-extenders:
- Realize your natural limits and that for everyone, time and energy are limited commodities. Know your limits.
- Identify your priorities and what’s most important for you. Give yourself permission to say no to spending time and energy doing things that don’t align with your values.
The Forgeter: This style of procrastinator simply forgets or mis-remembers a task they wanted to complete. The forgeter is characteristically confidant, capable, and intelligent. They are used to and proud of being able to keep track of their “to-dos”, schedule, responsibilities, and deadlines in their head. The problem? The forgeter’s life gets so busy and full they no longer can rely on their memory to keep track of it all.
Our memory evolved to protect us from danger by helping us remembering things that might harm us. The forgeter is simply trying to use their memory for less threatening tasks. Something it wasn’t designed to do. And so, smaller, less threatening, but important tasks get forgotten and go undone.
Here’s the solution for forgeter procrastinators:
- Realize that your memory is an evolutionary tool to help you remember things that would be dangerous for you verses a tool to remember mundane tasks. Simply put, our brains were not made to remember the plethora of minute details, tasks or deadlines common in this current age.
- Use an external memory system (EMS)…even if this feels like it undermines your intelligence to not be able to remember everything on your own. Systems can include everything from newfangled electronic to a simple old fashion pen to pad or planner approach.
The Distracted: Those with the distracted style of procrastination have perhaps the best intentions of all. They want to get started, work on, and complete a task. They know the task is important. The problem is that something else, more interesting catches their attention…a sound or something that catches their eye, or hunger, thirst, even a creative idea. And then innocently, and without even noticing, the distracted veer off from their intended goal.
The key for the distracted procrastinators is to:
- Find a way to reduce the possibility of distractions so you can stay on task. This includes everything from attending to physical needs to rearranging the environment to reduce the likelihood of erroneous distractions occurring. One way to think about this strategy is like an athlete preparing for a big event. Prior to the game their focus is on being physically fit, well fed, rested. Just prior to the event they mentally reduce outside distractions using headphones, keeping eye contact to a minimum and getting clear on their intentions. They do this each and every time in order to not get distracted and be able to perform their best.
The Bored: It’s hard to image that boredom can be physically uncomfortable, even painful. However, those with the bored procrastination style know exactly what this means. It’s like slogging through mud with thousand pound boots on in your brain and not being able to escape.
For the “it’s boring” procrastinator, it’s essential to
- Get a bit creative. Know what’s interesting to you and sprinkle that in to stave off the boredom. Work at a bustling café, use color to spruce up a boring spreadsheet, listen to music…do whatever it takes to spice, sparkelize and shake things up.
The Crises-worker: The crises-worker style of procrastinator thrives under pressure. These procrastinators are convinced they do their best work at the last minute. Crises-workers will even describe experiencing clarity of mind and a type of brilliance that happens when they procrastinate just long enough.
To understand the crises-worker procrastination style, it helps to look beyond the “putting things off until the last minute” behavior to what is happening physiologically in the brain. When the crises-worker delays getting started until the last minute their body goes into a stress response cycle. Under stress our body responds the same whether it is the stress of an impending deadline or because a wild bear is approaching. When stressed, adrenaline is released into our blood stream by our adrenal glands. The adrenaline triggers the release of dopamine in our brain. This is a physiological adaptation to help us think clearly. The increase surge of dopamine can now activate the executive function. And voilà, like magic the crises-worker can now focus and get things done! The magical design of our bodies to keep a calm head under stress.
The pitfall for the crises-worker procrastinator is that the human body was not designed to depend on stress to get things done. Inevitably the body will stop being able to respond in its normal manner and/or other life responsibilities suffer.
Solution for the crises-worker procrastinator include:
- Adopting healthier ways to activate dopamine and utilizing other natural ways of maximizing their productivity.
- Exercise and foods such as caffeine and chocolate can increase the release of dopamine in the brain.
- Identifying when they are naturally most productive, for instance in the morning or evening, and then planning to focus on less interesting tasks at those times can be helpful.
- Medications, such as stimulant medications, target dopamine receptors and increase the amount of dopamine available for the brain.
As an ADHD Life Coach, I have a fierce determination to help people enjoy their authentic brilliance, appreciate their uniqueness and live life as it suits them best. I want people to experience as much fullness and satisfaction as they can in their lives.
Procrastination not only robs us of money, but of time and happiness. You are not born a procrastinator. Procrastination is a behavior you learned to compensate for something else. Something you may not even be aware of. The good news is that once you understand your procrastination style, what your underlying real struggle is, you can apply some simple strategies to turn your to-dos into ta-da! And you can turn from a procrastinator to a pro “activator”!