The Five Main Types of Procrastination
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.