The Five Main Types of Procrastination

Categorizing Reasons

The Procrastinators Anonymous Web site focuses mainly on the addictive aspect of procrastination since that's literally addressed no where else, but addictive compulsion isn't the only reason for procrastination - even for people who struggle with compulsive procrastination.

Most experts agree that to solve procrastination problems, you first need to identify the reason for procrastination. But then they usually go on to give a laundry list of reasons that's so long you get confused. More than one reason can seem true, so you don't know where to focus. A more useful approach is to think about the reason in terms of type.

In "Time Management from the Inside Out", Julie Morgenstern defines three types of reasons for procrastination, but I think she's missing two very important ones - addictive escapism and unrecognized inner truth. I identify five broad reasons for procrastination:

1. Skill deficits.
2. External obstacles.
3. Emotional problems.
4. Addictive escapism.
5. Unrecognized inner truth.

Skill Deficits

Procrastination reasons in this category fall into two main subcategories: (1) lack of skill in doing the thing you're procrastinating on, and (2) lack of time management skills.

Sometimes people procrastinate on doing something because they literally don't know how to do the task - they don't have the necessary skills. If this is the problem, you have three choices: (1) learn the skill, (2) recognize that the task is beyond you and cross it off your list, or (3) delegate the task to someone who has the skill.

Other times people procrastinate on important tasks because they don't know how to manage their time so everything gets done. If this is the problem, then time management books that teach these skills can be very helpful. My two favorites are "Time Management from the Inside Out" by Julie Morgenstern and "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. The David Allen book assumes a certain level of skill that not everyone has - for example, the ability to estimate how long a task takes. If you're not there yet, start with Julie Morgenstern's book.

External Obstacles

There are two main subcategories of external obstacles: other-imposed and self-imposed.

Other-imposed external obstacles involve not taking into account the unreliability of other people. For example, if getting something done depends on someone else being on time and they typically are not, you have to take this into account when making a plan. You can't control someone else, but you can control how you respond.

Self-imposed external obstacles involve being over-committed. Often people can't get stuff done simply because they are trying to do too much. Again, the solution is to accept reality, and take it into account when making a plan. If you have too much to do, something must go. If you think nothing can go, think again. If it's too much, something will go whether you like it or not, so you might as well consciously choose what to let go of. If you let it happen by default, the most important things may not get done.

Emotional Problems

The "laundry list" items you find in most books and articles on procrastination usually fall into this category - fear of success, fear of failure, passive aggression, perfectionism, adrenaline addiction (enjoying crisis), rebellion, etc.

The laundry list falls into two main subcategories: self-sabotage and other-sabotage. A question to ask yourself is whether your procrastination affects other people, or only harms yourself. Being chronically late, for example, affects other people and may be a sign of passive-aggressive hostility.

Addictive Escapism

This is the major unrecognized reason for procrastination that prompted me to create this Web site. I wrote about this at length in another article (Chronic Procrastination is NOT a Time Management Problem!), so I won't say much about it here.

Unrecognized Inner Truth

This is another important reason for procrastination that I've never seen mentioned on any other Web site, or in any other book or article, but it's important!

Sometimes when people procrastinate on something, it's their soul saying, "No! I hate this! I really don't want this in my life! Please, please, fix this awful life problem and make this obligation go away!"

I'm self-employed, and for years I worked for one main client. Over time the job became incredibly odious and I started procrastinating like crazy on the work. I came to realize that I was hoping they'd fire me because I was miserable, but couldn't bring myself to quit because I didn't know how I'd replace the income.

Sometimes when you procrastinate, it's your unconscious trying to tell you something important.

The Reason Suggests the Solution

When you are procrastinating on something, try to figure out which of the five main categories of reasons is behind the procrastination. If you start by thinking about the category, it will be easier to figure out the specific reason within that category.

Of course nothing in life is simple and often there is more than one reason, but one reason is usually overriding. Once you know the main reason you're procrastinating on a particular task, you'll know what you need to focus on to solve the problem.

yeah....

Sooo...
Yeah. I think the reason for most of my procrastination is emotional.  I am maybe feeling like life isn't fair and I shouldn't have to do all this dang stuff...  but my logical self understands that this attitude is not helping me. 
also taxes (3yrs to do now)  are hard and I don't understand how to include the income for my kids college grants.  so i sit and stew, and wonder when I will ever finish them.
I have so much guilt over this that i feel like a bad person now, but i am not, i am kind, loving, forgiving, etc. 
thoughts, anyone?
geegirl

Procrastination and guilt...

Interesting, besides procrastinations, the desease of guilt is always making my journey more heavy. is there any pshycologial conexion between them?

 

kind guilty people

Hi Geegirl-

I know exactly where you're coming from. But I think it's not totally emotional. I think it's a form of self-opposition. I had a counselor ask me once, "are you 'shoulding' all over yourself?" She was trying to get me to see that the perfectionism (everything has to be done just right) was a real impediment to accomplishing things. So many times I paralyze myself with a task by thinking I can't start until 15 underlying things are done. My husband calls it the "Get out the backhoe" syndrome. As in, you want to fix a little faucet leak, but you make it into a major remodeling in your head--gotta replace the water line to the house!

So, is there something else you can back off of, just a bit, to get the taxes done? It sounds like you're doing the classic "I'm going to do it all this weekend" thing too, which is often doomed to failure. Break it down. You're not a bad person. You sound overwhelmed. Try to just solve the grant question this weekend, and plan a little bit of time for yourself to celebrate after you conquer that. Then take on another tax task.

I've found the irs.gov website pretty helpful if you're good at absorbing things from print. Also they're starting to put up mini-videos about some topics. I like to go there because it's anonymous, and often I can find the info I need and absorb it in my own time frame. If you have good computer connections you can download all the forms and instructions and print them at home. (Takes away that dread of the commute and the fear of nasty govt employees for me.)

Good luck!

All mixed up
p.s. Probably everyone can tell by now I've got the whole isolation thing going on. I could continue for pages here, but I'll try to keep it short. Glad I found this place, I need it.

yep yep yep

Hi allmixedup

Yes I have some kind of self opposition going on. I can feel a battle inside me just kinda daring me to do nothing....does anyone else feel that way?

 Also I have a job where I have nothing to do almost every day.  I have skills that they need, and I wait until called upon, and I show up!  (IV Nurse)  Meanwhile I am isolated in my little office with no or little interaction.  seems to be a common thread.  I don't feel good about this board, seems like everyone is kinda depressed?  can't tell if it is gonna help or not.also uncomfortable with sex addicts being here.  blek.

but i am here, so i will try to give it a chance.

geegirl

geegirl...

I've got you beat on the tax situation. I haven't filed since 2002. Maybe if we buddy up and encourage each other, we can get it done. We started a thread to help those of us who are behind in filing tax returns - a place to post our progress. It's here:

accounts and tax challenge

As you'll see, I started on the taxes, and then stopped again.

I think for you, the next action step is to figure out where to go to get the information you need about your kids' college grants. Who could you call to get this information? Do you have an accountant?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.

stuff, hmmmm

Hey pro,

I am staying home this weekend to go through all my papers and piles of bills, etc. (I was invited to go on a weekend retreat, free) I will try to get myself over to the tax office and pick it all up, but I don't know.   I am not quite there yet.  Leaving it there keeps me in denial, I think.   What is wrong with me?

geegirl

tax hell

geegirl,

Nothing's wrong with you that isn't also wrong with me, so let's just decide there's nothing wrong with either of us!

I want to do some work on my accounting this weekend, too. Some of my weekend is booked with another necessary task, but I have some time. We can encourage each other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.

procrastinating due to an unrecognized inner truth

As I said in this article, I've been self-employed for many years. For the last 5-6 years I've had a recurring dream that I got a job in the corporate world (like the jobs I had before I became self-employed). These were positive dreams - wish dreams, really - and they puzzled me. It wasn't about disliking the particular work I was doing because I've done very different work over the last 5-6 years. Nor was it about a longing for structure and political politics, which I hate. So what was it - why did I keep having this dream?

And moreover, why am I still having problems getting myself to work, though I now like the work I'm doing?

Yesterday I realized what it was. I live alone and work at home, and this lifestyle is very isolating and lonely. I'm dreaming about a regular job because of the social aspect!

Now that I know what's bothering me (don't know why it always takes me so long to figure that out!!), I can address it. I've arranged to start working outside my home where there are other people. I'll be interested to see how much this helps my work procrastination problems.

Has anyone else noticed a tendency to avoid doing things for valid reasons that you are not validating - that is, that you are ignoring your own authentic desires and needs?

uhuh

I would agree with you on the loneliness aspect, driving the procrastination. Its not that i feel lonely, its just that i am far more motivated, concentrated, when i am working in a group, be it in an academic sense or work related. Without one, i feel no pressure. I guess it has to do with how self-conscious you are. I would like to think I'm not, but i know that i am in fact deeply self-conscious, just not in a strictly typical way. I have spent the past few years waking up from a dream, trying to find out what are my interests, having felt apathetic towards most pursuits. I recently read My Ishmael, which gave me inspiration, and i would highly reccomend to anyone to read it, to at least understand why there are so many people who feel this way in one way or another. To be clear though it isnt a book on procrastination. Eitherway, I'm off to do some more procrastinating for today! The world cup is about to start! Smiling OOOLEEH, OLEH, OLEH, OLEH!

Isolated at home

Hi,
I am new to this site. Recently joined a twelve-step programme at Sex Addicts Anonymous due to compulsive internet sex sites and the like. Since then I now have a content barrier on my computer so I can no longer reach these sites which is fantastic for me, but have realised that I am still spending hours visiting other non-sex sites, (which thankfully brought me to this one). I am now beginning to see a pattern of procrastination within myself. The sex addiction I believe was just a form of my procrastination addiction. I too am isolated at home. And it is so extreme to the point that I was offered a great job the other day and turned it down through a great fear I will be worse off. Go figure! There are so many things I can do at home. I am a good artist and have sold many works in the past but for the past 10-15 years have had so many plans to get up and do some art and then suddenly the end of the day is upon me and I have done nothing but waste my time. It's such a horrible state as the feeling of guilt just makes me procrastinate more. I am full of fear about breaking out of this procrastination and can't seem to shift it. Been seeing psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists and mentioned my procrastination a thousand times and they just skip over it. It amazes me that they seem to have no idea what I am talking about and defiantly no solutions for me. Finding this site has been a God send. A big thank you to who ever set this site up.

P.S. I set up this site while procrastinating on something else!

I'm glad this site is of use to others, and I'm very grateful to the others to visit this site and let me know I'm not alone!!!!!!!!!!!!

...and suddenly it's the end of the day

DJB wrote:

"I am a good artist and have sold many works in the past but for the past 10-15 years have had so many plans to get up and do some art and then suddenly the end of the day is upon me and I have done nothing but waste my time. It's such a horrible state as the feeling of guilt just makes me procrastinate more."

I relate to this a lot more than I want to. I have been there and done that more times than I want to admit.

I did it yesterday, and I fear I am about to do it again today, which is why I'm posting. I have stuff to do, and I want to stay on track!! Self-esteem comes from esteemable actions!